With a presidential election upon us, Americans are, once again, talking about moving to Canada. The whole idea of moving to Canada has become a bit of an American electoral tradition, with famous and not so famous people threatening to move north every four years if so and so wins. It’s a trend that for some reason seems to be on the rise this year.
On a recent road trip across Canada, I learned there are a few things every American should know before they pack up the dogsled and make a run for the border.
Let’s start with the obvious, or what would be obvious if we had better schools, Canada is its own sovereign nation. The reason I bring this up is most Americans you talk to seem to think that living in Canada is the same thing as living in a different state, except Canada has its own Olympic team, plays more hockey, and used to have really funny comedians.
The truth is when you start spending time in Canada you realize there’s more to the story and that there is something different, something deeply Un-American in Canada’s past.
Not Everyone Wants to be American
The secret that weaves its way through Canada’s history and seems to bind the country together is how proud they are to have kept the Americans out. I don’t mean keeping American tourists out; they seem plenty happy to entertain us if they know when we’re leaving. What they’re really proud of is their ability to rebuff America’s unwanted advances for over 200 years.
The first place it showed up was in Quebec, high on the bluffs above the Saint Lawrence River is a giant fortress, the Citadelle de Québec, and even though it is literally right next to the Plains of Abraham where the French and English fought the deciding battle for control of Canada, all anyone wants to talk about is how the Citadelle and its cannons were built to keep the Americans out.
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It’s the constant references to the War of 1812, you remember those three paragraphs of 7th-grade history class when the British burned the White House, and Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans two weeks after the treaty ending the war was signed.
In Canada the War of 1812 is actually a thing, there are statues and monuments, there was a three-year commemoration to celebrate its 200th anniversary, and even though the war was technically against the British and Canada wouldn’t become its own country for another 55 years, it’s pretty much remembered as the time the Canadian militia, think Minutemen, ran circles around the Americans.
Then there was the tour guide who described Canada’s original confederation, when the first group of provinces joined together to form the Dominion of Canada, as a way to keep those sneaky Brits from selling Canada off to the Americans who had recently finished our Civil War, bought Alaska from the Russians, and had our whole manifest destiny thing going on.
The coup de grâce, so to speak, was in Ottawa where every night during the summer there’s a huge multi-media light show, called Northern Lights, projected on the Canadian Parliament Building that tells the story of Canada.
The show is very Canadian, everyone gets credit for something, the voyagers and the members of the First Nations get along, it’s free and open to the public, and there’s a rousing version of O Canada where everyone stands up and sings. And there it was, running through the show in subtle and not so subtle ways, that Canadians should be proud of keeping America at bay.
There also are small tidbits about how Canada won D-Day and the glories of the Canadian space program, but those will keep for another day.
The whole we’re not American never came across as not liking Americans or that people were mean or rude to us. In fact, everyone I met in Canada, whether they spoke English or French, was very nice, except one waiter who was ticked we had a hard time ordering dinner when their entire menu was in French, written on a blackboard in four-point font, and the only way we could see it was by taking a picture and looking at it on my phone.
The way Canadians are proud of not being American comes across more like a younger sister being proud of having kept her big brother out of her room by shutting her door when he wasn’t home than it was of personal dislike. And who can blame them, we do tend to act like the world revolves around us and wouldn’t you hold a grudge if Thomas Jefferson said taking over your country was “a mere matter of marching.”
Your Threat to Move to Canada is Pretty Hollow
Unless you can qualify as a student, are independently wealthy, or can find a Canadian company to hire and sponsor you, it might be harder than you think to immigrate to Canada. Canada seems to have a whole set of rules around legal immigration that were put in place long before Americans decided to invade by inner tube. Don’t believe me, fill out the questionnaire and see if you qualify.
So if you’ve been walking around threatening to move to Canada if Hillary becomes the first female President or planning to pack your bags if The Donald becomes the first Russian President, you might need to come to terms with something, that can be really hard for an American, Canada might not want you.
Mark is Umami's publisher