When you grow up near Detroit, you are basically half Canadian. Canadian television was broadcast to my home - over the air, in the days before cable. It was quicker to get to Canada than to a different U.S. state - to get there, you go South. If you were 19 and wanted some beer, Labatt's was easy to find - and legal to buy - at the Beer Store.
So yeah I'm a proud Canadaphile. In honor of its recent birthday, I thought we could all do well to learn about our neighbor to the North.
Of course, nothing is more Canadian than being forced to listen to Americans poke fun at your country. So, in the spirit of friendship ensconced in the Rush-Bagot Treaty (1818), not all of these facts will be, strictly speaking, good things.
Population and Geography
There are around thirty-two million people in Canada. Around 75% of them live within 100 miles of the U.S. border.
Canada's population is far more urban than you'd think. Only 18% of Canadians live in rural areas, which is about the same as in the U.S.
Taken together, this tells you that most of Canada is mostly just empty land. Outside of that 100-mile wide border strip, there are only 1-2 Canadians for each square mile of territory.
Canada is made up of Provinces and Territories. I have no idea what the difference is. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, Canadian Territories still have full representation in Parliament.
In 1999, Canada split the Northwestern Territory in half, creating the new territory of Nunavut. Because apparently it was critical to split this enormous, empty area into two smaller, even more empty jurisdictions.
As you probably know, Canada is bilingual. Around 23% of the population is French-speaking. Montreal is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world.
Canada is really cold. Off of Newfoundland, the Atlantic Ocean occasionally freezes. When this happens, Canadians immediately start playing hockey, obviously.
Remember the Rush-Bagot Treaty from the intro? Turns out, Canada didn't even agree to the demilitarization - it was signed by George the Third. In the U.S., it had been forty years since we let him sign our permission slips.
Before Confederation the vast of majority of Canadian territory was de facto governed by a private entity, the Hudson's Bay Company. It seems that since then, HBC has traded control of that vast land for ownership of online retailer Gilt Groupe.
The thing that happened 150 years ago that they are celebrating is the first "Confederation." Four of today's Canadian provinces created the "Dominion" of Canada, finally gaining some type of independence from Britain.
For reasons I've never understood, today's Newfoundland and Labrador didn't join for most of a century. They just hung out as a separate Dominion. It wasn't a very good idea - the Depression hit this small semi-independent country hard enough where Britain had to take over again in 1934. But in World War II, Newfoundland troops fought separately, alongside other Dominion Allies like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Perhaps its small, but Canada's military has always punched well above its weight. To give one example, the 14,000 Canadians who hit the beaches on D-Day faced some of Germany's strongest coastal defenses. They achieved more of their initial objectives than U.S. or U.K. troops.
Sport and Culture
The national sport of Canada is hockey. Actually, no, it's lacrosse. But that's kind of inconvenient, so we'll pretend it's hockey. But, a Canadian, James Naismith, invented basketball.
The CN Tower in Toronto used to be the world's tallest building. The reason for its construction have been lost to history.
The last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup was the Montreal Canadians in 1993. Detroit has won four since then. Canadians are not happy about this.
Canadian Football is subtlety different from American Football (and even more different from what the rest of the world calls Football but is actually soccer). But Canadians like their football; 40% of Canadians watched their version of the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup.
People in Montreal eat something called "Poutine," apparently by choice. It seems to be made by taking perfectly good french fries, then adding cheese curds, gravy, and maybe bacon. Even for an American, this sounds like a bit much.
Economy and Social Services
Canada's economy has a GDP of around US$ 1.6 trillion. That's the 10th largest in the world, bigger than Russia's.
Canada's main exports are cars and oil. Gold and aircraft are also important. Eighty percent of Canada's trade is with the U.S.
Canada has universal health care via a single payer system. This means that (most) doctors and hospitals are private, but (most) payments come from a single (government) program. That program is called Medicare, which can be really confusing for Americans.
Canada gets great value for its healthcare dollars. That's compared against other universal coverage systems, not just the awful thing we have in place in the U.S.
There are concerns about high real estate prices in parts of Canada. Specifically, Vancouver and some of Toronto could easily be described as being in "real estate bubbles".
As far as I can tell, that is all the important stuff to know about Canada. If you happen to meet a real Canadian, you will now have a lot to talk about. Everybody knows that Canadians have a weird way of saying "about" and getting them to do so is a lot of fun. Extra credit if you can get them to say "process" - it will also sound strange.
For all my Canadian friends reading this, here's to the next 150, eh.