An American's Guide to Canada

If you're an American in Canada, you may find yourself in situations where a Canadian makes a throwaway reference to something you've never heard of, and all the Canadians in the room nod knowingly while you try not to look clueless and awkward. Or, you may see things such as Canadian Tire currency or poppies on everyone's lapels in early November, and wonder what's going on. This page may help (although it's pretty small right now). Got more questions? Ask!

Thrills gum

A purple gum that looks like Chiclets. "Tastes like soap." I've never tried it -- I have some sitting in the cupboard downstairs, but I loathe gum -- but everyone says "tastes like soap!" whenever it's mentioned.

Canadian Tire money


Canadian Tire, a nationwide chain of great big automotive and hardware stores (many with attached gas stations), offers discounts in the form of Canadian Tire coupons to customers who pay cash. The coupons look like currency and can be spent at Canadian Tire just like cash. I don't think I've met a Canadian who doesn't have a stash of Canadian Tire money. There's even a Canadian Tire Coupon Collectors' Club.

Why everyone wears poppies in early November

November 11, known as Veterans' Day in the US, is called Remembrance Day in Canada. In 1915, Lt. Col. John McCrae wrote a beautiful and moving poem called "In Flanders Fields":

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This poem became very famous, and people began to associate war dead and veterans with poppies. The Web site for the Ministry of Veterans' Affairs has more about John McCrae and the symbolism of the poppy.

Now, the Canadian Legion sells poppy pins every year, starting around the end of October, and everyone wears them on their jackets. The pins look like this:

[Image of a poppy pin]

Tracy Colquhoun notes, "As it was taught to us in school, the red flower signifies the blood that was shed on the fields of battle, the green centre signifies hope for a better future, and the bent pin with which the poppy is attached to the coat lapel signifies the bones that were broken and the suffering endured."

Now you know.

Mounties don't always look like that

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or "Mounties," are Canada's national police force, and the local police force in some of the less populous provinces. I'm sure you have a mental picture of Dudley Doright or the guy from Due South, running around in one of those red uniforms with the black jodhpurs and the distinctive hat. Well, most of the time that mental image is wrong (even though the RCMP has recently trademarked it, and licensed it for a while to Disney) -- Mounties almost always look like regular cops, and even drive around in regular cop cars. The red getup is the dress uniform. The sight of a Mountie in full dress uniform is rare enough that many Ontarians and Québecois have never seen it except on TV. (Sometimes Pearson Airport in Toronto has a red-suited Mountie watching the goings-on in Customs and Immigration. When we arrived home from Europe on Canada Day 1996, the Mountie was there, handing out paper Canadian flags. Have I mentioned that I love this place?)

--Emily Way (emily_@_americansguide.ca)
Last updated December 17, 2000

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