5.7 Analyzing a Canadian Identity

Should individuals and groups in Canada embrace a national identity?

Big Ideas:

  • Explore multiple perspectives on national identity in Canada.

  • Examine methods used by individuals, groups, and governments in Canada to promote a national identity.

You have probably seen many symbols that represent aspects of our Canadian society, such as government, business, and sports teams. Like most Canadians, you likely ignore many of these symbols, but occasionally one catches your eye. Maybe it's a symbol on an advertisement for something you would like or a symbol that makes you feel a certain way. In any case, that symbol is doing its job.

A symbol is a simple way of representing a quality or an idea. For example, a fast-food restaurant may use a girl with red pigtails, or car companies may use hood ornaments where people associate the brand with quality, history, or workmanship of the vehicle. Many people wear symbols to tell others something about themselves. For example, a tattoo or a piece of clothing with a name or picture tells people something about the person's likes, dislikes, or beliefs. Businesses and people use symbols to illustrate their identities.

Throughout this course, you have also seen how nations use symbols to promote a national identity and nationalism. People's reactions to these symbols may be quite strong, promoting positive or negative emotions. For example, the Canadian Red Ensign (see right) received a strong positive emotion from many Canadians during World War II, but the Nazi swastika produced very negative emotions in concentration camp survivors and veterans after World War II. Symbols may, at the same time, have the power to unify people for or against a cause. For example, Canadian soldiers rallied around the Red Ensign to fight against what the Nazi swastika stood for.
Canadian Red Ensign
© Thinkstock
Examine the following symbols that might promote a Canadian national identity.

Canadian Head of State — Queen Elizabeth II

Canadian Coat of Arms

Canadian Beaver Nickel

Canadian Flag

Canadian National Anthem Oh, Canada!

Canadian Hockey

Think about which of the above symbols is the most powerful Canadian one and why. Your answer should involve the following four criteria:

  • Distinctive: uniquely associated with Canada
  • Recognized: widely known across groups and regions in Canada
  • Attachment-oriented: has strong attachments for many Canadians
  • Long Lasting: a symbol for many years in Canada.

Canada West: The Last West
National Archives of Canada C-30620
Although some national symbols have been created unintentionally, more likely they were deliberately created for a particular reason. Examine each of the historical Canadian posters to find the symbols presented and the reasons for their creation.

Symbol, "The Last Best West": Canada's West is a land of opportunity with plenty of good farmland for everybody — an inviting place to be.

Reason: During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Canada wanted to increase the population of the Canadian West by encouraging immigration.

Symbol, "Let's Go...Canada!":
An enthusiastic patriot is shown with the flag waving strongly behind him.

Reason: During World War I, the Canadian government wanted to encourage men to join the depleted ranks of the Canadian armed forces.

Courtesy of Veteran Affairs Canada