North and Canadian Identity: Myth and Reality
Canada considers itself as a Northern country. The North is a
pillar of Canadian national identity.
the late nineteenth century when Canada was created, historians,
thinkers, politicians presented the northern Canadian climate as
one of the chief attributes of Canadian nationality, to set the
country apart from the US and present it in a positive light.
Canada was "the true north, strong and free", an expression that
appears in the national anthem.
The idea was that Canada’s
unique and excellent character derived from its northern
location, its severe winters, and its heritage of
northern races. The result of life in the harsh northern latitudes
was seen as the creation of self-reliance and strength. Hence
the Canadian climate was transformed from an element of
sterility and inhospitability
to a dynamic element of national greatness. The northerness of
Canada was compared to the southerness of the US, with the ideas
that the climate there was sapping the energies of the vigorous
pioneer northern races that that had made the greatness of the
country. This discourse was largely mythical and somewhat
racist; it resulted from the insecurity of the Canadian
people and their desire to produce a strong and distinctive national image.
more recent years, the Northern dimension of Canada continued to
be presented as a central and distinctive element of the
national identity. In the writings of historian Arthur Lower,
Canada is presented as constantly strengthened and cleansed by
the air that flows from
the great virgin north. Very recently, Prime Minister
Stephen has reiterated the importance of the North for Canada:
"Canada’s North is a fundamental part of Canada – it is part of
our heritage, our future and our identity as a country."
However, there is a striking gap between the importance given to
the North in the national narrative, and the reality. About 80%
of the Canadian people live within 300 miles of the
Canadian-American border and have no personal experience of the
extreme North or the Arctic. For most of its history, Canada
almost completely ignored its Northern regions,
particularly the Arctic zone.