Canada’s culture is influenced by its wide range of nationalities, and measures to promote a ‘just society’ are protected by the Constitution. Canada has emphasised equality and inclusion for all its people. Multiculturalism is often cited as one of Canada’s greatest achievements and a key distinguishing feature of Canadian identity. In Québec, cultural identity is strong, and many commentators speak of a Québec culture that is distinct from English-speaking Canadian culture. However, Canada as a whole is theoretically a cultural mosaic – a collection of many regional, Aboriginal and ethnic subcultures.
Canada’s approach to government, with its emphasis on multiculturalism, selective immigration, social integration and suppression of far-right politics, enjoys broad public support. Government policies such as public funding of health care, increased taxes to redistribute wealth, the ban on the death penalty, strong efforts to eradicate poverty, strict gun control and the legalisation of gay marriage are other social indicators of Canada’s political and cultural values. Canadians also identify with the country’s health facilities, peacekeeping, national park system and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Historically, Canada has been influenced by the cultures and traditions of the British, French and Aboriginal peoples. Through their language, art and music, Aboriginal people continue to influence Canadian identity. In the 20th century, Canadians of African, Caribbean and Asian nationality have enriched Canadian identity and culture. Canadian humour is an essential part of Canadian identity and is reflected in folklore, literature, music, art and media. The main characteristics of Canadian humour are irony, parody and satire. Many Canadian comedians have achieved international success in the American television and film industries and are among the most recognised in the world.
Canada has a well-developed media sector, but its cultural output, particularly English-language films, television programming and magazines, is often overshadowed by imports from the United States. Consequently, the preservation of a distinct Canadian culture is supported by federal government programmes, legislation and institutions such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
Symbols in Canada
Canada’s national symbols are influenced by natural, historical and Aboriginal sources. The use of the maple leaf as a Canadian symbol dates back to the early 18th century. The maple leaf is depicted on the current and former flag of Canada, as well as on the coat of arms of Canada. The Canadian Coat of Arms is closely based on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, with distinctive French and Canadian elements replacing or supplementing those derived from the British version. The Great Seal of Canada is a government seal used for government purposes. It is affixed to letters patent, proclamations and commissions, for the Queen’s representatives and for the appointment of cabinet ministers, lieutenant-governors, senators and judges. Other important symbols include the beaver, the Canada goose, the common loon, the crown, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and, more recently, the totem pole and the inuksuk. Canadian coins feature many of these symbols: the loon on the one-dollar coin, the Canadian coat of arms on the 50-cent coin, the beaver on the five-cent coin. The penny, which was withdrawn from circulation in 2013, featured the maple leaf. The image of the Queen appears on the $20 note and on the obverse of all current Canadian coins.
Literature in Canada
Canadian literature is often divided into English-language and French-language literature, which have their roots in the literary traditions of France and Britain respectively. Four major themes are found in historical Canadian literature: nature, life on the frontier, and Canada’s place in the world, all of which are linked to the garrison mentality. In the 1990s, Canadian literature was considered among the best in the world. Canada’s ethnic and cultural diversity is reflected in its literature, and many of its most prominent modern writers are concerned with ethnic life. Perhaps the best-known living Canadian writer internationally (especially since the deaths of Robertson Davies and Mordecai Richler) is Margaret Atwood, a prolific novelist, poet and literary critic. Many other Canadian writers have won international literary awards, including Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, named best living author of short stories in English, and Booker Prize winner Michael Ondaatje, perhaps best known for the novel The English Patient, which was adapted into the film of the same name that won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Canadian visual art was dominated by figures such as Tom Thomson – the country’s most famous painter – and the Group of Seven. Thomson’s career as a painter of Canadian landscapes spanned over a decade until his death in 1917 at the age of 39. The group was composed of nationalist and idealist painters who first exhibited their distinctive works in May 1920. Although there were supposedly seven members, five artists – Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley – were responsible for articulating the group’s ideas. They are briefly joined by Frank Johnston and commercial artist Franklin Carmichael. A. J. Casson joined the group in 1926. Another prominent Canadian artist, Emily Carr, known for her landscapes and depictions of the aboriginal peoples of the Pacific Northwest, was associated with the group. Since the 1950s, Inuit art has been presented as gifts to foreign dignitaries by the Canadian government.
The Canadian music industry is the sixth largest in the world, producing internationally renowned composers, musicians and ensembles. Music broadcasting in the country is regulated by the CRTC. The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presents the Canadian Music Industry Awards, the Juno Awards, which were first presented in 1970. The Canadian Music Hall of Fame, founded in 1976, honours Canadian musicians for their lifetime achievements. Patriotic music in Canada goes back more than 200 years as a distinct category of British patriotism, predating the first legal steps towards independence by more than 50 years. The oldest, The Bold Canadian, was written in 1812. Canada’s national anthem, O Canada, was originally commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, the Honourable Théodore Robitaille, for the St. Jean Baptiste Day celebrations in 1880 and was officially adopted in 1980. Calixa Lavallée wrote the music, which was a setting of a patriotic poem by the poet and judge Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The text was originally only in French, but was translated into English in 1906.
The roots of organised sport in Canada go back to the 1770s. Canada’s official national sports are ice hockey and lacrosse. Seven of Canada’s eight largest metropolitan areas – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg – have National Hockey League (NHL) franchises, while Quebec City had the Quebec Nordiques until they moved to Colorado in 1995. Canada has one Major League Baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, one professional basketball team, the Toronto Raptors, three Major League Soccer teams and four National Lacrosse League teams. Canada has participated in almost every Olympic Games since its founding in 1900 and has hosted several major international sporting events, including the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, the 1994 Basketball World Cup, the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Other popular and professional spectator sports in Canada include curling, Canadian football and rugby league; the latter is played professionally in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and League One (Toronto Wolfpack). Golf, tennis, baseball, skiing, cricket, volleyball, rugby union, Australian rules football, football and basketball are widely played at youth and amateur levels, but professional leagues and franchises are not widespread.