Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Spirit of Terry Fox Lives On!

Canadians recently nominated Terry Fox as one of the 100 Greatest Canadians of All Time, and with good reason. Terry Fox responded to the personal tragedy by connecting to a greater cause.

The Terry Fox Foundation
offers a good bio of his life and his legacy.

To date, more than $360 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry's name through the annual Terry Fox Run, held across Canada and around the world.

Young men in war-torn Sierra Leone have followed Terry's lead, and are championing the cause of children in conflict. Their courage is an inspiration.

Amputee Soccer - Training Fourteen Sierra Leonean amputee football players departed for the United Kingdom in late August 2003 to play their English counterparts. The Players lost their limbs during Sierra Leone's brutal decade-long civil war. The team began two years ago as a soccer club founded by amputees who only wanted an opportunity to play the game they loved. It is evolving into a tool for self-empowerment in one if the world's poorest counties. All the players occupy their country's lowest financial strada, have little opportunity for employment, and have been stigmatized by society, thus further prohibiting economic and personal advancements. The tour's goal was to bring attention to their plight. The players also wanted victory on the pitch. The tour was orginized by "Children in Conflict" an NGO wanting to increase public awareness of their activities in Africa. The NGO also viewed the tour as an opportunity to use sport as a therapeutic vehicle for victims of trauma.

Support Action For Children in Conflict

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Canadian National Tartans

I've always loved the comfort and warmth of plaid flannel shirts. Because of this, I was overjoyed to find out that most Canadian provinces have an official plaid! How cool is that?

Linda and Jay in Calgary...Do you know the official plaid for Alberta? The government's Canadian heritage site provides an explanation of the origin of each tartan beneath a colorful mosaic of each plaid...Of course, you could always wear the offical tartan of Ontario. I think the yellow, green, red, and brown would suit you well--especially if you were to relocate. Anyway, here's the history of the majestic Ontario tartan from the culture website:

The creation of the tartan inspired by the Provincial court of arms which is the Armorial Ensign was recognized as the symbol of Ontario for almost a century. The yellow is for the three maple leaves which appear on the green background of the coat of arms. The red is for the Cross of St. George. The black is for the bear which appears at the top of the shield. The brown is the colour-combination created by the moose on the left and the deer on the right of the shield. These five colours go to make up the tartan.

See The Tartans!


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Tall Poppy Syndrome: Unamerican

One significant cultural difference between America and Canada is our attitudes toward the successful. Americans tend to uncritically admire a success, while Canadians suffer from a Commonwealth malady known as "Tall Poppy Syndrome", which can best be described as a tendency to "put people in their proper place". Even nobel peace prize winners and prime ministers aren't immune to the opprobrium of the masses. Consider the following quote from

"There are those who would say that the uneasiness Canadians have with titles reflects something approaching hostility toward anyone who rises too far above the crowd. The great Canadian novelist Robertson Davies used to tell of the response at a reception in British Columbia when the news came that Lester Pearson, later the Prime Minister of Canada, had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 'Well!' somebody said. 'Who does he think he is!'"

Tall Poppy Syndrome is hardly unique to Canada. "Taking the piss" out of a successful person is a common practice in New Zealand and Australia, and I've heard my friend Peter Thompson from Northern Ireland use the phrase more than once.

What I don't understand is why Tall Poppy Syndrome is not endemic to the United States, a country that eschews honorifics like "Sir" and frowns on the notion of royalty. Americans are famous for excusing the flaws of successful creeps like Donald Trump, and elevating celebrities--even Hillary Duff-- to an almost godlike status. Americans seem to want nothing more than to rise above the crowd, to the point where "keeping up with the Joneses" is a national obsession.

Some have fretted that the syndrome might lead to societally enforced mediocrity. High acheiving school children,they argue, might reign themselves in to win the favour of their peers; a brown coffee mug from a donut chain could become a country's most recognizable corporate symbol abroad;loudmouth hockey commentators like Don Cherry might be listed amongst the nation's proudest assets.

In the great TSP-free zone south of the border, however, American hero-worhip and desire for status might lead to unhealthy extremes: Everything has to be bigger, better, flashier, etc. Good enough is never good enough. A good example of this is as close as your choice in coffee. In Starbuck's, the iconic American coffeeshop you can no longer order a "small coffee". The smallest size available is medium. Granted this is simply a marketing ploy, but within the larger cultural framework, it's certainly a super-sized portion of "food for thought".

Mullets Vs. Lillith Fair: The Current Canadian Musical Aesthetic

In 1995 Maclean's Magazine, (The Time of Canada, Americans), published a now-famous article entitled "Canadian Rock Music Explodes". The article noted the success of bands like The Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies, The Crash Test Dummies, and Sarah McLachlan. The article also wrestles with the confounding issue of what actually constitutes the "Canadian Sound".

But is there a Canadian sound? Well, there are certainly some distinctively Canadian acts - such as Toronto’s The Dream Warriors, a group that has created a West Indian-flavored rap style that has nothing to do with hip hop trends in Brooklyn or South Central Los Angeles. It is hard to imagine The Rankin Family, with its Celtic-influenced Maritime songs, or The Waltons, a Toronto-based band with its roots - and its heart - in Saskatchewan, coming from anywhere but Canada. Offers Finkelstein, who continues to manage Bruce Cockburn and other singer-songwriters: "We used to say it has to do with the big open spaces in our country. There’s a stillness, a coolness in what we do that’s inescapable." Dave Bidini, a member of Toronto’s passionately nationalistic pop group the Rheostatics, hears it in "the distance in the voice, the sense of place and the loneliness of the lyrics." J. D. Considine, a pop music writer for The Baltimore Sun and Musician magazine, cites the "strong sense of personal statement in Canadian music, a perspective that bridges the individual to the universal, that you find in the best work of The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo and Crash Test Dummies."

Since 1995, it seems as though Canadian music has found its voice; a young, female voice. Look at the pop charts: the major Canadian acts in recent years are Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morisette, Celine, and Shania. On the other hand, Mullet Rock in the tradition of Rush seems to be making a comeback. Nickelback and the Tea Party are two names that come to mind.

My conclusion is that the Canadian rock aesthetic is split along gender lines. Canadian female music carries on along the lines of the folk vein of Joanie Mitchell and early Neil Young with a tinge of Divahood, and bands like the Guess Who and Triumph have spawned the true heirs of classic rock--a genre that has pretty much died in the U.S. where hip-hop reigns supreme.

Again, this is just my observation. Any comments from my Canadian friends would be much appreciated.


Sunday, October 10, 2004

Keeping 'Merica Safe From Canadian Drugs

The other night in the U.S. Presidential debates, President George W. Bush was asked why the U.S. government was blocking drug imports from Canada.

The President responded by saying that the verdict was still out on Canadian drugs. "I just want to make sure the 'merican people are safe", he claimed in his folksy Texan drawl.

The last time I checked, the buses were headed to, not from, Canada, Mr. President. There is not one single documented case of an American getting sick from Canadian drugs. There are currently more uninsured Americans than there are Canadians, and many of those uninsured Americans are children who, no thanks to child labour laws, are unable to work in a mill or sweatshop in order to pay for their own insurance--although that may change if Bush is elected.

There is no more shameful sight for an American to see than a busload of senior citizens waiting at the Canadian border while on their way to obtain prescription drugs.

My Canadian friends...Would you consider crossing the border to purchase our more expensive, and purportedly safer, American drugs?

For my money, if you want to get some serious bang for your pharmecutial buck, go to Asia. Korean pharmacies still sell a kick-ass cough syrup with codine in it, and a general disregard for trademarks makes prescriptions unbelieveably cheap.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

How To Open Up The Cattle Market

Recently, the Federal Government of Canada give 30 million to the struggling beef farmers of Ontario. Due to the fact that one cow in Northern Alberta was found with Mad Cow Disease, the United States has refused to allow Canadian beef across the border.

Many Canadians believe that the American refusal to accept Canadian beef has as much to do with politics as food safety. Some would even suggest that it's an attempt to run Canadian cattlemen out of business so large American ranching operations can monopolize the market.

Whatever the case may be, better times are on the way. I have a solution to the problem:

Prime Minister Paul Martin should convince George W. Bush that the udders of black and brown cows actually contain high grade crude oil.


Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Poutine Diaries: An Explanation

The Poutine Diaries are my attempt to record my observations about Canada, my new home. Of course, in the process of doing so, I can't help but to compare my present experiences with past experiences. Because much of my life has been lived south of the 49th parallel, the inevitable comparison between the United States and Canada will come up now and again.

Before I begin, any generalization I might make is subject to correction and modification. I realize that any specific observation on my part may or may not be an adequate reflection of Canadian society as a whole. In addition, I'm going to attempt to record my observations without fear of consequence, although any tips on violations of the Canadian Criminal Code would be much appreciated (rumour has it that besmirching the reputation of the "Great One" is a punishable offense in several provinces).

First off: Why the Poutine Diaries? For my friends South of the Border, Poutine is a modern Canadian culinary creation comprised of fresh cut french fries, cheddar cheese curds, and a rich dark gravy. Poutine is the most accessible of all forms of Canadiana to the American mindset. To Yanks, this is as apt a metaphor for Canada as the beaver or the maple leaf. Where I'm from (Minnesota), we have plenty of leaves and beavers, but nary a styrofoam poutine cup. To an American, Poutine is familiar and exotic; comforting yet novel. Poutine combines the English preference for simple, hearty fare with the French penchant for the decadent.

Poutine is a fairly modern phenomena, and its gastronomic trajectory can be traced back to its Quebecois origins. According to Knight's Canadian Info Collection, Poutine was invented in Warwick, Quebec by a restauranteur named Fernand Lechance. I first sampled poutine in a London, Ontario Harvey's. (like its multinational counterparts Burger King and McDonald's, Harvey's hocks a vastly inferior conveyor-belt version of the food). My wife ordered a veggie burger and looked at me with disdain, and then promptly proceeded to snatch fries from my tray.

Poutine: It's addictive, unhealthy, and it's thrust out of driv-thru windows at us by large corporations.

Now that's a Canada this American can relate to.

Next stop: Tim Horton's.

The Poutine Primer
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