July 1 is Canada Day, the day America's neighbors in the Great White North celebrates their country's birthday.
Citizens of the country that gave us Keanu Reeves, Margaret Atwood, Neil Young, Peter Jennings and, um, Carly Rae Jepsen will celebrate Canada's 145th birthday with hearty helpings of poutine and Timbits, washed down by double-double coffees and Molsons.
Canada’s influence on the United States goes beyond the entertainment industry, though. One estimate has 920,000 Canadians living in the U.S. Another estimate says that there are 20-30 million Americans who have Canadian ancestors.
Canadians, for the most part, grew up watching the same television shows, reading the same books and listening to the same music as Americans and thus have cultural invisibility in the U.S. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the Canadian influence is also strong in Saline.
Glenn Law, the former city council member and current candidate for mayor, grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, just outside Toronto. Karen Ragland, owner of , is president of the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and played a big role in making Saline a Michigan Main Street Community. Ragland is from Toronto.
Wally MacNeil, co-owner of in the heart of downtown, is from Kentville, Nova Scotia. One year, MacNeil marked Canada Day by firing a couple rockets into the sky. One of them landed on the home of a neighbor, who came over to ask that MacNeil aim his rockets in another direction. MacNeil discovered that neighbor was local attorney, former NHL hockey player, husband of county commissioner Alicia Ping, and Canadian, from Cold Lake Alberta.
You can’t swing a busted hockey stick in Saline without slashing a Canadian, it seems.
The Border Crossing
What brings Canadians over the border? Perhaps they are the same things that brings most anyone to America. Opportunity. Adventure. And Love.
Shand knew very little of the United States before coming over as a 17-year-old. He’d been to the Northeast, where Ivy League colleges were recruiting him to play hockey. His next visit was too Ann Arbor, where his friend Rob Palmer was going to play for the University of Michigan. The drive through Detroit “scared the living crap” out Shand, but Bo Schembechler’s recruiting pitch was the deciding factor. Living in Ann Arbor in the early 1970s was an experience for the 17-year-old from a a tiny, northern Alberta town.
“There were marches protesting the Vietnam War nearly every day. People were streaking all the time. It was the era of free love. You got a $5 fine if you were caught smoking pot,” Shand said. “It was mind blowing. I thought it was great.”
MacNeil moved to Michigan when he was 19. He had family here and came to visit while in university.
“I was from a really small town. I landed in Detroit, home of Motown and Bob Seger. I probably went to 30 baseball games that first year. I loved it. It was such an experience,” said MacNeil. “I never planned on staying. But I got married and got my green card, and the next thing you know a lot of years had gone by.”
For others, the move was about work.
Law came to the U.S. in 1993. Ontario wasn’t hiring nurses and his wife had the opportunity to work as a nurse at the University of Michigan.
Saline-area resident Brad Jenks, from Waterloo, Ontario, crossed the border in 2005 when his employer, City Electric Supply, expanded into Michigan.
“It was a chance for me to advance my in career by opening and managing a new division,” Jenks said.
For Ragland, the move wasn’t about money or work. It was love.
“I grew up in downtown Toronto and I loved the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the big city," she said. "But my husband is American and we decided to live over here."
Brash Yankees and Laid Back Canucks
Canada lives in the shadow of America, most Canadians will admit.
“The United States has 10 times the population and 10 times the wealth. It has such a huge influence in Canadians,” Shand said. “I think Canada defines itself as being non-American.”
One thing these five immigrants agreed on was that Americans tend to be a bit more boisterous.
“Americans are a little more ‘rah-rah’ about sports,” Ragland said. “And Americans seem to go more all-out for things like Easter parties and graduation parties and things like that.”
Law said the one thing that surprised him about America was the love of college sports.
“I knew about it. But when I first came to Ann Arbor I couldn’t believe how glued people were to college football,” said Law.
Jenks said he came to America believing everyone owned a gun and that American’s were very patriotic.
“I’m not sure that is ‘completely’ untrue, either,” Jenks said, of his belief about gun ownership. ”Certainly the patriotism of Americans and love of country is undeniable.”
MacNeil said that because of tourism, for a long time, he thought all Americans were rich.
“Another thing I thought was that Americans were opinionated. But now I think Canadians are laid back,” MacNeil said.
The Differences Between Canadians and Americans
The difference between brash and laid back was central to how this group viewed the differences between Canadians and Americans.
“Canadians are much more complacent. There’s much more apathy there about what people can and can’t control. Canadians are much more likely to let things happen around them and give government more power,” Ragland said. “Americans are more likely to be stronger willed and impose their will on others. Canadians tend to be a bit more gentle in their approach.”
MacNeil said Canadians can afford to be laid back because the super power to the south affords the country to live with little fear.
“Canadians are fortunate they live next to the world’s protector. That allows them to be laid back. Without the U.S., all Canada would have to defend itself is a moose and a flying squirrel,” said MacNeil, referring to Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Shand, too, made the distinction between the aggressive Americans and laid back Canadians.
“Canadians work to live and Americans live to work. It’s a different approach. Americans are far more focused and driven to work hard and to be really successful,” he said.
Law and Jenks said they didn’t see much difference in Canadians and Americans.
“I’ve heard from Americans that they view Canadians as being more polite, but I know many very polite Americans, too,” Law said.
Jenks said he didn’t believe there was any difference between Americans and Canadians, when dealing with people on a person-to-person level.
America projects itself around the world as the land of freedom, democracy and opportunity. And these Canadians believe it.
“This is still a great land of opportunity! Even through these past several years have been difficult on the commercial construction and housing industries, of which we are heavily reliant, our business has had some success and are now looking to expand with opening more stores,” Jenks said.
Law said he appreciates the freedom to do what he wants.
“There’s a mindset here that you can be what you want to be. I left my journalism career and began a teaching career. There are places in the world where you don’t have that opportunity,” Law said.
Shand said the drive to succeed makes for an interesting society.
“The U.S. is more dynamic. People are so driven and focused. There are so many things going on and that makes it an incredible place to live,” Shand said.
One of the thing’s Ragland enjoys is the input Americans have in running their country.
“Canadians vote in government elections. But Canadians don’t get to vote on whether we want to spend more money to support our local schools,” Ragland said.
For MacNeil, some of the best things about America are the moments that are 110 percent American.
“Canadians are proud and patriotic. But it’s different here. When you go to the University of Michigan football game, and the band plays the anthem, and then the jets fly over…that does something to you,” he said.
Home and Native Land
Law and Ragland are U.S. citizens now. Both decided they wanted the opportunity to vote. Shand and MacNeil have been planning to become citizens for years but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Jenks, too, wants the opportunity to vote again, and he and his family expect to become citizens one day.
All five miss Canada in their own way. Ragland misses Toronto and all it offered. Law misses his old neighborhood. Shand misses the Canadian health care system, poutine and butter tarts. Jenks and his family miss the around-the-clock hockey coverage on the cable sports channels, tea bags only found in Canada and ketchup-flavored chips. MacNeil misses the beer, the junk food and the pizza, all of which are better, he said.
Canada and the United States share the longest unprotected border in the world. They also share birthdays just a few days apart.
“I know so many guys from Canada living in the area that our July party is a July 1 and a July 4 party,” MacNeil said. “If the party happens to fall on July 1, we have our guests dress like famous Canadians such Don Cherry.”
The two countries also share a bond that lives within Canadians living in America, Americans living in Canada, and all of their friends and relatives who cross the border for holidays, birthdays and friendly visits.
“I’ve never felt so much overwhelming pride as I did when after 9/11, in Ottawa, they played and sang the Star Spangled Banner,” MacNeil said. “It made me realize I have the best of both worlds.”