Scandal in Canada?

By Jheri St. James

Many people in the world think of Canada—if they think of Canada—as a large, peaceful, picturesque, bland country. They probably remember the red maple leaf from Canada’s flag. What’s it like to be the “wallflower” country continuously upstaged by the much more dramatic United States and its media machine? We here at Common Ground 191 cherish every country from which we collect soil, but some countries’ stories are more colorful and flamboyant than others. Where is Canada on the drama and action scale? How much mileage can Canada get out of more than the tundra and the world’s largest shopping mall in Edmondton, Alberta?

The adventurous Vikings visited Canada in the 11th century, and later explorers such as John Cabot, Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain also traversed the great northern wilderness. Those are the kind of expeditions that spell adventure in Canada. The sophisticated French founded Quebec in 1608 and made Canada the royal colony of New France (1663). Anglo-French rivalry culminated in the cession of New France to Britain (Treaty of Paris, 1763), then French rights were guaranteed by the Quebec Act (1774). Only one serious revolt against British rule took place (1837-38), consisting of separate uprisings in Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867 while retaining ties to the British crown. “Only one serious revolt?” Not much in the way of theatre or adrenalin there.

Economically and technologically, the nation developed in parallel with the U.S., its neighbor to the south across an unfortified border. As the largest country in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in the world after the USSR, Canada certainly has geographical mass. As a constitutional monarchy under the British Crown and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, French and English are the official languages. The Federal parliamentary democracy of Canada is divided into 10 provinces and three territories*: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories*, Nova Scotia, Nunavut*, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Sasketchewan and Yukon Territory*. Canada is strategically located between Russia and the U.S. via the northern polar route.

About 70 percent of Canadian soil is useless for agriculture, but most of the non-arable soils support vast expanses of forests, and some are suitable for raising cattle. Covering about 40 percent of the country from coast to coast, the northern forests form Canada’s largest belt of natural vegetation. The tundra extending across northern Canada can support only moss, lichens, and grass and flowers during the summer, when the surface layer is frost-free. The tundra, cowboys and farmers? Ho-hum, some might say.

Life expectancy in Canada is 80.1 years at birth, among the world’s highest. Only Singapore at 82, Andorra at 84, and San Marino at 82 are higher. But what quality to this long life? Are Canadians long-lived only because of no stress, or could it be called no action?

Then there are thrilling elements such as Canada balsam, a viscous transparent resin from the balsam fir, used as cement for glass lenses and for mounting specimens on microscopic slides. The Canadian goose with grayish plumage, a black neck and head, and a white throat patch; the Canada thistle, a noxious weed having spiny-margined leaves; Canadian hemlock, an evergreen; and Canadian bacon. Still not much in the way of heart-pounding thrills.

Aside from the majestic scenery, even the tourist offerings on line sound rather insipid, and they operate only in spring and summer. The Yukon Artists @ Work Cooperative overlooks the Yukon River Valley. Takhini Hot Springs in Whitehorse are a good place to watch the blaze of the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of a steaming bath. One of the Klondike’s little gems is the Tintina Bakery and Tombstone Gallery in Dawson City, Yukon. Then there’s the Caribou Carnival in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories featuring face-stuffing, juggling and can-can dancing, followed by locals competitions in winter sporting events. Aurora Village in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories is a village situated right under the Aurora Oval and one of the best places to see the Northern Lights from late November to mid-April. The Dempster Highway is listed as another rare opportunity to drive north of the Arctic Circle to Inuvik and see the Northern Lights. The Toonik Tyme Spring Festival in Iqaluit, Nunavut features native Iqualuit festivities such as igloo-building contests, crafts sales, seal skinning, ice sculpting, Inuit games, snowmobile racing, traditional dog team racing and more, the last two weeks of April.

The Inuit are people who live near the Arctic in an area stretching from the northeastern tip of Russia across Alaska and northern Canada to parts of Greenland. Inuit refers to the people formerly called Eskimos, which is a term that may have meant “eater of raw meat”. They prefer the name Inuit, which means “the people” or “real people” and in the language called Inuit-Inupiaq. The singular of Inuit is Inuk, which means “person.”

As they spread eastward, the Inuit modified their way of life to suit the Arctic environments they encountered. They caught fish and hunted seals, walruses and whales. On land, they hunted caribou, musk oxen, polar bear and other small animals, using the skins to make tents and clothes, and crafting tools and weapons from the bones, antlers, horns and teeth. In summer they traveled in boats covered with animal skin called kayaks and in winter on sleds pulled by dog teams. Most Inuit lived in tents in the summer and in large sod houses during the winter. Snow houses were temporary shelters built when traveling in search of game.

The Inuit are a race of people both strong in spirit and in mind. Their cultural identity is firmly rooted in nature and the land, maintained through storytelling, drum dancing, language, family and cultural laws and traditions like hunting and survival skills, and traditional arts and crafts.

The traditional way of life has ended for most Inuit. They live in wood homes rather than snow houses, sod houses or tents. They wear modern clothing instead of animal skins and most Inuit speak English, Russian or Danish in addition to their native language. The kayak and the umiak have given way to motorboats; the snowmobile has replaced the dog team. While some have adjusted to the new way of life, unemployment, suicide and addiction are major problems, and industrial and nuclear pollution are poisoning their traditional homelands and food sources. Only recently have land claim agreements been signed, allowing the aboriginal peoples a hold and legal claim to what they have always considered to be their land.

Canada is a nation made up of human beings and in human activities, one always discovers positive and negative activities. On a website called, some headlines found on the page entitled “Hidden from History: The Canadian Holocaust” might be a location for scandal in Canada. Topics like “Evidence of Biological Warfare against North American Indians”; “Are You or Someone You Know an Aboriginal Survivor of Medical Experimentation or Sterilization? It’s Time Your Story Was Heard!”; “Canada and its Churches are Accused of Genocide by Major Guatemalan Indigenous Organizations”; “Sunday Morning Fun with the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada”; “Control of Water = Control of People” are a few of the topics discussed. But cruelties to indigenous people, people who really understand living on the earth, are ubiquitous to the history of many countries on our planet. Canada is not unique in dealing with these types of rumors, and the fact that they have made some efforts to give the natives ownership of their land may mitigate those rumors.

Another website,, lists some geographical Canadian mysteries like The Treasure of Black Hole Harbour, The Treasure Pit of Oak Island, The Mystery of Mary Celeste. And Canadians worry about earthquakes and tsunamis more than the rest of the world might realize. Places like British Columbia are concerned about these freaks of nature, as well as avalanches, floods and hurricanes.

But in all emergencies, Canadians can rely on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s best-known international symbol—the Mountie in a scarlet coat, nobly seated astride his steed. It’s an image that’s been used to promote Canada abroad since 1880—and was glamorized by Hollywood in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Hollywood took great liberties with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and is usually cited as the source of the saying that the Mounties “always get their man.” (The phrase actually can be traced to the Fort Benton, Montana Record in April 1877). The force was created after Prime Minister John A. Macdonald declared that the prairies needed a temporary strong police force to solidify Canada’s claim to the West, improve relations with First Nations, and wipe out the illegal whiskey trade. The Mounties were modeled on the Royal Irish Constabulary, one of the world’s first national police forces. In 1896, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier wanted to reduce the size of the force and eventually disband it, but support for the force was strong and getting stronger as it built on its reputation by policing the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1920, the RNWMP (Royal North West Mounted Police) became a national force when it absorbed the eastern-based Dominion Police and became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This body was responsible for enforcing federal laws in all provinces and territories.

Their formal attire is known as the Red Serge, consisting of a Stetson hat with a wide flat brim and hat band, a scarlet tunic in military dress style, with low neck collar and brass buttons, and black riding breeches with bulges at the hips and yellow striping down the outside of each leg. The uniform includes Trathcona boots, which are brown leather riding boots and spurs. The tunic is finished off with a Sam Browne belt, a cross strap and belt that holds in place a pistol holder, a double magazine holder and a handcuff pouch. An officer in Red Serge would also wear a white lanyard. Badges include shoulder badges, collar badges, service badges, qualifying badges and appointment badges. In 1974, women were recruited for the first time as RCMP officers and recently Baltej Singh Dhillon, a Sikh Mountie, was granted permission to wear a turban with his Red Serge. In the 1990’s international policing efforts were expanded with the RCMP serving in Namibia, Yugoslavia, Haiti, Kosovo, Bosnia/Herzegovina, East Timor, Guatemala, Croatia, and the Western Sahara.

The Common Ground 191 project is first and foremost an art concept. Mr. Arnold Friberg, R.S.A. made his art reputation from many representations of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, using this iconic figure as a witness to the unfolding drama of Canadian history. His works include images of the frontier, horses, dogs, landscapes, locomotives and Mounties at work solving crimes. These images can be seen at

There is more to the Mounties than just a romantic image. The RCMP has created a spectacle known around the world as the Musical Ride, an opportunity for Canadians from coast to coast to experience their heritage and national identity. This is an opportunity for the Mounties to display their riding abilities and entertain themselves and the local community. Traditional cavalry drill movements form the basis of the Musical Ride, the first of which was performed in Regina under Inspector William George Matthews in 1887. The Musical Ride was put on public display for the first time in 1901. Over the years the popularity of the Ride has grown and it has become a familiar sight throughout most of the world. Riders are also ambassadors of good will. Working through this unique medium, they promote the RCMP’s image throughout Canada and the world. Today the Musical Ride is performed by a full troop of 32 riders and horses, and consists of the execution of a variety of intricate figures and cavalry drills choreographed to music. Demanding utmost control, timing and coordination, these movements are formed by individual horses and riders in two’s, four’s and eight’s, at the trot and at the canter. One of the more familiar Musical Ride formations is the “Dome” once featured on the back of the Canadian 50 dollar bill. The highlight of the Ride is the charge when lances, with their red and white pennons, are lowered and the riders and their mounts launch into the gallop. Below are some of the formations:


The Royal Canadian Mounties are symbols of an heroic Canada, adding to their police force the theater of music and choreography. The Great Northern Lights are spectacular sky shows from a heaven, which smiles on this vast white country, quietly fostering peace and a life. The images of all the main provinces in Canada in this journal entry attest to the cosmopolitan attributes of the U.S. quiet neighbor. The vast tundra is a critical part of global warming dialogues held daily all over our planet.

Is Canada’s low-key image an illusion, its lack of drama strength in disguise? Assuredly, yes. While the rest of the countries of the world go about blowing one another up, with populations dying in massive numbers from AIDS, starving from poverty, committing genocides against native and other peoples, Canada quietly goes about nurturing its people, its land and their future—under the radiant aurora borealis Northern Lights. Surely this is more important and admirable than making international headlines. With a population of 32,805,041 people, a 0.3% AIDS death rate and only 56,000 people living with the disease, an infant mortality rate of 4.75 per 1,000 live births, and a 97 percent literacy rate—not to mention national health care—perhaps more of the world should look at Canada and take some lessons. Canada may be a societal symbol for the pot of gold at the end of the aurora borealis rainbow.

As an affluent, high-tech industrial society, newly entered in the trillion-dollar class, Canada closely resembles the U.S. in its market-oriented economic system pattern of production, and affluent living standards. Since World War II, the impressive growth of the manufacturing, mining and service sectors has transformed the nation from a largely rural economy into one primarily industrial and urban. The 1989 U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (which includes Mexico) touched off a dramatic increase in trade and economic integration with the U.S. Given its great natural resources, skilled labor force, and modern capital plant, Canada enjoys solid economic prospects. Solid fiscal management has produced a long-term budget surplus, which is substantially reducing the national debt, although public debate continues over how to manage the rising cost of the publicly funded healthcare system. Exports account for roughly a third of GDP. Canada enjoys a substantial trade surplus with its principal trading partner, the U.S., which absorbs more than 85% of Canadian exports.

“Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.” John F. Kennedy, address to Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, May 17, 1961.

Our collector in Canada was a man named Kevin Blucke, President of Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, B.C. He is a friend of Darren and Marlowe Huber who operate an artisan winery in Laguna Beach next to the Simpson studios at 2133 Laguna Canyon Road ( This neighbor was the vehicle for our soil collection from Canada. Thank you Kevin, Darren and Marlowe for your participation.

* * *

Without going out of my door I can know all things on earth.
Without looking out of my window I could know the ways of heaven.
The farther one travels, the less one knows, the less one knows.
Without going out of your door you can know all things on earth.
Without looking out of your window you can know the ways of heaven.
The farther one travels, the less one knows, the less one knows.
Arrive without traveling, see all without looking, (see all without looking).

George Harrison

*Photos thanks to Philippe Renault:




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