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Canada Culture, Traditions, and History (FSF Guide)

Updated: Feb 17, 2023



Canada Overview

Canada is a nation in North America whose name is derived from the Iroquoian word "kanata", which literally means village. This name is fitting for a nation characterized by its tolerance and egalitarianism. These values that underlay Canadian daily life owe to the harsh, mountainous environment and its historical ethnic diversity.


Canada’s History

Canada was first discovered by Europeans when the Vikings established Canada’s community near present day L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland in AD 986. After the colony was abandoned, Canada remained unknown to Europeans until Italian explorer John Cabot discovered Newfoundland’s abundant cod fishery in 1497.

French explorer Jacques Cartier discovered Québec’s St Lawrence River in 1535, but Canada’s first permanent European community was not established until 1604. Samuel de Champlain founded both Port Royal in present day Nova Scotia in 1604 and present day Québec City four years later, which became the capital of the New France colony. This fueled the lucrative fur-trade between French and Aboriginal people, driven by the demand for beaver pelts in Europe. In 1608 Champlain built a fortress at what is now Québec City. The colonists struggled against a harsh climate. Champlain allied the colony with the Algonquin, Montagnais, and Huron, historic enemies of the Iroquois, a confederation of First Nations who battled with the French settlements for a century.

A century and a half of conflict between the British and French came to a head during the Seven Year War, when the French surrendered all of their North American territory to Great Britain. The 1774 Québec Act allowed New France’s French speaking population to preserve their language, Catholic religion, and civil law code. Many Loyalists of the British Crown settled in Upper Canada, or present day Ontario, after losing the American Revolutionary War while most French speakers remained in Lower Canada.

Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia became Canada’s first four provinces after the 1867 formation of the Dominion of Canada, which had a strong central government and closer ties to Great Britain than to the United States.

Canada fell into conflict soon after as the 12,000 Métis of the Red River were not consulted. This was seen when Louis Riel led an army to capture the territorial capital of Fort Garry and much of the Canadian interior. Manitoba responded by sending armed forces and retook Fort Garry in 1870, with Riel fleeing to the US to escape prosecution. To prevent future uprisings, Prime Minister Macdonald established the North West Mounted Police, which are now the national police force of the country.

Between 1951 and 2011, Canada’s population more than doubled from 16 to 34 million, largely due to the steady flow of immigrants from virtually every corner and country on Earth. Today, Canada remains one of the most prosperous developed nations.


Canadian Culture

Societal Values

Canada emphasizes egalitarianism and mutual respect. This leads to class divide within Canadian society being an awkward issue as the distribution of wealth often does not always reflect this principle. Because of this, overt class distinctions within Canadian society are difficult to discern. Affluent people will sometimes identify themselves as being middle-class, reflecting a somewhat subdued attitude in regard to achievement, winning and success. Canadians tend to favor the underdog and avoid making people feel inferior because of a lower socioeconomic position.

Canada’s history of ethnic diversity has cultivated a shared national acceptance and understanding of bi-culturalism through which parallel identities are largely celebrated. People of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to maintain ties to their heritage, with dual identity having similar social and political weight as a uniquely Canadian one. In this way, Canadian society forms a mosaic of ethnic relations. Canada has historically been welcoming and open towards immigration, seeing migrants as beneficial to the country’s development and growth. More than a fifth of Canada’s population now comprises people born outside the country. Vancouver and Victoria’s Chinese communities host their own dragon boat festivals each summer, while the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival is one of the largest street festivals in North America.


Traditions

● Canada Day occurs on July 1st every year and is typically celebrated outside with bands, food, and fireworks



● Potlucks often serve as major gatherings among friends with each bringing a meal to be shared by the whole group



Religion

Officially, Canada is a Christian nation, though no religious faith is legally required. Most Canadians are religiously affiliated, typically to Christianity, though observance of said religion is less common, with this varying by ethnic and religious group. The decline in religious observance is seen in most religions in Canada but appears to primarily be a Christian phenomenon.

Some religious groups have grown in membership, such as those associated with evangelical Christianity, but overall the trend in Canada has been toward increasing secularism in public and in private lives. An exception is an increase in the observance of traditional religious practices among First Nations peoples in recent decades, which should be seen both as a spiritual revitalization and as part of the historic process of reasserting their ethnic and political identities in Canada.


Language and Communication Style

Canadians are typically soft-spoken, patient, and almost apologetic in their public behavior. This involves certain general expectations, with ethnic diversity increasing the complexity of rules regarding social propriety, but social interactions are generally relaxed outside of formal settings.

Both English and French are official languages in Canada. This corresponds with a cultural divide in the country between English-speaking Anglophones and French-speaking Francophones. These cultural differences derive from their English and French cultural origins but are typically less pronounced. While both are noticeably courteous and polite, Anglophones are slightly more reserved in most behavioral norms and communication, tending to maintain a calm and low-key presence. Francophones have retained a strong independent streak characteristic of French libertarianism. This is seen in Nationalist French Canadians repeatedly campaigning for separation from the dominant Anglophone society.


Etiquette

Personal

● Speak in a straightforward manner

● Avoid encroaching on others’ personal space

● Avoid over-exaggerating claims

● Do not point at people

● Avoid discussing politics, religion, and sex

Business

● Be punctual

● Be familiar with the company you are working with

● Do not discuss personal issues with coworkers

● Employees are encouraged to voice their opinions during meetings

Dining

● Hold the fork in the left hand and knife in the right hand while eating

● Do not start before the host

● Keep elbows off the table

● It is customary to tip 15-20%

● Host gives the first toast in formal situations


Food

● Poutine originates from Quebec and consists of French fries and cheese topped with brown gravy



● Canadian ‘peameal’ bacon comes from the loin of pork and has been brined and rolled in cornmeal



● Maple syrup is also a favorite




Canada Culture: Conclusion

Canada is a highly diverse nation. This diversity serves as its greatest strength and the cornerstone of the cultural values of tolerance and egalitarianism. This tolerance further contributes to the nation’s diversity by encouraging people to embrace and express their cultural heritage. Though this results in some divide between the English and French speaking parts of the country, there is near universal pride in being part of the nation of Canada (I’m looking at you, Quebec).



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