5 Famous Canadians Answer “What Does It Mean to Be Canadian?”

Five of Canada’s most celebrated figures attempt to answer the age-old question: “What does it mean to be Canadian?”

Photo: Andrea Raffin/Shutterstock

Donald Sutherland, actor

“To whom? To me? To someone wishing they were Canadian? To someone waiting in line for a doctor? To someone listening to a loon out on the lake? To someone wishing that the flag had blue in it? Truth be told when you get right down to it, this is what it means to be Canadian. In 1954, coming back from Finland on my way home, I went through Holland. Through the Netherlands. They thought I was American. They were decent to me. Courteous. But when someone asked what part of the States I was from, I said, ‘No, not me, I’m Canadian.’ And they started to cry, the older ones, and they all ran and embraced me and took me inside and fed me and invited neighbours in to see me saying something like ‘hij is een Canadees.’ I’ve never forgotten sitting there proudly thinking this is what it is to be Canadian. This is what my cousin Lew, shot by a sniper not far from here two days after D-Day, was fighting for. For this, and for me.”

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Alanis MorissettePhoto: Fabio Diena/Shutterstock

Alanis Morissette, singer-songwriter

“It means one is conversational, curious, filled with self-deprecating humour, and internationally minded, if I dare generalize. Polite until we aren’t. And yes we say ‘sorry’ often enough for it to be noticeable… but we truly are an empathic bunch.”

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What does it mean to be CanadianPhoto: Shawn Goldberg/Shutterstock

Margaret Atwood, author and poet

“I have just come back from the United States, where Canada is having an unaccustomed moment in the spotlight. Once, Canada was the great blank space on the map above the 49th parallel where the cold weather came from. Now it is seen by many Americans as a beacon of light in a darkening world—a place you might escape to if things get too negative south of the border: still welcoming, still kindly, still pluralistic and committed to fairness. We need to remember that, and to hold our country to the standards it likes to believe it believes in—but nonetheless, at the moment it shines, at least by comparison. ‘As Canadian as possible under the circumstances’ used to be a joke. Now it’s a hope. Yes, Canada: be as Canadian as possible. Under the circumstances. And good luck.”

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