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The Greatest Canadian

Canada has always been a different kind of country. We weren’t founded through a revolution like our neighbours to the south, but by years of diplomacy and co-operation. We didn’t need a civil war to unite our colonies under one banner, just a working railroad.

Even after Canada became its own country in 1867, we kept close ties to the British Empire, effortlessly inheriting the same systems of government, public education and justice that the Brits had hammered out for over 600 years of conflict. All the hard work had already been done for us.

That’s not to say that we don’t have any past glories to be proud of – the march on Washington in 1812, Vimy Ridge, Paschendale, Juno Beach, and hundreds of other battles and peacekeeping missions. We have always been resolute in times of war and conflict, but that’s never been the quality that defined us as a nation.

We started as a nation of farmers, concession roads and small towns, united by our shared experiences of Canada – cold winters, warm summers and swarms of mosquitoes and black flies. We evolved into an educated, urban society with tall buildings, clean streets, cold winters, warm summers and swarms of mosquitoes and black flies.

Like the Brits, we tend to praise quick wits and humour above all other attributes, albeit with a blue collar tinge that we picked up from the U.S. I liked Chretien in the beginning because he was quick with the comebacks and entertaining in debates. Arguably our greatest cultural export is comedy.

We have our own strange language in Canada, punctuated with "eh’s?", "whuhs?", odd spellings, and foreign concepts like tuques, loonies, toonies and two-fours.

If we emptied our collective closets we could carpet the country in a sea of plaid, our national colour scheme. If we laid our hockey sticks from end to end we could probably circle the equator several times.

It’s impossible to know what to make of that, or to define a country based on its national character. Canada is hard to categorize, as are Canadians.

What does it mean to be Canadian anyway – putting aside the fuzzy patriotism foisted on us by our national beer companies? More importantly, what makes a Canadian great?

The CBC recently asked this question of it viewers, directing people to their Web site to cast their votes for the Greatest Canadian.

There is a long list of names to choose from. There are sports legends like Wayne Gretzky and Rocket Richard, writers like Margaret Atwood and Timothy Findley, actors like Jim Carrey and Mike Myers, musicians like Neil Young and Stompin’ Tom Connors, politicians like Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Sir John A. Macdonald, inspirational figures like Terry Fox and Louis Riel, inventors like Dr. Frederick Banting and Alexander Graham Bell, philosophers like Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye, and heroes like World War I aces Billy Bishop and Roy Brown.

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