--Bruce Hutchison, 1942.
For academics, journalists and fiction writers alike, Canada is a subject of constant fascination and study. Bruce Hutchison, a prominent newspaper editor and author, once described Canada as "The Unknown Country." To a large extent, Canada, with its complex weave of languages, cultures and regions, is a geopolitical conundrum.
Mythologies and stereotypes abound concerning the Canadian landscape and people. To outsiders, Canada is a land of snow, hockey, Mounties, wildlife, untamed spaces, maple trees, peacekeepers, Tim Horton doughnut shops, universal health care, Quebec separatism, and congenial, reserved people (except, perhaps, for that redheaded rebel, Anne of Green Gables). Canadians themselves seem perplexed about their cultural identity. The quest for some elusive definition of Canadianness is a national pastime for many Canadians. They may not know who they are, but they do know who they are not. They will readily tell you that they are not American, British or French. Canadians do not think, talk or act like their American, British or French cousins, but will admit, often begrudgingly, that they have been very much influenced by them. And at a quick glance, it is sometimes difficult to discern these subtle differences.
In reality, Canada is an improbable country -- a land of immense geography, extreme climate, vast resources, and a small but ethnically diverse population, overshadowed by the most powerful nation on earth. No list of clichés can presume to define this collage of multilayered identities. The country is too varied, too vast, too hybrid. And yet, Canada is one of the great national success stories of modern history, a country where people from all over the world have found opportunity for individuality and community. For seven consecutive years (1994-2000), the United Nations' Human Development Report ranked Canada as having the best quality of life on the globe. Canada's subsequent Human Development Index rankings have been: 2001 and 2002 (third place), 2003 (eighth), 2004 (fourth), and 2005 (fifth).