Welcome to Canada, Eh?

June 19, 1994|By MYRON BECKENSTEIN

To the average American, there are three great unknowns left: space, the ocean bottom and Canada.

There are TV series on space and the ocean, an indication of our interest, but nothing yet on Canada.

Things may be about to change. Just as China awakened American interest during the 1970s with Ping-Pong diplomacy, Canada may be turning to a sports offensive to let Americans know there is something between Minnesota and the north pole besides snow.

The sport of choice is football. Suddenly American cities find themselves sort of a part of Canada because the Canadian Football League has expanded to their towns. Does this mean we all have to learn the Canadian national anthem and sing it at football games? Does this mean we have to learn which end of the Canadian flag is up? (It's hard to make a mistake, but it has been done.)

When the CFL Colts open their exhibition season in Shreveport (!) next Friday, will the coin toss feature an American coin or a Canadian one?

The possible anxieties are endless.

Therefore, as a public service, The Sun is offering this Newcomers' Guide to Canada to help you know what your new homeland is all about.

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LOCATION: Canada is the closest foreign country to Baltimore. The nearest part, not counting football franchises, is some 350 miles away, Middle Island in Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio.

Canada extends from the main U.S. border almost to the North Pole, except for Alaska and except when the United States wants to send nuclear subs under the Arctic Sea and then doesn't recognize the violated area as belonging to Canada.

About 80 percent of Canadians are believed to live within 100 miles of the American border, the longest undefended border in the world and also the straightest. Another portion lives huddled around the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, the world's biggest shopping mall.

Being further north, the Canadian climate is colder than this side of the Peace Bridge, but in the most populated areas the difference is just a matter of degree. If global warming comes about, lower Canada soon will become the way the United States is now.

A recent United Nations report found Canada the best country to live in, beating out Switzerland and Japan. The United States didn't come close.

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HISTORY: Canada was founded by the same people who founded the United States, only earlier. Actually, the Vikings landed in Newfoundland 500 years before Columbus sighted a much smaller island, but history isn't really ready to admit this yet.

Canada had two groups of founding settlers, the English and the French. The two finally fought it out in the French and Indian War 230 years ago, with the English thinking they had won when the French surrendered.

But the Canadians, even then a kinder, gentler country, didn't force the French to abandon their Francophile ways and the fruits of this senseless act of kindness still haunt them.

Before, during and after the American Revolution, many British loyalists moved north to escape the rebellion. Until the Civil War, escaped slaves moved north, too.

Where America and Britain have been described as two countries separated by a common language, Canada is one country separated by two languages. The degree of difficulty this causes goes up and down like the tides in the Bay of Fundy. Right now, it is high tide.

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THE PEOPLE: Canada is just like the United States, only different. By history and culture, it fits somewhere between Britain and America. America has drug stores, Britain has Boots the Chemist, Canada has Boots Drug Stores.

Because Canada has two official languages, everything official is said or printed twice, once in English and again in French. Commercial products must print their labels in both languages. Reading them gives you something to think about until the headache relief starts to kick in.

Like the United States, Canada is a mixture of all kinds of people. Until recently, Canada had a very liberal immigration policy, even without a Statue of Liberty. In fact, the war between the French and the English is really out-of-date because there are more immigrants there than Francophones (French-speakers). In further fact, this is one of the reasons the Francophones are restless: They are afraid unless they do something soon to imbed their leverage in law, they will lose it.

Just as the Francophones worry a lot about being subsumed by the Anglophones (English-speakers), the Anglophones worry about being subsumed by the United States. For quite a while the fear was about a land grab. The United States invaded during the War of 1812 (the subsequent march on Baltimore and the burning of the White House, we conveniently forget, was a retaliatory raid) and the fear that the gorilla south of the border might suddenly decide to do it again did not go away easily or quickly. In the long winter, pre-television nights, there wasn't much else to think about.

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