What makes us Canadian?

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Survey ranks Maple Leaf No. 1, just ahead of the good ol hockey game

OTTAWA - No one would have guessed that 43 years after the Maple Leaf first flew over Parliament Hill, following a heated, divisive national debate, it would become the greatest, most unifying symbol of the country.
But Duncan Matheson, son of former Liberal MP John Matheson - the man who played a leading role in creating the flag that replaced the Red Ensign - is sure glad, according to a new poll, that it did.
"We're all so pleased, so very pleased and feel things worked out very well," said Matheson, from his home in Midland, Ont. "We're very fortunate that Canadians have taken to that symbol, and to some extent, that it has become the unifying force that was hoped for."
A new poll from Ipsos Reid - the largest poll of its kind conducted - reveals the top 101 things Canadians say best define the country. At the front of the pack is the Maple Leaf symbol, and in third place is the flag itself.
The poll, conducted for the Dominion Institute and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, employed an open-ended question system, where participants said what things best defined the country, then graded the responses on a points scale. In the end, all points were tallied to arrive at the list.
No. 2 on the list is hockey. At No. 4 is the beaver, followed by the Canadarm, Canada Day, peacekeeping, Pierre Trudeau and universal health care.
It should come as no surprise the most defining symbols seem so familiar to most Canadians, said Ashley Konson, head of strategic branding at Bensimon Byrne, the firm responsible for the rant-ridden "I am Canadian" beer commercials.
A Canadian symbol's power to convey and create meaning, like any other brand, heavily relies on its exposure to the public, he said.
"Whether it's the flag flying over the Ontario legislature, or whether it's hockey broadcasted over television, (we see) how much these various symbols are part of our every day lives in Canada," Konson said.
Overall, the data paint a picture of a changing, evolving country - one headed away from a cherished understanding of historical events and people, toward a more purely symbolic understanding of itself. Marc Chalifoux, the executive director of the Dominion Institute, a decade-old organization that studies Canadians' experience of history, said the findings show a "generational shift."
Older people felt much more strongly about historical events than did younger generations, in general. The youngest bracket, aged 18-34, was more "attached," he said, to places and icons, such as Toronto, the CN Tower and the beaver, than was the oldest bracket, of 55 years and older.
"The findings were somewhat worrying," said Chalifoux. "We (the institute) feel our Canadian history and our story as a country is an important element of what defines us, and to see those elements disappearing from the list ... it's historical amnesia."
As an example, Confederation - the event that formed the Canada we know today - was least popular among the youngest age category, with 290 points, while the middle category, aged 35-54, gave nearly three times as much (868 points) and the oldest gave the most (1396 points).
"The elements that emphasize ourselves are changing. In 20 years from now, a conversation about Canada will be much different," Chalifoux said.
"In a nation of hewers of wood and drawers of water, in a nation more often than not defined by its natural resources, there's a justifiable pride that we have these ... innovations that show the rest of the world that Canada isn't just a country of rocks and tress and oil beneath the ground," said Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the Dominion Institute.
"As Canadians we spend an awful lot of time talking about our differences, and the things that separate us - regions, language, ethnicity - but what comes out of this survey is a sense of who we are - a country of shared identity, accomplishments, heroes, and innovations, that touch all Canadians."
For the survey, a randomly selected sample of 3,114 Canadians, including 721 immigrants, 522 educators, and 274 members of the Order of Canada was interviewed online. The results are considered accurate to within 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margin of error will be larger within each sub-grouping of the survey.
If you feel something is missing from the list, log on to 101things.ca to cast your vote for No. 102.
A few aspects of Canadiana that didn't score enough points to be included in the Top 101, with their ranking, include:
102. the Group of Seven
103. Legalization of same-sex marriage
111. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
119. Afghanistan mission/war
120. Basketball
138. Louis Riel and the 1885 Rebellion
141. The seal hunt
143. Quebec City founded
182. Signal Hill
186. The BlackBerry phone
206. Bobby Orr
225. "EH"
238. Meech Lake Accord
240. Gordie Howe
290. Taxes
316. Igloo
340. Billy Bishop

Organizations: Dominion Institute, Ipsos Reid, Department of Citizenship and Immigration CN Tower Group of Seven Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Geographic location: Maple Leaf, Canada, OTTAWA Midland Ontario Toronto Afghanistan Quebec City Signal Hill Meech Lake

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  • Jason
    January 18, 2010 - 11:19

    What about Sir Sanford Fleming? For those interested in some interesting Canadiana try reading *Ocean to Ocean: Sandford Fleming's Expedition through Canada in 1872*, This book was very popular at the time and helped to create interest in the west both in Eastern Canada and in England. It recounts the 1872 journey across the continent from Ontario to British Columbia along the proposed route of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The expedition was led by Sandford Fleming, chief engineer of the railway at the time.