Dr. Scientist's Ryan Clarke: A Canadian's Guide To Canada
So what's it like to be Canadian?
"I'd say it's generally fantastic. I feel quite lucky to live here."
Here, of course, is Edmonton, Alberta — home to more than a million people and 700 miles from Seattle, the closest US Metro — and the I is Ryan Clarke who, to his credit, is about as Canadian as it gets. He wears Crocs and a lot of denim, says eh at the end of most sentences and occasionally drinks maple syrup straight.
“I think being Canadian is a lot like being Australian or northern European,” he continues, trying to find commonality. “We're progressive and free spirited, we prefer public systems rather than private systems and we value equality.”
Clarke refers to himself as “down to earth” and is immensely proud of the fact that he, like most Canadians, can change a car tire in the winter. And true to form, also like most Canadians, he doesn't take himself too seriously.
So look — if you think maple syrup, hockey and publicly-funded healthcare are all that Canada has to offer, take off, you hoser. Sorry, but the Great White North is home more than Tim Hortons, beavers and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Lace up your skates, grab a toque and pick up a frosty two-four of Molson, because Ryan Clarke is about to tell you everything you need to know about Canada.
Even if it’s a bit cliché, Clarke believes that Canada’s most defining feature is its diversity.
“We're a very widely diverse group of free individuals up here. Most of our families came here seeking a better, freer, safer life — and that's still true today,” he says. “To be a Canadian is to be from anywhere, and to be Canadian is really just being here, being you, doing your thing. We have all walks of life up here and you are free to do your thing here as long as it ain't hurting anybody else.”
Canadians are egalitarians — they love dogs and cats, are always up for a drink and a smoke, and are simultaneously outdoorsy and respectful of nature and wildlife.
“You can count on most Canucks in a pinch. We don't have much gun or celebrity/wealth culture up here, but we work hard and play hard. As such, I think we're generally a practical and pragmatic group — we’re real up here.”
“Canada is actually jam packed with beautiful places,” Clarke says.
Home to forests, mountains, plentiful lakes and underrated coastlines, Canada’s most beautiful terrain, according to Clarke, is British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
“The Okanagan Valley is Canada's wine and fruit country, featuring 5 small towns around a huge lake that even has a monster in it — Lake Okanagan and the world famous Ogopogo. The Okanagan sun is extra golden and the area is covered in orchards and vineyards with the big lake always in view. Try the cherries, peaches, apples and nectarines while you’re there — they’ll be the best you’ve ever had.”
The most striking views, however, come from the city of Vancouver.
“It's a huge city with really tall and modern shiny buildings, the Pacific ocean on one side and the rest surrounded by giant snow capped mountains. It's a really neat city,” Clarke says.
But if he could go anywhere, he’d travel to Canada’s eastern coast.
“Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick — the Maritimes we call 'em — that's a very special part of Canada. Rugged and rustic, set into the Atlantic Ocean with Viking settlements from over a thousand years ago, The Curse of Oak Island, incredible seafood and specialty beers and screech — a strong and special kind of rum you only get in Newfoundland — it’s amazing. And the people of the east coast have the most unique and cool sounding accents in Canada.”
Did you know Canada has a national food? And no, it’s not maple syrup — it’s Kraft Dinner. (Essentially Kraft Mac & Cheese.)
“Most Canadians will eat this from the cradle to the grave,” Clarke says. “It's a staple of our diets.”
Canada is also home to delicacies like ketchup chips. And most Canadians think it's completely normal — even expected — to put pineapple on pizza.
“We invented Hawaiian pizza and we're really proud of it.”
Of course, Clarke notes that there are plenty of regional goodies all across the country, with each province being known for something interesting — but if you’re a culinary tourist looking for the best destination, Clarke says you should head to Montreal.
“It’s the top place in Canada for a meal. The smoked meat sandwiches and the poutine there would be life changing. But because our population is so diverse, culturally, you can find awesome food all over — and the big cities have food from every country you can name. Definitely have a Hawaiian pizza though, anywhere in the country, you're gonna love it.”
The Best Thing About Canada (Other than Drake)
“We're famous around the world for our marijuana culture — I like that stuff, too — but the best thing? I'd probably say our infrastructures up here. Specifically the healthcare system and our social services.”
According to Clarke, the Canadian police are, for the vast majority, friendly, respectful and helpful, the schools have great teachers and the hospitals are cutting edge.
“Even our postal service is a treat,” he says. “But honestly, it's beautiful everywhere in Canada — scenic from coast to coast, with tons of places for adventuring and camping and hiking etc. Canada is a free and welcoming country and our citizens are valued and well cared for. I say it all the time: Life is good in Canada.”
The Worst Thing About Canada (Other than Drake)
Easy answer: winter.
“Parts of Canada have really cold weather for 6 or so months of the year. But maybe worse than that, it's all the food advertising we get from American television that isn't available our grocery stores,” he says with a laugh.
“Another thing I've struggled with in Canada is the nationwide sport of hockey. We're all assumed to be really into hockey — but some of us aren't, at all, and never have been.”
Finally, because Canada is so large, the distances involved with being a Canuck can also be a struggle.
“Our towns are very spread out and far apart. You might go off to college or a job in a different town and now you're a 16 hour drive from your family, which can be a challenge.”
The Most Surprising Thing About Canada
“Well, there's the Hawaiian pizza thing I mentioned — I think that's quite surprising. But I think if people don't know much about Canada, only hearing about our country from pop culture references, one might think Canada is a small place — but we're actually a gigantic country. Physically, the second physically largest country on the planet, in fact. So no, you can't ask a Canadian — ‘Hey do you know Gerry?’ It's big up here!”
Clarke also says that some of the humorous Canadian stereotypes he sees on TV aren't really true. For instance, how Canadians supposedly say a-boot instead about.
“I see that all the time on TV and it's inaccurate — we actually say a-boat. Totally different. Same with the bagged milk reference, I think that's only in Ontario. And Igloos are actually very rare, too.”
And there you have it — a Canadian's guide to Canada. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Part 2 of this story, featuring more on more about Ryan, his wife Tanya, and their magical creations over at www.drscientist.ca.