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”.
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, Montreal 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.