Canadian Culture

Core Concepts

Primary Author
Nina Evason,

The Indigenous people and nations of North America are the traditional custodians of the land, having inhabited it for at least 15,000 years before Europeans arrived. The process of caused existing Indigenous populations to experience widespread violence and dispossession of their land, fracturing and marginalising their communities and cultural identities. 

Since the modern formation of Canada, mass immigration has dramatically changed the social demographics of the population and established a western European cultural mainstream. The following cultural profile depicts this newly dominant culture – a Western society and value system influenced by continual migration to the American continent.

Canadian Culture

  • Honesty
  • Tolerance
  • Fairness
  • Unity in diversity
  • Modesty
  • Informality
  • Sensitivity

Known as ‘the just society’, Canada’s culture is underpinned by its tolerance, respect and community-orientation. Canadians are generally , yet they also emphasise and value everyone’s contribution to their community. This has translated into the nation’s role on the global stage; it has been involved in all of the UN’s peacekeeping missions and is a big donor to foreign aid. In many ways, Canada leads by example – something its people take pride in. Canadians tend to see themselves as reasonable and inclusive people. They are generally very polite.

Canada is heavily influenced by its proximity to the USA. As a large majority of Canadians live within 100km of the Canada/USA border, there are similarities in behaviour and accent. Canadians share the informality, freedom of expression, pioneer spirit (particularly in the north of the country) and entrepreneurial imagination of the USA. Yet, Canadians tend to be noticeably more modest, and considered in voicing their opinions. Canadian society has also harnessed cultural diversity as a source of unity in a distinct manner.

Canada emphasises egalitarianism and mutual respect. As the distribution of wealth often does not always reflect a principle of equality, the class divide within Canadian society is a somewhat hidden, awkward issue. Nevertheless, overt class distinctions within Canadian society are difficult to discern. Affluent people will sometimes identify themselves as being middle-class, reflecting a somewhat subdued attitude in regard to achievement, winning and success. Canadians tend to favour the underdog and avoid making people feel inferior because of a lower socioeconomic position. Conspicuous signs of wealth and luxury are rarely exhibited. Yet, this ‘’ is not as strong in Canada as it is in other ex-British colonies, such as Australia or New Zealand.

Anglophone and Francophone Canada

Canada was originally settled by both Britain and France, and English and French are both official languages. English and French speakers are referred to as the and populations, respectively. are the majority in all provinces and territories except Québec (in which French is the official language) and are seen as representing the mainstream culture of Canada. are often recognised as being a more cohesive linguistic group, as their language is more regionally specific and only spoken at home by roughly 20% of the population. A is not necessarily a French-Canadian (a descendant of the original French colonialists); rather, the term encompasses any predominantly French speaker who affiliates with French-Canadian society more closely than mainstream Canadian society.

There are a few cultural differences between and . These are less pronounced than if one were comparing a British and French person, but derive from those same cultural origins. While both are noticeably courteous and polite, are slightly more reserved in most behavioural and communication. They tend to maintain a calm and low-key presence. have retained a strong independent streak characteristic of French libertarianism. Nationalist French-Canadians have repeatedly campaigned for separation from the dominant society. There is ongoing discussion about Québec’s provincial independence and debate as to whether this nationalism remains rooted in and cultural difference or is best viewed as a linguistic or territorial argument.

Bi-Cultural Identity Acceptance

Ultimately, the differences between Anglo-Canada and French Canada have cultivated a shared national acceptance and understanding of bi-culturalism through which parallel identities are largely celebrated. People of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to maintain ties to their heritage instead of total assimilation into a defined Canadian ‘mould’. A dual identity has similar social and political weight as a uniquely Canadian one. In this way, Canadian society forms a mosaic of relations. Though Anglo-Canadian culture is dominant, Canadian citizenship does not necessarily stifle a dual identity and accommodates close ties to a home country. Canada has historically been welcoming and open towards immigration, seeing migrants as beneficial to the country’s development and growth. More than a fifth of Canada’s population is now comprised of people born outside the country.

Many people see tolerance and cooperation as a typically Canadian tradition and virtue. Nevertheless, Canada’s relations are not without significant challenges. In particular, there are tensions exposed by its First Nations people seeking to reclaim their culture and assert their sovereignty over the land. Their success has been somewhat constrained by the current attitude of co-operational relations in Canada: an ethos of equality legitimises migrant identities, yet it diminishes Indigenous peoples’ claim to special status. The status of Indigenous communities as coherent , cultural and political groups is relegated to be one among many by the prevailing egalitarian ethos. 

Many Canadians regard the historical treatment and recognition of its First Nations people as a significant stain on Canada’s history (Indigenous Canadians have had their and cultural identities denied in policy and often erased from community consciousness). However, while a consensus exists regarding the existence of historical atrocities and injustice, reconciliation and a solution to indigenous claims for enhanced status is likely to be complex, contentious and prolonged. The Indigenous population’s disadvantage in comparison to people of other backgrounds remains a chronic social problem.

Largely, however, most Canadians share the same benefits of the large middle class. The population is generally globally oriented and well-informed. Canada has been ranked as one of the most educated country in the world, and over half of its residents have received a tertiary education. There is a strong value placed on reason and logic to guide decisions and ethics.

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