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The Great Myths of Canada


Mother England had two American kids -- one became a cop, one an outlaw

History is the collection of stories we tell ourselves about our past. Nations, like families, tend to continually retell the tales that fill our chests with pride, regardless of their veracity.

History is the collection of stories we tell ourselves about our past. Nations, like families, tend to continually retell the tales that fill our chests with pride, regardless of their veracity. America, we persist in believing, was founded as a haven for religious freedom, broke the yoke of unbearable British tyranny, fought a Civil War to free an oppressed race, civilized a savage West and now protects the world from terrorism.

Each of those assumptions contains a seed of fact wrapped in layers of fiction. Each is based upon periods, adventurous and often violent eras in American history, that were motivated as much by money as by morality. Yet they are the myths we live by and that define our sense of what it means to be Americans and not, for example, Canadians.

Canadians are different. Despite our best efforts -- after bombarding them across a 3,000-mile border for decades with American TV shows, consumables and music -- they remain staunchly Canadian. I am just back from a week in Victoria, British Columbia, billed as "Canada's most beautiful city". In Victoria, a city of 300,000, every lawn is groomed, every sidewalk is trimmed and every tree is pruned. Every public restroom is clean. Baskets of flowers hang from the street lamps. At the University of Victoria, herds of tiny bunny rabbits hop unmolested across the manicured campus.

I've spent time in Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City, Montreal and all around the province of Nova Scotia. From coast-to-coast Canadians are generally more introspective, more tolerant and patient, more polite and less uptight than Americans. They appear to have more faith in the plodding machinations of politics and government and an abiding respect for law and order. They are, in a word, more "civilized". This characteristic is a holdover from the days when Canadians imbued with the spirit of English Imperialism, when the sun never set on the British Empire.

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