In the Great White North, the loon bird hauntingly calls over a vast quiet wilderness and, dare I say, there’s not a more Canadian sound than that. Okay maybe a hockey puck rocketing off the boards or the sound of curling stones colliding in the house. In a country where the national symbols are a leaf, the national critter symbol is a beaver and the national sweet is maple syrup, some will assume Canada has its share of wholesome wonders. So here’s my take, a surface scratch on some things that are vintage and made in Canada.
1-The Calgary Stampede
The legendary 10-day cowboy roundup better known as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” is action-packed with die-hard stampeders wearing the vintage outfit: a pair of hand-made cowboy boots and wide-brimmed cowboy hat, preferably a white Smithbilt. It’s known as white-hatting, a phenomenon that stretches back to the 1950s when the Calgary mayor used to welcome guests by popping one of these babies atop their head.
For activities, there’s the tried and true with the rodeos and chuck wagon races.
At the Calgary Stampede, you get to see real cowboys in action and with the help of a local outfitter like Banff Trail Riders you can actually become a cowboy or cowgirl for the day. Banff Trail Riders has 300 horses and has a range of trail rides for all levels of riders.
2-Anne of Green Gables
Growing up in Canada, the tales of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables made for good bedtime stories. After all, the little redhead with freckles and pigtails seemed to always be up to adventure.
Today tourists flock to the land of Anne, the bucolic island known as Prince Edward Island for a glimpse into her imaginary world.
The Green Gables Heritage Place, located in the tiny town of Cavendish, is PEI’s most famous attraction. Wander through this homestead and see the house decked out with Anne memorabilia, from her bedroom draped with her personal belongings to the barnyard.
The storybook location is where Montgomery drew her inspiration for the world-renowned series. Take a guided tour, view a short film, and wander the trails, one with its babbling brook.
Then there’s another favourite children’s tale involving a cuddly bear named Pooh and a little boy named Christopher Robin. British author A.A. Milne based these iconic tales on a true story that showcased his son’s Christopher Robin’s love of a bear named Winnie that lived in the London Zoo.
The bear’s real owner Harry Colebourn was a World War I Canadian soldier from Winnipeg who rescued the wee cub after the cub’s mother died. Colebourne named the bear after his hometown.
There are fabulous vintage photos of Harry and Winnie. Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park is where you’ll find a bronze statue of Harry Colebourn and Winnie.
Harry later donated Winnie to the London Zoo and that’s where the real Christopher Robin enters the story. Mr. Milne’s son used to visit the bear and grew to love the cuddly cub, fondly naming him Winnie-the-Pooh.
Inspiration happened and generations of children and adults have loved Pooh bear ever since.
Many Canadians would remember the Log Driver’s Waltz. This classic short animation from the National Film Board’s archives features a moment in time when Canada’s log drivers hopped onto and steered rough-hewn logs downriver.
Watch this memorable short video:
Canada Vignettes: Log Driver’s Waltz by John Weldon, National Film Board of Canada
For more woodsman stuff head to an annual lumberjack festival, like the West Coast Lumberjack Show in British Columbia, which has a Braveheart feel with lots of log pole flinging, chainsaw carving, axe throwing and log rolling.
5-The Group of Seven Artists
In the remote wilderness of Canada, a group of seven artists struck out to paint the Canadian landscape filled with paper birch and haunting jack pines clinging to the granite bedrock known as the Canadian Shield.
The paintings have become iconic masterpieces embedded into the Canadian psyche. To see a painting from one of them is to contemplate the natural beauty of this nation.
6-Hockey Night In Canada
Stompin’ Tom Connors, another vintage Canadian, got his name from stompin’ on a square piece of plywood that he always carried with him while performing his homegrown classics like “Bud the Spud.”
Canada’s beloved chanteur also wrote the lyrics to “The Good Old Hockey Game” which has gone on to become our unofficial hockey anthem. Listen to the song and you’ll know what I mean.
Hockey Night is part of Canadian life. The highly anticipated NHL game played every Saturday night pits teams in a struggle to win what many sports writers call ‘the hardest trophy in all of sports.’ Winning the Stanley Cup is every hockey player’s dream.
One of the most iconic images of Canada is the red canoe. The canoe was the vehicle that explored and opened up this vast country. The First Nations used paper birch canoes that became a vital tool for the early explorers from France who called them rabaskas.
Nowadays, many establishments use the canoe as a symbol. One of Toronto’s chi-chi restos has this name. One of the best places to paddle in a red canoe is on beautiful Lake Louise in Alberta.
Don’t think watching a pair of men or women sweeping a polished granite rock down the ice and hearing their team members yell ‘Hard, hurry hard’ is a boring pastime.
In fact, curling is a winter Olympic sport and if Team Canada doesn’t win gold every four years there is a national day of mourning.
Fun fact: To this date no Olympic curling team has dominated the sport like Canada.
In the old days when this winter vehicle was first invented in Quebec it was dubbed the skidoo. The wondrous people mover with an engine on skis is known more these days as a snowmobile but the term skidoo is a very vintage name and machine.
Dudley Doo Right may have appealed to kids of a certain generation but the red-coated hat-wearing cartoon character with his pal Bullwinkle was actually a spoof on Canada’s national police known as the Royal Mounted Police.
Popular spots to view Mounties are Parliament Hill in Ottawa and Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor General. You’ll also see them officiating at parades and ceremonies.
The Mounties have a wonderful Sunset Ceremony in Ottawa that features the famous RCMP Musical Ride.
Ilona Kauremszky is an award-winning travel writer who lives in Toronto.