O Canada, Our Home and Native Land

Wednesday 12 June 2013

When we left Canada and moved abroad, it was inevitable that we were going to be spending the vast majority of our time with people from other countries and cultures which always proves to be fascinating.  When we're feeling homesick or nostalgic, we reminisce with our friends about our homelands.  It's enlightening hearing so many firsthand accounts of life all over this world and I love being able to share my love for Canada.  What I didn't expect was just how little my friends knew of my country.  Often times, simple things like discussing our wine country or our Prime Minister (no, it's not a President) would be met with looks of surprise and bewilderment, even from our close neighbours to the South.

I think people assume that we must be just like the United States.  They're right below us on the map, their presence is loud all over the world, we're both known as English speakers & North Americans and we share a rather large border but even with all of those commonalities, we are very different.  Part of this lack of international understanding is our own fault - we're quiet and often hesitant to toot our own horn.  We have a difficult time summing up our national identity and we're known to err on the side of caution, never wanting to come across as arrogant or impolite.  But, don't let our quietness fool you, we are fiercely proud of our country.

Over the next few weeks, I've teamed up with some of my favourite Canadian bloggers, expats and travellers to share with you some things that are distinctly Canadian.
From Me...
Covered by John Cale, Alexandra Burke, Canadian Rufus Wainwright and most notably, Jeff Buckley, the song Hallelujah actually is the product of Canadian Leonard Cohen.  To date, the song has been used in movies and television including Shrek, The OC, House, Cold Case, ER and on several talent shows including The Voice and American Idol as well as performed countless times live by many big name artists from Bon Jovi to Il Divo to Willie Nelson to Bob Dylan to Justin Timberlake.  Currently, it holds a spot on the Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Songs of all time and it is proudly, Canadian.

From Rika...

“A large double-double and Boston Cream, please.”

If you’re Canadian, you know exactly what this means. (If you’re not, it means a large coffee with two creams, two sugars, and a Boston Cream doughnut.) This is the lingo at one of our quintessentially Canadian chains – Tim Hortons.

Tim Hortons is Canada’s answer to Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s a coffee and casual food chain that was founded in 1964 in Ontario by the famous hockey player Tim Horton. It now operates as a franchise and has thousands of stores in Canada, as well as a few that have spread to the US and some on military bases in places like Afghanistan (soldiers need their coffee too!) and far-flung locations such as the United Arab Emirates and even a small outlet at the Dublin Zoo!

Timmy’s, or Timmy Ho’s as it is often affectionately known in the great white north, started out by serving only coffee and doughnuts. Over the years the menu has expanded to include muffins, cookies, teas, blended drinks, smoothies, bagels, soups, sandwiches and a variety of other quick-food items. Its focus is on friendly service that is quick and convenient.

One of Canadians favourite (yes, with a “u”, that’s how we spell it up here!) things about Tim Hortons is their infamous “Roll Up the Rim to Win!” promotion. Every year they have a marketing campaign that sees over 31 million lucky winners each year (however, in my experience, about 30,999,990 of these winners are just a free coffee or doughnut). Every Canadian knows the excitement of finishing a coffee or tea as fast as their can to roll up the rim of the special red cups and see if they’ve won something!

As it grew exponentially in the 1990s and 2000s, Tim Hortons has become a cultural icon for Canada, and some would even say a national symbol. Famous Canadian author Pierre Berton once wrote: "In so many ways the story of Tim Hortons is the essential Canadian story. It is a story of success and tragedy, of big dreams and small towns, of old-fashioned values and tough-fisted business, of hard work and of hockey." As a Canadian expat, I always look forward to heading to Tim Hortons when I get home. It’s not the best coffee in the world, but I know it will always be the same no matter if I’m in Toronto, Vancouver or Moose Jaw.

So if it’s not the best coffee in the world, why do we love Tim Hortons so much? I think mostly because it’s ours. It’s something that started here by Canadians, flourished here due to Canadians, and still is mostly found just here. We don’t have much to call our own in Canada as a lot of the stuff in our daily lives comes from the States, so when we get something that’s all our own we hang onto it fiercely with pride! It’s a tangible symbol in a country where, when we are asked about our Canadian identity, we often have little to offer up besides hockey (although did you know our national sport is actually lacrosse?), poutine, maple syrup, speaking French and polar bears. There is a Tim Hortons in every single province and territory in this country. It might just be coffee and doughnuts, but it’s ours and we love it.

Rika is a Canadian expat who is currently calling Honduras home.  She decided she'd had enough of her Vancouver cubicle so she left her corporate job to spend her days under the sea as a dive instructor. A self-proclaimed bad-ass, this Canadian has a pretty cool life in Central America.

Stay Tuned ---- I've got more Canadian goodness coming your way from a few of my fellow countrywomen.


  1. i really would love to visit canada one day...it has to be amazing!

  2. cool feature! i love it! i am from a small (american) town near the border of BC so i am familiar with some loveable canadian things, but i didn't experience my first tim horton's until spending a lot of time in michigan, where they are ALL over the place!
    i have to admit that i was bewildered by it and confused about what to order initially (hey, i'm a starbucks gal, after all) but i too have come to dig timmy ho's.

  3. Really interesting! As an American, I really don't know that much about Canada (although I did know you had a prime minister)! So I'm really looking forward to hearing more about our Northern neighbor!

    1. Thanks Casey!

      Have you ever seen "Talking to Americans?" We used to have a little fun with our neighbours and their lack of Canadian knowledge.


  4. while I knew that Canada has a prime minister, I will admit to having no idea that you guys have a "wine country"! in which part(s) of the country? I'm leaning towards British Columbia (which makes me think maybe I have heard something about Canadian wine making before?).

  5. I love this! You are right, Canada doesn't come up very often and that is a shame! I have this image of a beautiful, calm, open country that I would love to visit! Also every Canadian I have met to date had been lovely! Looking forward to hearing more about your motherland!

  6. I love that you're doing this. I am a Minnesota girl and I have a lot of love for Canada :)

  7. Great idea! Can't wait to see what you guys get up to here :)

  8. Great idea for a feature, Jay! One of my best friends is Canadian, she is from Montreal, and I have endulged in many many marple syrup treats thanks to her! I will definitely visit Canada one day, she has shared too many wonderful stories with me about the country that I just have to go and see it myself :)

    Kristina x

  9. I loved this post. Nothing better than some Canada love. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the Tim Horton's logo. It made me a little homesick and boy could I use a Timmy's right now but listening to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah made everything much better. So beautiful.

    Thanks for the intro to Rika and her blog. I am loving reading about expats and their experiences.

    1. Thanks Gina! There is definitely something about 'hallelujah' that brings out just what you need, when you need it!

  10. I lived in Buffalo for awhile. Not Canada but they had Tim Hortons. I miss it!

  11. The town I lived in in Canada had pretty much every food chain under the sun - but unfortunately no Tim Hortons. I remember that one reason me and my host siblings were always excited when we would head to Edmonton was definitely heading to Tim Hortons to pick up some doughnuts! For me, Tim Hortons is really something quintessentially Canadian. I'm interested to see what's going to be featured next!


  12. So glad people are loving the intro to Timmy Ho's! Thanks again for letting me be a part of this series Jay! xo


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