The Christmas Sermon 2012 – “On Not Believing In Canada”

by Daniel on December 21, 2012

My annual kind-of-tradition continues this year, to the protests of all our long suffering readers. Thoughts on evidence, disagreement, knowledge and related matters follow, in suitably opaque and allusive style …

On not believing in Canada

I remember clearly when I first started along the road that led me to where I am today – the unfashionable and lonely position of an adult man, educated and well-travelled, who doesn’t believe in the existence of Canada. I was a kid at Sunday School, and the vicar was trying to talk to an awkward class of hard-nuts and smart-asses about the general concept of faith in the absence of empirical evidence.

“What about Canada?”, he asked us all, his thick Welsh accent muffled slightly by an impressive crop of nostril hair. “You’ve never been to Canada! You’ve never seen Canada! You’ve never even met anyone who’s been to Canada! But you believe in Canada, don’t you, Davies?”.

He cast his gaze around the room, having to swivel his neck a bit as something like a dozen of us were called “Davies”. I elected myself as the spokesman and made what seemed to be the obvious response:

“Well, I do believe in Canada, a bit, but I don’t worship Canada! Canada doesn’t bloody ask me to come to the Canadian Embassy every Sunday when the cartoons are on telly, and sit through a two hour sermon about Canada, then fill in colouring books about Canada and the Son of Canada, does it? Nobody makes me sing songs about Canada, or gives me a book of stories about Canada instead of a comic for my birthday! In general, I don’t allow my belief in Canada to affect my life!”

It was, of course, by way of a satiric analogy, intended to cut off his pretty obvious rhetorical next step. Sad to say, the answer did not have its intended effect and I still had to go to Sunday School for the next five years. But later, as a teenager, it struck me that a more correct, and indeed potent, answer to the vicar’s challenge would have been:

“Do I believe in Canada? No, not really. Not in any important sense. No.”

And as time went on, I ended up realizing that I had come to identify myself as a Canadatheist.

I try not to make a big deal out of it – there are, after all, lots of people whose belief in Canada is very important to them and self-image as “Canadians” is a source of great comfort. In many ways, from the Californian sound of Neil Young and to JK Galbraith’s work for the US government, “Canadians” have done a lot more good in the world than Canadatheists. But secretly, I have to say I kind of pity them and sometimes look down on them intellectually a bit because really, how can people fall for such an obvious myth?

As far as I can tell, the concept of “Canada” dates back to the early 1950s. A confident new postwar generation of Americans were beginning to enjoy the privileges of mass market air travel. However, to their dismay, some of them began to discover that they weren’t universally welcome in the damaged postwar states of Europe, particularly in the more bohemian quarters where socialism was beginning to take hold. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth had just happened, pushing the British Crown into the public eye, and so a sort of urban myth was constructed about a part of America that was also ruled part of the Commonwealth.

Over time, all sorts of supporting myths and rationalizations grew up to support the “Canadian” faith. Apparently they fought a war against America in 1812, although not one with any noticeable or measurable political consequences. They don’t have a football team because they play “hockey on ice” (really!), a sport at which they are world champions (naturally, because it is a fictitious sport). They have all the nice characteristics of America, but have a healthcare system rather suspiciously similar to the British one, and so forth, and so on.

As anyone can see, this isn’t a country – it’s far too perfect to be convincing. It’s a fantasy roleplaying character invented by a kid who goes to mock United Nations camps instead of playing Dungeons & Dragons. Occasionally this is recognized in little cultural hints – a “girlfriend in Canada” is American slang for “an imaginary girlfriend”. But in general, people humour them – these days, if you want to make it in Hollywood, you’ve got to be either a Canadian or a Scientologist. Then the concept was discovered by that sizeable contingent of French people who always want to pretend to be Americans, and the Canadian faith had to pick up yet another massive and glaring inconsistency in the shape of a massive linguistic minority who lived in a state of peace and friendship with the rest of the country. Do I have to mention that they struck oil and invented the Blackberry?

I’m sure that by now I will have touched a bunch of raw nerves. Perhaps I should never have brought the subject up – Canadatheism always seems to lead to horrible flamewars and I really do sincerely apologise for offending your beliefs. But I promise – I’ve done my best to look at the strongest arguments possible for Canadaism. I’ve drunk those bottles of Budweiser that they make with the labels saying “Molson Lager”. I’ve talked to Canadianists. I’ve even been to see a pretend game of “hockey on ice” in the ice rink in “Toronto”, an American town to which I have been more than half a dozen times in different seasons. I’ve been to “Montreal” and listened to French people pretending to have an American accent. Right now as I type, I can see at the top of the foreign coins jar on my desk is an American 25 cent piece with the Queen’s head stamped on to it and the word “Canada”. I’m not arguing out of ignorance here – I’m intimately familiar with the arguments for Canada. I respectfully suggest, indeed, that I am more familiar with the arguments for the existence of Canada than most Canadians are familiar with the arguments against. I’m just not convinced.

As I grow older, I must admit that the prospect of Canada seems more comforting and spiritually enriching rather than irritating. My wife is a firm believer in Canada and insisted on bringing up the children as believers, and every now and then she says things like “Some of our best friends have emigrated to Canada and it’s lovely there. Maybe we should all go to Canada for a skiing holiday”, and I must admit, the way of life has all sorts of attractions. Some days I find myself flirting with Canadagnosticism.

And I must hasten to add that, unlike some outspoken Canadatheists (a bunch I have very little time for – I mean, what kind of a hobby is it to be constantly picking arguments with otherwise harmless Canadians?), I’m not dogmatic about it. Due to the necessity of ensuring more-than-proportionate representation of the USA on bodies like the G”7″ and the WTO, the concept of Canada has gained some sort of legal and diplomatic validity over the years. I would even be prepared to admit that there are a few dozen people alive today (mainly the staff of multilateral and Bretton Woods institutions; certainly no more than a hundred) who would reasonably be described as “Canadian citizens”.

But really, why should I be the one to keep quiet? Why is society so prejudiced against Canadatheists, and so determined to force the “Canadian” iconography down all of our throats? I have considered all the evidence (or at least, all the evidence that has any independent validity, as opposed to the heaps of rationalizations constructed by Canadians). In general, most of it supports my point of view and the small number of opposing data points can easily be explained away as anomalies or the products of systematic human irrationality. In any case, why should anyone else care what I believe about whether Canada exists or not?

Calm down, it’s a joke, it’s a joke you humourless bastards. I’ve been doing that comedy bit for a few years now, mainly when in the presence of Canadians I wanted to wind up. It never fails. Depending on how philosophical I’m feeling and how much drink has been taken, I will typically warn someone, five minutes in, that if you’re a Canadian and you are marshalling the empirical evidence in order to try to make a convincing case for the existence of Canada, there is a sense in which you have clearly already lost by implicitly admitting that there is a debatable question here. But it rarely stops people. There is something about the “I don’t believe in Canada” bit which somehow short-circuits the part of people’s brains responsible for making the decision “Welsh bum talking crap again, ignore him and he’ll shut up”.

It’s more than the general “someone is wrong on the internet” phenomenon and (as I hope even the densest reader might have got), it’s entirely relevant to why a) the whole atheist/believer thing gets so ratty all the time and b) why there is a substantial current of modern atheism which actually believe that it’s a good thing to be constantly annoyed at the fact that there are people out there who are wrong about God. The problem with my Canadatheism isn’t so much the fact that I don’t believe in Canada – that’s simply a factual proposition which might be true or false, and reasonable people can agree to differ on such things.

The problem is (and the thing which makes Canadatheism so infuriating to believers) that the factual belief is backed up with and supported by an approach to weighting evidence which ensures that the conclusion can never be shaken. Infallibly, the stage which drives the mild-mannered Canadians to the point of murder is when I idly drop into conversation that I’ve been to Toronto and “wasn’t convinced”. If you’re going to dismiss any and all religious experience as the probable result of mental illness, or if you’re going to claim that any failure of science to explain absolutely everything in the world proves the existence of God, you’re bound to create the same effect. Everyone knows that human beings are narrative-creating beasts and the existence of something that can’t be fitted into the story is intolerable.

My holiday reading is going to be “Antifragility” by Nassim Taleb, another author who regularly causes one to fling the book across the room going “he can’t possibly mean that!”. In most cases, as with Canadatheism, it might be the case that a good author doesn’t exactly mean “that”, but does mean something by what they’ve written and was rather hoping that you’d work it out for yourself. If anyone thinks that the real point of the Canadatheism bit was that rather sappy lecture about standards of evidence, they’ve missed it. Anyway, Happy Christmas, Hannukah, Yuul, Lugnasa, Kwanzaa, Eid or whatever other seasonal festival, of whatever degree of obvious made-upness, you choose to celebrate. And hopes for a New Year in which people learn, maybe a little bit, that it’s possible to hold an idea in your head without necessarily asserting it.



A different Brian 12.21.12 at 6:05 pm


praisegod barebones 12.21.12 at 6:21 pm

But Daniel: surely the true Canada – the only Canada that really matters – is inside the hearts each and everyone of us.

Happy Christmas.


Scott Martens 12.21.12 at 6:24 pm

Canada doesn’t bloody ask me to come to the Canadian Embassy every Sunday when the cartoons are on telly, and sit through a two hour sermon about Canada, then fill in colouring books about Canada and the Son of Canada, does it? Nobody makes me sing songs about Canada, or gives me a book of stories about Canada instead of a comic for my birthday!

This, alas, actually happened to me. But I grew up in a very piously Canadianist home.

I’ve been to “Montreal” and listened to French people pretending to have an American accent.

Only very fluent speakers of European dialects of French hear Joual that way, no one else does. I should think that would make your disbelief in Canada perhaps a bit like the way Jews take a dim view of the divinity of Jesus: Not a matter on which you can claim a dispassionate and unbiased perspective.

I’ve drunk those bottles of Budweiser that they make with the labels saying “Molson Lager”.

To my shame, this is spot on.

I’ve been to Toronto and “wasn’t convinced”.

Despite being a lifelong Canadianist, I have to admit Toronto is not the strongest argument for our assertions of ontological privilege.

But as for the main point: Among the non-empirical arguments to be made on behalf Canadianism is the moral virtue of believing in the existence of place where people don’t freak out so much about the terms of dispute between their various beliefs and mostly just try to get along. Even if no such place exists, it’s better to assert its existence as an example to encourage moral virtue than to abandon virtue altogether. If people need to believe in a fictitious former British colony to do what is right, then arguing against their beliefs is incredibly counterproductive.

Any applications that has to atheism and religion are left to the reader.


Barry Freed 12.21.12 at 6:37 pm

You had cartoons on TV on Sunday? O, you lucky man!


Substance McGravitas 12.21.12 at 6:42 pm

Harrumph. I’ll have you know that Canada is well on its way to becoming a world-class country.


marcel 12.21.12 at 6:51 pm

This is a rather extreme version of the “No true Scotsman” argument isn’t it, something along the lines of “No true Scotsman would … exist?”


soru 12.21.12 at 6:52 pm

Death: Humans need fantasy to *be* human.
Susan: But really? Canada?
Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.
Susan: So we can believe the big ones?
Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, hockey. That sort of thing.


Scott Martens 12.21.12 at 6:54 pm

Exactly, soru. (Ironically, I am watching Hogfather right now.)


Lawrence 12.21.12 at 7:01 pm

The problem with Canadianism, at least here in the US, is the Canadianist preocupation with Belgium. Canadian fundamentalists are perpetually in a fever pitch of excitement that the temptations of Belgium are a festering corruption, and if we stop singing ‘O Canada’ for even one minute, or dare to put on a Red Wings hat, or not buy season tickets to the Expos, that our souls will be lost to Belgium. A black man gets elected President and they are screaming that he is Brussels (the Anti-Montreal). Apparently anything that a normal human being would construe as pleasurable is Belgian, in this worldview. And it is never enough to simply immerse themselves in this misery. Unless I and you and everyone else submits to Canada there will be war without end.
As the Klingon said to Captain Kirk, who is also Canadian, “We have no Belgium, Kirk. But we understand the habbits of yours.”


Daniel 12.21.12 at 7:13 pm

Scott at #3 gets it


Alex 12.21.12 at 7:22 pm

Apparently they fought a war against America in 1812, although not one with any noticeable or measurable political consequences.

Ahem. The British fought the war, and claim that the chief political consequence is the existence of Canada.


Brad DeLong 12.21.12 at 7:24 pm

I don’t understand why you all believe in America, which is obviously a sound stage in southern France. I mean, look at those cowboy movies–they are obviously shot in Sicily…


Antonio Conselheiro 12.21.12 at 7:28 pm

Canadatheism is just one of the ways that Canadians use to divert attention from the emormous evil that Canada represents.

Also: Belgium.


js. 12.21.12 at 7:35 pm

Given that Canada doesn’t exist, it’s proven necessary to invent it?


phosphorious 12.21.12 at 7:43 pm

But if Canada is The Nation Than Which Nothing Politer Can Be Perceived, then its existence follows from its definition, no?

Also thee is the well known “Lunatic, Liar or Landmass” argument.


Glen Tomkins 12.21.12 at 7:49 pm

I’ve always thought of belief in Canada in terms of Pascal’s Wager. Even if Canada doesn’t exist, wouldn’t we be better off anyway going about our lives as if it did exist?


jlb 12.21.12 at 8:04 pm

So that’s how you feel about Mark Carney?


fgw 12.21.12 at 8:12 pm

Dear Brad @11
you seem to be missing the point. Rubbing our eyes in disbelief observing the USA is not what is at issue here. As jumped up monkeys, not believing in the USA would be decidedly non-adaptive, unfortunately


Colin Danby 12.21.12 at 8:13 pm

In today’s NYT, “Canada: Three Arrested in Syrup Warehouse Theft” mentions a “global strategic maple syrup reserve” in Quebec. You have to think someone is just making this up.


nick s 12.21.12 at 8:28 pm

You have to think someone is just making this up.

It’s obviously Canadianists’ attempt to hijack the theology of the treacle mine.


P O'Neill 12.21.12 at 8:36 pm

Some people are such zealots about the existence of Canada that they insist on hiring Central Bank governors from there.


tomslee 12.21.12 at 8:51 pm

It is a relief that someone has the courage to voice the terrible secret on which I stumbled over 30 years ago, and about which I have stayed silent until now. It was 1981 when I went in search of Canada, a naive young student looking for a place to pursue a postgraduate degree. They sent me brochures with gleaming towers of glass and concrete, told me stories of wealth and wide streets, showed me pictures of French-speaking mounties and girls with unbelievably straight, white teeth. I grabbed a plane to New York, hopped on a bus, and was on my way.

Alas, as soon as I alighted at Hamilton Bus Terminal at one o’clock in the morning, with its tatty benches, cheerless tiled walls, and drunks in the corner, it was obvious I was just another gullible rube. Oh, there were moments when I thought I caught a glimpse, just for a moment, of the Canada I had been promised. Walking down Toronto’s University Avenue on a warm summer’s night; listening to Oscar Peterson play piano on the shores of Lake Ontario; sitting by a dark and silent Muskoka lake; watching the first snowfall lie heavy on the branches of moonlit trees. But you will notice that these are all night-time visions, and they quickly vanished in Hamilton’s sulphurous morning air.

Oddly, I took to Hamilton with its very non-Canadian industrial grimness, and adjusted to the fact that “Canada” was obviously simply a phantom. But while I grew to love the place and the people where I was living, my journey into disbelief was only just beginning.

Growing up in Leeds, and as a student at Sussex University, “class” was as solid as the red brick of the buildings. But here, where everyone came from similar backgrounds, where I could not tell a person’s family from their voice, where nobody else seemed to care about the school one went to? I started to wonder. If Canada does not exist, then maybe class doesn’t either?

The university was not a good place for believing in the existence of things. On my side of campus we were all about things quantum, neither this nor that. At the time the dominant view was not to worry about the whole “wave or particle” thing, but simply to use the equations and calculate. Which I did, but it didn’t do much for my belief in the existence of things.

On the other side of the central square were the poststructuralists, whose nihilism appealed briefly, until it became clear that their world was constructed purposefully so that the only person who existed in any meaningful way was, not those who worked outside the narrow world of words (there being nothing behind the text), not the authors of the text (unprivileged), but these theorists of the text themselves, who stood at the centre of their own self-constructed universe: a stance so obviously self-interested that they disappeared up their own rear ends.

Between us, facing each other across the square in the other direction, sat the Medical Centre and the Religion/Philosophy building, where I listened to the neuroscientists and Buddhists who convinced me that even I, as a separate self, didn’t really exist, for two completely different sets of reasons.

But time went on and I left Hamilton, and as the years went by it looked like maybe there was something that existed after all. Money seemed to exist, and property, and banks. I thought I knew what a bank was: if it can be robbed, then it must exist, no? But in 2007 that too turned out to be an illusion. Not only huge institutions, but billions (whatever that means) of dollars just vanished like a puff of smoke. The illusion of the reality of money is strong (In an episode of MI5, thieves were digitally robbing a bank of millions of dollars. As the police charged into the building the thieves sat glued to the screen, waiting for the transfer of money to their account to complete. The screenwriters could not get past the idea that transferring millions of pounds must take longer, the numbers actually scrolling by on-screen, than
transferring hundreds of pounds) but was shattered in a few short weeks.

So here we are, reading pages that disappear at the flick of a switch written by people we have never met. Believing in Canada is surely the least of our problems.

And me? Well I claim to live in this “Canada” in one “city” with two names. Kitchener-Waterloo, where there just happens be a street named after me: first and last name both. How likely is that? More proof, if it were needed after Daniel Davies, that Canada is make believe.


rea 12.21.12 at 9:19 pm

I’ve personally always been rather skceptical of Wales . . .


j.eel 12.21.12 at 9:45 pm

Speaking as a lapsed Canadian surrounded by practicing Canadians, I thank you for this post.


Bill Gardner 12.21.12 at 10:01 pm

Canada is not some thing or some being to which I could refer by using the word “Canada.” The word “Canada” has an essential link to the possibility of being denied. On the one hand, Canada is far beyond any given existence; it has transcended any given form of being. So I cannot use the word “Cananda,” I mention it. It is a word that I receive as a word with no visible experience or referent.


Neville Morley 12.21.12 at 10:04 pm

You’ve missed one of the best bits of evidence for the thesis, namely the late lamented (and mysteriously unavailable on dvd) tv series Due South, allegedly produced Canadians but manifestly a bit of mythmaking intended both to promote the idealised image of the unfailingly courteous Canadian as ideal man and to demonstrate the necessity of flawed Chicago humanity for actual day-to-day existence. Essentially a police dramedy version of Also spracht Zarathustra.


Random Lurker 12.21.12 at 10:04 pm

Imho the funny thing is that actually Canada doesn’t exist: there is a landmass, a part of which we call “Canada”, but we could call it Texas or Abruzzo or whatever (or refer to a different part of that landmass) and nothing in the natural world would change.
This is also true for a lot of stuff like “money” (as per 22) that only exists as long as most people want it to exist, however as long as they exist they exist a lot.
Also, importantly to Brad DeLong at 12: everybody knows that cowboy-movies were actually shot in Spain or in Tuscany (maremma), the idea of cowboy-movies shot in Sicily is just another lie of neoclassical economics.


Pseduonymous McGee 12.21.12 at 10:05 pm

Everyone knows that Canada was invented by Nouvelle France as an emotional proxy for the dreaded USA. A denim- and plaid-swaddled voodoo doll designed to hear, but politely endure, much guff about the unjust hegemony of English North America.


Neville Morley 12.21.12 at 10:07 pm

“…allegedly produced by Canadians…”

Anyway, in the wonderful words of Community, Merry Happy to you all.


Mitchell Rowe 12.21.12 at 10:35 pm

The greatest trick Canada ever pulled was convincing the world it doesn’t exist….



gwern 12.21.12 at 10:36 pm

I’m reminded of an old classic: The “Moon”: A Ridiculous Liberal Myth


SusanC 12.21.12 at 10:41 pm

Patient is female, aged 40. She was referred to the University Psychiatric Service on account of her repeated claims that there exists a place called “Canada”. Patient has no history of drug abuse, does not exhibit any suicidal ideation or intent to harm others, and does not report any hallucinations. However, throughout the interview she persisted in maintaining that “Canada” exists, sometimes becoming agitated when its non-existence was pointed out to her.

Diagnosis was Delusional Disorder – Unspecified Type. Risperidone was prescribed.


H.P. Loveshack 12.21.12 at 10:56 pm

I don’t believe in Canada either, but I’m from Quebec, it’s perfectly normal.


Sumana Harihareswara 12.21.12 at 10:56 pm


Jonathan Mayhew 12.21.12 at 11:07 pm

I think Terry Eagleton said it best:

“Canada is not a celestial super-object or divine UFO, about whose existence we must remain agnostic until all the evidence is in. Canadianists do not believe that it is either inside or outside the universe. Its transcendence and invisibility are part of what it is, which is not the case with the Loch Ness monster…”


Daniel 12.21.12 at 11:11 pm

You’ve missed one of the best bits of evidence for the thesis, namely the late lamented (and mysteriously unavailable on dvd) tv series Due South

the entire “don’t believe in Canada” bit was actually made up as part of a futile attempt to shut up Mrs. Davies from going on about how much she fancied the Mountie bloke from “Due South”.


John Costello 12.21.12 at 11:18 pm

On top of all that, Daniel, depending on which source you ask you will receive entirely different answers about the details of “Canada”. For example (one of many), when asked what the supposed capital of Canada is, some people will say “Toronto,” some will say “Ottawa,” and some will say “Canada City” — surely they cannot all be correct!


Walt 12.21.12 at 11:46 pm

This is pretty rich coming from someone claiming to be from “Wales”, a fantasy backdrop created to give atmosphere to a series of young adult fantasy novels by Susan Cooper. Was claiming to be from “the Shire” a little too common for you? You had to go to the more obscure reference?


Pupienus Maximus 12.21.12 at 11:49 pm

If Canada did not exist then who could we True Americans blame for giving us William Shatner and Anne Murray? Neither could conceivably arise from True America. Canada, ergo, must exist.


Alan 12.21.12 at 11:57 pm

I’m a Fungimentalist Canadianist who follows the mind-expanding work of Carlos-Neri Cascanada.


WF 12.22.12 at 12:31 am

Canada doesn’t bloody ask me to come to the Canadian Embassy

Well of course. Canada doesn’t have an embassy in the UK, it has a High Commission.


Billikin 12.22.12 at 12:39 am

Oh, dear! War on Canada again!


JP Stormcrow 12.22.12 at 12:46 am

A Dan, a con. No Canada!


ChrisTS 12.22.12 at 12:57 am

I feel that this might be a supportive community – one in which I can admit my own secret disbeliefs. Ahheemm.

I do not believe in either North or South Dakota.

There, said it.

One can at least meet people who claim to have ‘been born in’ Canada. Has anyone ever met a person who claimed to hail from ‘the Dakotas’? No.


Leeds man 12.22.12 at 1:01 am

Bullshit. It reminds me of BitchPhD’s question, some years ago, about the difference between our attitudes towards piglets and puppies. Do you really think your audience includes people who don’t “get it”? Pseudo crap. Merry Christmas anyway, you Welsh prat.


bad Jim 12.22.12 at 1:39 am

My company’s UK dealer was based in Cardiff, headed by someone named Davies, of course. I could not convince my fellow Californians that he might be annoyed if they called him English. Disbelief in Wales is clearly widespread. (It may not have helped that we later hired a head of international sales, also named Davies, who actually was English.)

The hardest thing for me to believe about Canada is that it managed to stay out of both Vietnam and Iraq. I’ve been to Canada many times, and found it perceptibly if subtly different from the U.S., but entirely credible except for its national politics. It’s as though they had a different definition of sanity.


Doctor Memory 12.22.12 at 2:25 am

Stormcrow wins the thread. Stormcrow wins everything.


Alan 12.22.12 at 3:11 am

ChrisTS–My best friend (RIP) was from No Dak–the antithesis of So Dak. Hegel posited Syn Dak, of course. Nor Continental philosophy of course.


b9n10nt 12.22.12 at 3:12 am

What with all the space opera I’ve been reading these days, I’d have to say that many an intelligent life form mightn’t believe in Canada, either. It’s not a thing like a lake or a chair. To paraphrase Bono, you’ve got to believe in it to see it. What kind of thing is a Canada?

Oh, and yes, JPs palindrome was so cool.


bad Jim 12.22.12 at 3:12 am

Let’s torture this analogy and see if anyone worships it:

A large and powerful minority in my country claims that it was it was founded as a Canadian nation and that its exceptional position among all other nations is the result of its ardent embrace of its Canadian identity, and that as a consequence we must strictly prohibit not only measures to control reproduction but also measures to prevent diseases of the organs involved, and mandate that students be instructed that satellite photography and the cartography of Jacques Cartier may be considered equally accurate.

Most don’t go so far, but we still mention Canada on our currency and generally require students in public schools to make daily obeisance to Canada, expect civic spaces to host seasonal tributes to Canadian culture and history, and insist that candidates for public office proclaim their Canadian allegiance.


ezra abrams 12.22.12 at 3:32 am

These imaginary Canadians must have been created by the same person who created Europeans, cause they both share a characteristic: they love to criticize the USA; that they might share these faults in no way diminishes the level of criticism, nor the sense of superiority enjoyed by the Caneuro citizenry

examples of Caneuro hypocrisy
environment (Large SUVs and general lifestyle)- Canadian tar sands
Racism (blacks)- to numberous to mention, migrants in Greece, Gypsies, …
bad Treatment of 3rd world countries (vietnam)- also to numberous to mention, King Leopold, .etc
Morality (?) – Belgian child sex porn, Irish catholic orphanage….


Sev 12.22.12 at 3:36 am

But I have stripped and swum, in the company of a Frenchman no less, which I recall clearly though decades ago, in a Great Lake, and I can assure you that what we were immersed in was Superior. And if one doubts the existence of this Superior place, there is also… Sudbury- let none doubt that.


nnyhav 12.22.12 at 3:43 am

JP Stormcrow @ 43: OuLiPo has defined apparent but false adherence to a rule as “Canada Dry”.


felwith 12.22.12 at 3:49 am

When my childhood pet died, my parents told me it had gone to Canada. I asked them if I’d see him again if I went to Canada, and they said yes, I would. Three weeks later, I’m wandering through Halifax shouting “Horace!” at the top of my lungs. Got sent home under guard in the back of a bus. Learned my lesson, though. Only fools go to Canada for comfort.


Mattia 12.22.12 at 4:28 am

If you like spoilers, a friend of mine tonight wrote a post on Taleb’s book.


js. 12.22.12 at 4:35 am

A Dan, a con. No Canada!

I love me some anagrams, and this is sheer and utter genius. Made my day.


AcademicLurker 12.22.12 at 4:48 am

How does Rush figure into this argument?


Joshua Holmes 12.22.12 at 4:49 am

I believe. Help thou my unbelief, Tim Horton’s.


anon/portly 12.22.12 at 5:38 am

I’ve been doing that comedy bit for a few years now, mainly when in the presence of Canadians I wanted to wind up.

If you’re ever in a hurry, the joke “What’s the difference between a Canadian and an American?/A Canadian thinks there is one” is pretty much foolproof.


Mr T 12.22.12 at 6:28 am

I don’t believe in the concept of the United States of America

I find believing in the concept of a country that accepts that the solution to gun violence is to arm everyone with an assault rifle beggars credulity.


Thursday 12.22.12 at 6:38 am

The truth… the horrible, stinking truth… is that Canada does exist. It has a population of 64 (unless Marcy has has her kid), with the rest being professionally trained actors, hired through a double-blind temp employment agency. Seriously, just look at “our leader” any time he appears of television: have you EVER seen anyone look quite so uncomfortable? He is, clearly, not one of the actors.

I don’t expect to live long after revealing this, but the truth must out. Tell the world our story. TELL THE WOR


Claire 12.22.12 at 7:54 am

Back when I spent four years living in “Canada”, I saw a news report about a demonstration in which protesters waved signs reading, “Canada is a real country! Canada is not invisible!” Which certainly suggests that the whole Canada thing is up for debate, even in “Canada” itself.


Don Cates 12.22.12 at 8:05 am

If Canada doesn’t exist, how can this make sense?
“From: Inflatable Space Bunny
Subject: Fractal Theory of Canada
Newsgroups: alt.religion.kibology, can.politics, sci.physics
Date: 1999/05/04


Given a community A and an adjacent community C, such that A is prosperous and populous, and C is less populous and prosperous, and nonreciprocal interest of C in the internal affairs of A, often C will need ego compensation by occaisional noisy and noisome display of its superiority over A. In this case C is said to be the _canada_ of A, C = canada(A).

For example, it has been previously established that

canada(California) = Oregon
canada(New York) = New Hampshire
canada(Australia) = New Zealand
canada(England) = Scotland

The Fractal Theory of Canada.

For all A there exists C such that

C = canada(A)

For example,
canada(USA) = Canada
canada(Canada) = Quebec
canada(Quebec) = Celine Dion

It would appear that the hierarchy would bottom out an individual.
However, an individual is actually a community of tissues, tissues of cells, cells of
molecules, and so forth down into the quantuum froth.

canada(brain) = pineal gland
canada(intestines) = colon

canada(electron) = neutrino

and so on. There is no bottom.
“My God! It’s full of Canadas!”


maidhc 12.22.12 at 9:08 am

Here’s a different version of the joke at 59–one that I heard in Australia.

Q: How do tell the difference between a Canadian and an American?
A: Ask him a question about American history. If he knows the answer, he’s a Canadian.


charliemncmenamin 12.22.12 at 12:15 pm

I was always taught to look at this matter dialectically: Canada is not merely the ice-hockey of the people but also the maple syrup of a maple syrupless world.


des von bladet 12.22.12 at 1:13 pm

My four-year-old son goes to an “ecumenical” school. He tells me “Canada is America with bears”.


ajay 12.22.12 at 1:53 pm

OuLiPo has defined apparent but false adherence to a rule as “Canada Dry”.

Well, that’s no doubt another giveaway along the lines of “girlfriends in Canada”, isn’t it.

51 is impressive. With a sense of humour like that, he’s obviously one of those militant Canadatheists.


JP Stormcrow 12.22.12 at 1:58 pm

I will confess to being inordinately pleased when the palindrome.
Variant forms:

A Dan, a con. O Canada!
A Dan, a con. Aha! No Canada!


JP Stormcrow 12.22.12 at 1:59 pm

when s/b with

…my typing/proofreading on the other hand.


JP Stormcrow 12.22.12 at 2:14 pm

OuLiPo has defined apparent but false adherence to a rule as “Canada Dry”.

Similarly, Ontario is Canada through and through:

Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Burlington, Windsor, London, Niagara Falls, Sarnia, Brampton, Brantford, Sudbury, North Bay, Algonquin Provincial Park, Oshawa, Kingston, just about all Toronto suburbs.

Buffalo is obviously in fact part of Canada.
But combining Port Arthur/Fort William into Thunder Bay was criminal.


BBA 12.22.12 at 3:18 pm

Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then?


JP Stormcrow 12.22.12 at 3:53 pm

Also historians, journalists, politicians and so on.


Jonathan Mayhew 12.22.12 at 4:53 pm

Canada is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere.


MattF 12.22.12 at 5:47 pm

A little story about the non-existence of North Dakota: Some years ago, my mother was listening to a radio talk show (in New York City) where the host was having some fun convincing the callers that there was no such place as North Dakota. This was all very amusing until my mother realized that one of the callers was her sister– and talk show host had persuaded her that North Dakota didn’t exist.


Antonio Conseheiro 12.22.12 at 8:46 pm

If Canada doesn’t exist, where did this take place?


rea 12.22.12 at 11:40 pm

[Bursting into song]:
Noooooorth Dakota, where the snow comes sweeping down the plains!
You’re doing fine, North Dakota! North Dakota, no way!


John Emerson 12.23.12 at 2:05 am

North and South Dakota are two states because of Republican gerrymandering of the Senate. You could throw in Montana and Wyoming and it would still be a small-population state.

ND is once of the best states WRT crime, unemployment, educational level, and longevity (and not just because of the tar sands). But no one wants to live there.


Seth Gordon 12.23.12 at 4:33 am

My rabbi is from Canada. Well, he says he’s from Canada. But I have to take his word for it, right? I mean, he is the rabbi.


bad Jim 12.23.12 at 7:14 am

Proof that it doesn’t exist: the difference between its name and its abbreviation is nada.


Salient 12.23.12 at 7:17 am

Image Hosted by tripod

Anticanadapologist conspirators suppressed Antonio Conseheiro’s photographic evidence!

Who are the… ‘tripod’?


Bob ..."From Nakina". 12.23.12 at 12:10 pm

Davies, eh? Is this blathering some Welshman’s attempt at humour? Can’t believe I read the whole thing. Such a boor. Not humorous either. Or, perhaps it wasn’t intended to be?


SusanC 12.23.12 at 1:10 pm

A Buddhist neuroscientist of my acquintance [*] says that Westerners tend to reify the self. I have diverse sense impressions: the orange-red of the leaves; the sweetness of the maple syrup I bought in the market, in a one-litre can; the amusing hand-written sign in a language that was not quite French, advertising a “grande vente de garage”.

How strange it is that we could reify these diverse sense impressions into an object, as if it were a table, or some other dry good of moderate size that was close enough to gesture at when your tutor made that kind of argument. (Unless your tutor was Wittgenstein; rumour had it that he kept a rhinoceros in this rooms for this purpose[**]).

Stranger still that this notional object could be the basis for an identity (as if anyone could possibly say, with a straight face, “I am a Canadian“), or worst of all, an agent, as in headlines like “Canada needs to make justice more accessible to the public”.

[*] This part of the story, at least, is true.

[**] Feel free to be skeptical about this part of the story. I am certainly not proposing to prove that it is true.


yabonn 12.23.12 at 2:38 pm

Look, people, it’s simple. If Canada doesn’t exist, it doesn’t matter if you believe or not. But if it exist, you may lose a lots if you don’t believe, and win a lot if you do.

So why not believe?


Henry 12.23.12 at 3:46 pm

Credo quia absurdum est. Curling, seriously.


Jim Buck 12.23.12 at 3:51 pm

I was a committed Canadatheist too, until my first experience with RCMP.


mrearl 12.23.12 at 4:40 pm

As a teenager, back before the Flood, I, too, was persuaded of the non-existence of North Dakota, a conclusion I’d carefully reasoned out from the absence of any postcards, etc., from there. Of course the movie “Fargo” did not shake my conviction since it was, after all, a movie.

However, a few years ago I had to sue a guy from (allegedly) North Dakota, and under oath he admitted there was one and he was from it. Unfortunately the jury believed him about everything else, so I must assume they believed him on that score as well. Since then, I’ve been a North Dakotagnostic.


Douglas Brooks 12.23.12 at 5:24 pm

True story: I was once standing on a subway platform in Tokyo and two other foreigners were standing in front of me. One said to the other, “Don’t worry. My friend will be here any minute.” They waited, then the other guy said, “Where’s your friend from?” “Quebec,” the first guy answered. “Christ!” the other guy shot back, “A chip on both shoulders!”


W. Kiernan 12.23.12 at 6:07 pm

Being kind of a rube, I sometimes make the same joke about New York City, except I come to the opposite conclusion, but then my daughter lives in New York City. “My” “daughter” “lives” in “New York City”.


JimV 12.23.12 at 9:04 pm

Very ironic, putting typical creationist blind refusal to accept evidence words in the mouth of a satirical atheist. It failed to convince me that “… it’s entirely relevant to why a) the whole atheist/believer thing gets so ratty all the time and b) why there is a substantial current of modern atheism which actually believe that it’s a good thing to be constantly annoyed at the fact that there are people out there who are wrong about God.”

Of course most atheists, including the much-maligned Richard Dawkins, concede the theoretical possibility of some sort of god. And it’s not the being wrong about God which is the annoying part, it’s that the same people try to enforce their Bronze Age views on the rest of us – the most recent example being those such as Huckabee who claim that the Sandy Hook tragedy was due to forcing God out of schools.

Carry on feeling superior to both sides in this argument.


SusanC 12.23.12 at 9:19 pm

Canada no koto wasure-nai.
Even if “Canada” doesn’t exist, or isn’t the kind of noun you’ld want to see as the direct object in a sentence without some sort of qualification, still less the subject.

A madman ran into an Ottawa marketplace. “Where is Canada?”, he cried. “Where is Canada?” The passers-by laughed. But then he continued, “I will tell you. Canada is dead. And we have killed it.”

They had forgotten that their customs, their morals, their famed prediliction for hockey and maple syrup, only made sense if Canada existed.

(With apologies to Nietzsche).


praisegod barebones 12.23.12 at 9:25 pm

Yabonn @83

The problem with that line of reasoning is that the pay-off is in Canadian dollars, and they’re just valueless if Canada doesn’t exist.


engels 12.23.12 at 9:57 pm

Happy Newtonmas, Daniel.


JNdluli 12.23.12 at 11:51 pm

E=MC2. Well if I can’t experience it, does that means it’s not factual?


David DeLaney 12.24.12 at 3:32 am

And then there was the Usenet result from a couple decades back, from truncated Subject: header, that CANADA IS A PATHETIC PIE …

–Dave, a.r.k is still there and appreciates the mention


Andrew B. Lee 12.24.12 at 7:35 am

unfortunately, religion does not always get people to behave nicely.

i used to be one of those outspoken a-hole atheists whom everyone hates because he talks down to them.

but then i talked to someone who is very intelligent and that i looked up to, and i asked him why he doesn’t speak out about atheism. he said something like “if a mother losing her son takes comfort from the belief that her dying son is in heaven, who am i to telll her she’s wrong?”

so now i focus on trying to appeal to the “better angels” of religious people’s natures


Meredith 12.24.12 at 7:48 am

Of course Canada does not exist, except as the place whence, as a teenager in NJ, I could hear the French I was studying with fascination broadcast on my cheap radio late at night (how romantic for an adolescent girl!). Except as a place I have visited regularly in my body (hello wonderful Montreal, hello the exquisite Gaspay and its mosquitoes that drove us (me + daddy+4-month-old) from our tent to a motel, hello the New Brunswick coast. And hello Toronto (duller than the hype, but still), whence my lovely daughter-in-law of that Gaspay-mosquito-bitten baby boy (she was born in Iran, but that’s another story). And hello BC (where my junior high and high school best friend now lives, after years in Edmonton). I could go on.

Of course Canada does not exist except as the place I would go to (because, in fact, it is as insanely ill-regulated as the US actually is) if if if, e.g., Nixon got to run the US bicentennial in 1976 (instead, I got to watch amazing fireworks in Champagne-Urbana, for reasons obscure — stoned and wonderful — I recommend fireworks and Chinese food especially while stoned, and young). Canada as the US escape-hatch, deeply ironic, given Canada=Tory. Some weird Celtic v. Anglo game is getting played out here. Okay, so I’ll play. And many other games getting played out, too. I enjoy hearing the Canada angle from UK. (Could get refined. The Anglo/Celtic complexities of Canada/UK/US are interesting — best pursued via music and dance.)

Merry Christmas! And happy merry’s! The song and dance are where we play most happily!


Ailsa 12.24.12 at 8:11 am

Nice to meet a fellow nonbeliever. I’ve been saying similar things about California for decades.


Mao Cheng Ji 12.24.12 at 9:00 am

The first time I encountered the phenomenon, I got on a plane at Logan, an in two hours I was in “Torono”. The crowd there looked about the same as Boston, except that everyone was smiling. And it wasn’t American forced grin, but a broad natural smile. It took me a whole two minutes to realize that I’d seen that smile before. They were all stoned.

And that’s all there is to it. You start drinking that water there, and soon you are smiling too. It all gets blurred. You get back, and soon it’s just a dream.


Katherine 12.24.12 at 10:32 am

It’s relatively easy being a Canadatheist in a country like the UK, I daresay. The only Canadians you meet generally are terribly nice people, who generally don’t bring it up very much or make a big issue out of it.

There’s an occasional awkward moment when someone talks about the joys of Toronto or Vancouver, but you can deal with that by muttering that, although you generally avoid foreign travel, the country you avoid is Canada. You’ve made some visits to the Canadian Tourist Board occasionally in the past, just to see what’s what, but decided overall that it wasn’t your thing.

Yes, there are those raving Canadians on street corners, waving leaflets about Ottowa, but put your head down, hurry past, and they won’t make much impact on your day. Once in a while you’ll get a nasty shock when someone you think is otherwise sane will suddenly start spouting off about maple syrup being the bounty of Canada, but honestly – who attributes something as simple and universal as a viscous solution of sugar in water to one particular country? The list of people to avoid is not long however, and rarely impacts on normal life. And who am I to try to rob people of their joy in “ice hockey”?

If I lived in a country full of the latter kind of rabid Canadians though? People so different from the gentle, kind, quiet Canadians that I know that it’s tempting to wonder if they have the same country in common. I’ve taken to calling them Canadists, to help distinguish.

And if I lived where an open declaration of Canadatheism would guarantee that a person would have severe difficulty reaching high political office? And if Canadians were taking over school boards and trying to insist on teaching the Canadian Constitution, or inserting nonsense about beavers into biology lessons?

Why, I believe I’d be much less sanguine.


yabonn 12.24.12 at 10:52 am

barebones at 91
But even in that case, the worst that can happen is worthless dollars.

Now if Canada does exist, you are awash in the real Canadian money of grateful Canaders. See? Now downsides in believing, only advantages. No upsides in non believing, except the risk of Canada Hell from angry disbelieved Canadians.

… Someone must have thought about that before.


Alain 12.24.12 at 11:00 am

So, clap your hands if you believe in Canada?
And if you want to go there you fly “second to the right, and straight on till morning”?


dsquared 12.24.12 at 4:21 pm

I am really glad to see that everyone is on board with ice hockey being a fiction. You can’t play hockey on ice! It’s like “Swamp Cricket” or “Pogo Darts” or something.


Antonin 12.24.12 at 4:25 pm

I see what you did there, but Canada is among the worst examples for this sort of send-up. Canada refers both to a territory (changing throughout its short history) and a federative political entity, the latter of which is the most abstract and illegitimate Western “country” at this historical stage. Yes, I am Québécois.


Yastreblyansky 12.24.12 at 5:14 pm

Alain at 99:

Of course, it’s that simple. It doesn’t even take much clapping, at least compared to fairies.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds….

Not believe in Canada! You might as well not believe in the Higgs particle! Did you ever see Higgs particles dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s not proof that they aren’t there…


gray 12.24.12 at 6:34 pm

If you are only real if you invade your neighbour then look at this;


Leon Despair 12.24.12 at 7:18 pm

If there is no Canada, then why did Mike Huckabee endorse the effort to save the Canadian national igloo?


JP Stormcrow 12.24.12 at 9:30 pm

You can’t play hockey on ice!

Exactly. If you could there’d certainly be a professional league.


Georgina 12.24.12 at 10:26 pm

Like Utopia – derived from the Greek meaning “no such place” – the name “Canada” derives from the German “Keine Da” (pronounced KenaDar in the local dialect), meaning, of course, “Nobody Lives There”.


Mike Schilling 12.25.12 at 6:54 pm

I don’t believe in Guess Who
I don’t believe in Rush
I don’t believe in Neil Young
I don’t believe in Bachman
I just believe in me
Springsteen and me
That’s reality.


Sophia Walker 12.26.12 at 1:37 am

Someone from a fictitious country called “Wales” says Canada doesn’t exist? Now that is funny.


engels 12.26.12 at 2:45 am

Human life is pointless without maple syrup. Maple syrup makes no sense without a belief in Canada. Therefore Canada exists.


trevelyan 12.26.12 at 4:10 am

Robertson Davies used to tell a story about a preacher from Manitoba who was getting on in years, and who told his congregation that soon he would be going to that place from which no man has ever returned. And how his congregation nodded solemnly, firm in the understanding that he was moving south of the border.


Tim Worstall 12.26.12 at 1:27 pm

“Someone from a fictitious country called “Wales””

Wales doesn’t even pretend to be a country. It’s a principality.


tomslee 12.26.12 at 6:27 pm


Harold 12.26.12 at 7:38 pm


SusanC 12.26.12 at 10:02 pm

@103. This joke works for any country (as they’re all socially constructed/part imaginary), but works particularly well for Canada (and probably Wales too). Christianity has a “Death of God” problem not when atheists/other religions (Buddhists, etc) don’t believe it, but when even the people who call themselves Christians are starting to have difficulty taking it seriously/overreact to suggestions that it might not be true. Similarly, “Canada” has a potential problem if even the Canadians have their doubts. Strong cultural influence of a more powerful neighbour (US), mixed linguistic and cultural groups (First Nations, French-speaking European ancestry, English-speaking European ancestry) possibly saps ones confidence that there is a “Canadian” cultural identity.

I put “Welsh” as my ethnicity on census forms. But then, some people gave “Jedi Knight” as their religion in the census, so this is no reliable guide to it actually existing…

P.S. I’ve mentioned this before on another CT thread, but as a child I didn’t believe in Sweden. I first encountered “Sweden” in somewhat fantastical children’s books translated from the Swedish, and had no reason to distinguish it from other fantasy fiction with made-up places I was reading at the same time (Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea, etc.) The place-names in some implausible language are the give-away. (Still have difficulty believing in in, despite having actually been there several times).


engels 12.27.12 at 8:14 pm

‘You can’t play hockey on ice! It’s like “Swamp Cricket” or “Pogo Darts” or something.’

Beach tennis? Indoor sailing?

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