The importance of defining an identity is of sociological concern because sense of "self', or identity, is reached only by means of people socially interacting (Hiller 1976). Determining whether or not there is a unique Canadian identity has been a struggle since the conception of the nation back in 1867, and with good reason. "[A]n identity is very difficult to define and it is virtually impossible to determine the fine line between lack of an identity and the existence of an identity" (Hiller p.155). In order to conclude that there is a unique Canadian identity, it is necessary to see past the irony in which such a conclusion is reached. The irony is that, there are fewer things unique within Canada, which all Canadians share in common, compared to unique characteristics that can be seen across the board. This fact is one that Canadians closely identify themselves with, and thus becomes part of the unique Canadian identity. The primary causes of this lack of uniqueness within Canada among Canadians are various types of barriers. Government has made significant efforts throughout Canadian history to unify Canada and overcome many of these barriers. As well, it has recently been found that there is a market for things "Canadian" which corporate Canada has taken advantage of in national advertising campaigns through the means of mass media. We will see how this too has contributed to overcoming these barriers as well as created a sense of uniqueness to Canadians. We will also take a look at what the American identity is: How it is/was shaped, and what comparisons can be made between it, and the Canadian identity. When it is all said and done, the Canadian identity is a delicate, yet strong and something to be very proud of.
General Canadian Identity When mentioning Canadian identity, some of the first things that come to mind are the external and internal stereotypes that have been created about Canadians. There are of course the typical stereotypes that arrive from the United States such as the idea that Canadians all live in igloos while dodging stray hockey pucks. Or that it is cold everywhere in Canada, all year around. All of which are untrue.
Furthermore, there is a distinct view on what a Canadian language is. Verbal language of (English) Canadians is more like American spoken language than it is to spoken English in England. However, Americans in particular will notice a slight British accent in Canadian language. For example the way a Canadian says "Out and About", to an American will sound "Oot and Aboot". Also not forgetting to mention the Canadian "word' "eh" and how it is a uniquely Canadian word. However, the context in which Canadians use the word "eh" is not unique by any means. It is used in much the same context as the American "huh"; only "eh" has more uses (So You Want to Speak Canadian, Eh?). In addition, such words as "toque", or "ski-doo" are only common phrase within Canada. These two words not only contribute to Canadian identity in their being uniquely Canadian, but that the objects themselves can even be used, unofficially, as Canadian symbols.
What greater unofficial Canadian symbols are there than anything that has to do with hockey, and justifiably so. Canada has been the most successful nation when it comes to hockey. It is identifiable throughout Canada. Nearly every Canadian town has an arena in which residents could find blindfolded. On September 28, 1972, one of the most familiar phrases in Canadian history was broadcast across the airways; starting with "Here's another shot. Right in front. They score!" which Canadians will likely finish with "Henderson has scored for Canada" (Earle 1995). This of course being in regards to Canada's victory over the USSR in an international hockey series. Another hockey symbol is the mere name of "Wayne Gretzky". Gretzky is more recognized outside Canada than the Canadian Prime Minister. There could someday be a movement to have the theme from "Hockey Night In Canada" changed to the National anthem, where Canadians just stand in silence listening to the recognizable theme song. It would put up a good fight for sure.
Barriers as Hindrances Barriers play a major role in constructing (or destruction of) a Canadian identity. Canada's diverse geography has created physical regions that separate Canadians. The Rocky Mountains separate the West Coast from the prairies. The Canadian Shield separates the prairies from that which is east. Finally, the Appalachian Mountain Range separating much of the Maritimes from Lower Quebec and Southern Ontario. These regions are in turn constructed further socially. People create their identity within and from their surroundings and these physical barriers deter interaction outside their own region.
Along with these physical barriers, there are cultural barriers. The most evident of these is between the French and English cultures within Canada. Events in Canadian history insured the survival of French culture mainly the French language and Catholicism, as opposed to English language and following the Anglican Church. This cultural difference, though always tense, has not been as prevalent as it has in the past 30 years or so. Starting with the violent measures taken by the FLQ in the 70's, the Meech Lake Accord in the 80's and the referendum regarding Quebec Sovereignty in the 90's, the clash between French and English Canada has nearly boiled over and split the country. To this very day, French is the official language of Quebec, opposed to English in the rest of the country (except New Brunswick where both are considered official). The Quebec Government has strict policies within Quebec to protect the French language by making it illegal for businesses to use English names, or post English signs.
Not only are there cultural barriers between French and English in Canada, but between a variety of ethnic backgrounds co-existing throughout Canada and within the separate regions. Poet Robin Skelton writes as pointed out by J.A Wainwright (1998) illustrates this co-existence of different ethnicity: sometimes I sit in a beer parlour with the Hungarians, the Czechs,...