Symbols of Canada

Symbols of Canada

Edited by Michael Dawson, Catherine Gidney and Donald Wright


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From Timbits to totem poles, Canada is boiled down to its syrupy core in symbolic forms that are reproduced not only on t-shirts, television ads, and tattoos but in classrooms, museums, and courtrooms too. They can be found in every home and in every public space. They come in many forms, from objects—like the red-uniformed Mountie, the maple leaf, and the beaver—to concepts—like free healthcare, peacekeeping, and saying “eh?”.

But where did these symbols come from, what do they mean, and how have their meanings changed over time? Symbols of Canada gives us the real and surprising truth behind the most iconic Canadian symbols revealing their contentious and often contested histories.

With over 100 images, this book thoroughly explores Canada’s true self while highlighting the unexpected twists and turns that have marked each symbol’s history.

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Sharp, insightful and deeply funny: At once celebrating and critiquing symbols within Canadian identity, contributors are invariably witty and sometimes barbed, creating a rich, quick and satisfying reading experience.

– Ottawa Life Magazine

Symbols of Canada challenges us to think about why particular stories, activities, landscapes, and events are invested with national meaning. From colonialism to consumerism, the contributors to this collection deftly connect the past with the present, and demonstrate how national symbols are made, re-made, and sometimes forgotten.

– James Opp, professor of history, Carleton University and co-editor of Placing Memory and Remembering Place in Canada

The beaver may be a rodent, the north merely a compass point, and the paternity of poutine still undecided but these, among many, signs and symbols define, sometimes divide, and frequently distinguish Canadians. While worthy of any library, this insightful, informative and entertaining collection proves that Canadiana, demystified, de-mythed and de-kitsched, can go “coffee table”. Solid and original scholarship, superb illustrations, concise and punchy writing combine with (sometimes self-deprecating) humour.

– Jane Koustas, professor of modern languages, Brock University

“What do timbits, the beaver and the blue beret all have in common? They are all iconic symbols of Canadian identity and they are all subjects of this amusing, insightful book. Along with poutine, totem poles, roll up the rim and plenty more. Pop culture meets serious history. What better way to understand the origins of our national dreams, eh?”

– —Daniel Francis, author of Selling Canada: Three Propaganda Campaigns that Shaped the Nation

Nations exist through their symbols. Dawson, Gidney, and Wright have drawn together an impressive array of scholars to reveal – with insight, flair, shrewd judgement, humour, and unexpected serendipity – how Canadian national symbols do their work.

– Richard White, Department of History, University of Sydney

Symbols of Canada is a path breaking book. It unravels the real origins and cultural significance of national symbols such as the “Mountie” or the Maple Leaf that are widely popular but little understood. This book will prove informative not only for Canadians but for anyone interested in the issue of national identity.

– John Bodnar, Department of History, Indiana University


Michael Dawson, Catherine Gidney, and Donald Wright
1. Beaver
Colin M. Coates
2. Canoe
Jess Dunkin
3. Totem Pole
John Sutton Lutz
4. North
Donald Wright
5. Lacrosse
Gillian Poulter
6. Hockey
Kristi Allain
7. National Anthem
Michael Dawson and Catherine Gidney
8. Flag
Donald Wright
9. Fleur-de-lys
Alan Gordon
10. Maple Syrup
Elizabeth L. Jewett
11. Canadian Pacific Railway
Bill Waiser
12. Mountie
Michael Dawson
13 .Dollard des Ormeaux
Patrice Groulx
14. Laura Secord
Cecilia Morgan
15. Vimy Ridge
Ian McKay and Jamie Swift
16. Peacekeeper
Kelly Ferguson
17. Anne of Green Gables
Michael Dawson and Catherine Gidney
18. Niagara Falls
Karen Dubinsky
19. Universal Healthcare
Cheryl Krasnick Warsh
20. Eh?
Steven High
21. Poutine
Caroline Durand
22. Tim Hortons
Michael Dawson and Catherine Gidney
Photo Credits