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Five Great Songs About Canada

Snow, Gloves and Maple Leaf

Music is a pow­er­ful medium. Songs stir mem­o­ries and can per­fectly evoke places, express feelings—and yes, give a snap­shot of a country.

Here are five songs that talk about Canada and evoke an aspect of the coun­try, from funny city names to hockey, from the famous Cana­dian win­ters to Canadiana.

This list is by no mean exhaus­tive… if you think of any song that would fit here, share it!

Prairie Town (Randy Bach­man and Neil Young)

Randy Bach­man, from Win­nipeg is best known as the lead gui­tarist, song­writer and found­ing mem­ber of the Guess Who. Neil Young, who grew up in Toronto and in Win­nipeg, is rec­og­nized as one of rock and roll’s great­est song­writ­ers and per­form­ers, and is another great Cana­dian artist. And they sang together about grow­ing up in the “Prairies”, the region that com­prises the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Win­nipeg is often nick­named “Win­ter­peg” and is famous for its long, harsh winter—even by Cana­dian stan­dards. This song speaks of these long win­ters with sev­eral Cana­dian stereo­types, such as “learn­ing to drive in the snow” and “Main & Portage”— one of Winnipeg’s most famous intersections—where it’s some­times as cold as “fifty below”.

Fifty Mis­sion Cap (The Trag­i­cally Hip)

The Trag­i­cally Hip (often nick­named “The Hip”) is prob­a­bly one of the most famous Cana­dian band… in Canada. This is one of the stuff Cana­di­ans like and I have this the­ory that each and every Cana­dian has seen the Hip live at least once.

The band’s songs mostly revolve around hockey, small Cana­dian towns and Cana­dian his­tory.  One of them stand out for me: Fifty Mis­sion Cap. The song is very obscure to any­one not famil­iar with Cana­di­ana. It is about Bill Bar­ilko, a Cana­dian hockey player who spent his NHL career play­ing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dur­ing that span of five sea­sons, Bar­ilko and the Leafs were Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons on four occa­sions. But like the Hip sing, “the last goal he ever scored won the Leafs the Cup”. In 1951, Bar­ilko dis­ap­peared while on a fish­ing trip. Eleven years later, in 1962, the wreck­age of the plane was finally found and that year. The Maple Leafs didn’t win the Stan­ley Cup until Barilko’s wrecked plane was discovered.

Run­nin’ Back To Saska­toon (The Guess Who)

This song is pri­mar­ily about the band tour­ing in Canada, and all the cities’ names are men­tioned: Moose Jaw, Moo­somin, Red Deer, Ter­race, Med­i­cine Hat etc. I always find city names in Canada both funny and poetic! Cana­di­ans have a weird geo­graph­i­cal sense of humour.

The song also throws in rural stereo­types “I been hangin’ around grain ele­va­tors, I been learnin’ ’bout food, I been talkin’ to soil farm­ers, I been workin’ on land”.

The Hockey Theme

This song has been nick­named “Canada’s sec­ond national anthem” and is used for all NHL broad­casts on the CBC tele­vi­sion net­work. It was com­posed in 1968 by Dolores Cla­man and orches­trated by Jerry Toth. In 2008, CBC’s license to use the song expired and the nego­ti­a­tions to renew their licence or pur­chase the theme had been unsuc­cess­ful. The rights were then pur­chased by rival broad­caster CTV in perpetuity.

Cla­man said she wrote her song to reflect the nar­ra­tive arc of a hockey game from the arrival on the rink, to the bat­tle of the game, to the trip home, “plus a cold beer.” Mil­lions of Cana­dian hockey fans (that is, pretty much the whole coun­try) grew up with that theme.

Cold, Cold Toronto (Trooper)

Trooper is a Cana­dian rock band from Van­cou­ver, B.C. The catchy cho­rus of the song repeats “cold, cold Toronto”. But wait: like every Cana­dian not liv­ing in Toronto knows, T.O isn’t that cold. Well, I guess it can be if you are com­ing from B.C….

Cana­di­ans love to brag how cold it is in their respec­tive cities but the gen­eral con­sen­sus in Ontario is that Toron­to­ni­ans have it easy. When­ever some­one says it’s cold in Toronto, there is always some­one else to remind them how cold it is in Ottawa, Mon­tréal or even—gasp!—Winnipeg. And let’s not for­get that in 1999, Mel Last­man, the mayor of Toronto, required the army’s help to shovel a pretty bad snow­storm. The rest of Canada is still laugh­ing at Toronto for that.

13 comments

  1. This is fun post! It’s funny, although I would love to dis­pute the fact that every Cana­dian has see the Hip live, I don’t really get to, because they were per­form­ing in down­town Kingston while I was liv­ing there, and since I was walk­ing by.…Oh well. I’ve even been in an apart­ment in Kingston whose ‘claim to fame’ is that they/some of them used to live there. Neil Young bugs the heck out of me and I can’t quite enun­ci­ate why. Or maybe I can, I think his voice is weak and his accent sounds more back-country Cana­dian than it really needs to, I mean who talks like that really?

    I’ll con­tribute two Cana­dian songs to the list that I enjoy: Let­tre à Lévesque by Les Cow­boys Fringants (gotta love those Québec pol­i­tics!), and Hel­met­head by Great Big Sea (a funny hockey song for the ladies from the iconic East Coast band).

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