Canada and the North


The Arctic in History
The Arctic Today


The North and Canadian Identity: Myth and Reality


Canada considers itself as a Northern country. The North is a pillar of Canadian national identity.


In 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.


In 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." http://www.northernstrategy.ca/


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.