Sunday, October 7, 2007


Some time ago I received an e-mail listing of thirty reasons why the sender was Proud to be Canadian (his title) with the request to, “please send it on.” The article was written in Arial Bold font, Bolded and at up to 36 points so it literally screamed at the reader.  It appeared to be created with an angst of pride and patriotic fervor though one that belied reality.  It was obviously intended as more of a United States Bash than a history lesson or even an attempt to up Canada. No doubt it could have been written anywhere in the world with the intent to get sideways with someone.

This missile was forwarded by a great Canadian Friend and later acknowledged with some amusement by other Canadian Amigos who suspected that I would take the bait and research each and every claim. I swallowed the bait – hook line and sinker.  Note that while putting together this post, I did not care who invented what nor where they came from.  My motivation?  I was initially embarrassed by the piece as I truly respect Canada and with invitation in hand even thought years ago about emigrating to the far North.

This writer’s manifesto was so far off base and my reaction so visceral that I know I can, again, be accused of tilting at windmills, I think that this yahoo needs to be held accountable for his inaccurate claims with my big fear that without protestation and clarification, history might concede his ridiculous assertions. My rehash/response is long only in that it relates to his specific assertions.  My apologies.

First, this thirty point manifesto failed to include points 16, 18 and 19 revealing the writer’s less than perfect math skills. We might surmise that somewhere along its journey someone may have deleted some of the more absurd and inflammatory assertions (they are legion). With that in mind let’s address some of his points which basically attribute certain products, inventions, etc. to the Canadians.  Mind you “Canadian” is someone born or naturalized in Canada and embracing a legal relationship with Canada involving allegiance on the part of an individual who has invented an item, in Canada.

1. Smarties: For the uninitiated Smarties are an extraordinary sugar-coated chocolate confectionery invented by Rowntree’s (now owned by Nestle’s) of York, England. The product is not distributed in the United States but is widely available in Canada, UK and other present/former Commonwealth countries and Europe. Their largest manufacturing facility is in Canada with about a third of that product now manufactured in Germany.  While they are to me the best candy in the world, they were regrettably not invented in the Far North and are hardly unique to Canada. Pants on Fire, give the English credit!

4. Canadians Invented Baseball: Modern baseball is uniquely American in origin though its development appears to be a blend of many ancient games to include the English/Irish rounders and the more formal game of cricket. The Scots also had their version of a bat and ball game. As my anthropology DNA kicks in we need note that there is also evidence that the Romans played a similar game and in more recent history (the 14th century) the Russians had a bat and ball game they called Lapta.

There is no doubt that whoever invented the game probably borrowed from many different versions of previous "bat and ball" games and that appropriately reflects both the Canadian and American distinguished pool of émigrés from all over the world. Frank Ceresi in The Origins of Baseball (Baseball Almanac, 07-2004) stated, "In truth, the game evolved over many decades, if not centuries, and its roots are, in reality, a tangled web of bat and ball games brought to this country by immigrants." The earliest reference we found to “baseball” in North America is a 1791 bylaw in Pittsfield, MA which only four years after the US Constitution was ratified, "banned the playing of baseball within 80 yards of the town meeting house."

While there was some controversy about the inventor of modern baseball it certainly still appears to be an all-American show with Alexander Cartwright of Hoboken, New Jersey being so credited with its invention in 1845. The US Congress officially acknowledged Cartwright with the invention of baseball in 1953. The earlier claims by proponents of Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, NY have been discredited. Pants on Fire!

5. Lacrosse is Canadian: It is also American and while the Hurons were known to have been playing the game in the 1400’s there is evidence that there were other Native Peoples also playing the game. The Cherokee and Creek claim the game as ancient and played the game well before recorded history in the southeastern US. Unfortunately no European was there to document their activities before then.

Since there was no Canada or America then the whole issue may be moot though the French documented the sport. I do concede that Canadian dentist George Beers standardized the game though we need note that the first college to adopt the sport was New York University in 1877.  I prefer to give North American First Nations the credit!

6. Ice Hockey is Canadian: While the modern game of hockey was invented and evolved by the Canadians it certainly appears that the precursor of the modern game was brought to Canada by the Irish, Scots and English via the British military in the late 18th century. The Scottish field game of Shinty and the Irish Hurling uses similar sticks and a ball and was eventually taken to the ice by soldiers looking for recreation and competition. I have read a British military log that described the game in the mid 1700’s. Now having said all that, the MicMac First Nation played a similar game prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The game of Ice Hockey evolved and even to this day a recreational version of the game is still known as Shinny. The effect of this game on the development of Ice Hockey was a given considering the many Scottish settlers in Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada.

As ice hockey's popularity grew, many are now attempting to claim credit for the game's origins. In his book Halifax: Warden of the North, author Thomas H. Raddall comments, “In Canada, where shinny on ice had been reshaped by merging aspects of Mi'kmaq hockey with the 1813 Boys' Own Book Rules, a number of English and Canadian individuals conveniently announced themselves as the game's originators. Some went as far as to write and publish their own versions of the so-called "official rules" in order to aid in their questionable declarations.”

Thusly, the great myth evolved. Many folks I know give the MicMac the credit especially considering the existence of ancient MicMac vocabulary that included words for skating, passing and to come on the ice.  While Canada did not exist at that time, they surely invented the modern game. Let’s consider ice hockey as Canada’s gift to the world with a nod given to the MicMac.

7. Basketball is Canadian: While Dr. James Naismith is Canadian-born and the eldest son of Scottish immigrants, his childhood duck-on-a-rock game bore no resemblance to and was not the literal precursor of basketball. The game was invented in Springfield, MA while he was employed by the YMCA and looking for an indoor winter sport for his students. We are assured that Naismith who became a naturalized American citizen in 1925 would not have thought to make this distinction.

8. Apple Pie is Canadian:  As much as it pains this American of Scottish origins, apple pie was probably first conjured up by the English and the cooks of Richard II in the 14th century. The limited use of the then very expensive and rare sugar probably made this a somewhat tart offering.  Let’s chalk this one up to the English.

9. Mr. Dress-up Kicks Mr. Rogers Butt: No doubt that American-born children’s entertainer Ernie Coombs as Mr. Dress-Up had a lasting impact on Canadian children for thirty years. He and the soft spoken Fred Rogers as the host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood complemented each other and none take precedence over the other.

Our less than scholarly author failed to note that the Mister Rogers Neighborhood show was developed by Fred Rogers in 1963 while working with the Canadian Broadcasting Company in Toronto. Yes, it’s Canadian!  Rogers bought the rights to the show in 1966 and moved it to WQED in Pittsburg and then ultimately on to PBS.  Did I say that Coombs was American born?

10. Tim Hortons Kicks Dunkin Donuts Butt: Tim Hortons is the largest purveyor of fast food (let alone doughnuts) in Canada. I like their stores and happy to see some springing up in the United States. Not surprising that Canadian hockey player Tim Horton founded the company then brought in Ron Joyce, a former Hamilton, Ontario police constable in as a co-owner.  No doubt that Joyce elicited the support of law enforcement across Canada. The recent resurgence of Dunkin Donuts to include Canada is noted though Hortons is also getting competition from Krispy Kreme and Starbuck’s. I like them all though drink Dunkin Donuts coffee every day.

11. War of 1812, “Started by America, Canadians pushed the Americans back...past their 'White House'. Then we burned it...and most of Washington”:  Here we go again.  You would think that we would stop fighting this war by the 21st century.  This may be a technicality but the Americans didn’t invade the Canadians, they invaded the British-held colonies of Upper and Lower Canada in order to remove a British strategic military advantage and, yes, they probably wanted some of that soil north of the border. The war was very unpopular in America with many American states initially refusing to send troops into the fray.

Our errant author states that the war of 1812 was started by the Americans though history documents that the British impressed/kidnapped thousands of US seamen into British service, restricted trade by third parties with America and supported/encouraged Indian revolts against American interests prompting the US to declare war.
British troops and Canadian Militia didn’t push Americans back anywhere as the various major conflicts were disjointed and based on strategic objectives. The Americans won many of the major engagements including most of the naval battles.
It surely does appear that the modern day belief by some Canadians that the “Canadians” won the War of 1812 discounts the greater participation by the mostly British regulars and their American Indian allies and is more based on the fact that the United States didn’t "grab" any “Canadian land”.

The alleged “Canadian” burning of Washington, DC would most likely be contested by General Robert Ross and his force of 2,500 British regulars who were assisted by some Canadian Militia. The British burned the White House, the Treasury Department, buildings that housed the Senate and House of Representatives, the Library of Congress and several other government buildings. They tore down the Washington DC newspaper, National Intelligencer which had been critical of British Admiral Cockburn. In fact, the British spared many buildings including the US Patent Office and all residences.

What the War of 1812 did accomplish was the formation of a Canadian identity though Canada didn’t officially exist until 1867 when the union (confederation) of three British North American colonies occurred.

While the ending of the war saw no boundary shifts, the Americans can probably lay claim to some degree of victory as the British stopped their impressment of American sailors, lifted their trade embargos and were never again any influence in the agitation of Native Peoples against Americans.  A real positive was that the Canadians can claim from that point a sense of national identity and pride.  Were it not for that war the US wouldn’t have the Star Spangled Banner and her, “land of the free and the home of the brave …” Yes, the song is American and the tune is English.  Can’t we all be Friends?

17. World’s Oldest Company: The author claims that the Hudson’s Bay Company is the world's oldest continuously operating family business. That just isn’t true. Up until 2006 the world's oldest continuously operating family business was the Japanese temple builder Kongo Gumi, in operation by the founders' descendants since 578. Many, many other businesses are older than HBC and include Hoshi Ryokan Innkeeping of Komatsu, Japan which was founded in 718, Château de Goulaine Vineyard, in Goulaine, France was founded in 1000, Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli Bell Foundry of Agnone, Italy was founded in 1000 and Barone Ricasoli Wine & Olive Oil of Siena, Italy founded in 1141. I could fill this page and scores of others with the names of firms in continuous existence well before 1670. I think we have five Hudson’s Bay blankets and we love The Bay.

20. Canadians Don’t Marry Their Kin: I guess that our writer saw Deliverance too many times.  I know first cousins in Canada who are married. Their children are all apparently normal and they are absolutely delightful folks.

21. This section claims that Canadians “invented ski-doos, jet-skis, velcro, zippers, insulin, penicillin, the telephone and short wave radios that save countless lives each year.” This section has many inaccuracies to include the following.
Penicillin: The inventor of Penicillin was Alexander Fleming from Ayrshire, Scotland while at St. Mary’s hospital in London.

Insulin: No doubt that Dr. Frederick Banting of the University of Toronto along with Charles Best, biochemist J. J. R. MacLeod and Dr. James Collip isolated insulin in 1921-22. However, Nicolae Paulescu of Romania developed and held a patent on an aqueous pancreatic extract eight months before the Canadians who even referenced Paulescu's discovery. Well done all, Aye.

The Telephone: The invention of the telephone remains a controversial issue though the invention of a version is now generally credited to Antonio Meucci in 1860. Others, to include a French telegraphist, English electrician, German scientist, Italian surveyor, American Engineer, Danish inventor and Alexander Graham Bell who lived near Brantford, Ontario following his emigration from Scotland.The first successful bi-directional transmission of clear speech was made by Bell in the United States. Bell permanently moved to the United States and became a US citizen though he always maintained a summer home in Nova Scotia.

The Zipper: The inventor of the zipper as we know it today was Gideon Sundback who is sometimes claimed as Canadian, as his Lightning Fastener Company, an early manufacturer of the zipper, was based in St. Catharines, Ontario. We need to note here that while Sundback frequently visited the St. Catharines factory as president of the company, he was never, in fact, either a permanent resident or a citizen of Canada. Sundback immigrated to the United States from Sweden in 1905 and lived in Meadville, PA.  The zipper was invented in the United States.

Velcro: The hook-loop fastener was invented in 1941 by George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer in Switzerland. At one time he collaborated with a French company in France. No reference to Canada found.

The Ski-Do: The rear tracked snowmobile was invented by Ray H. Muscott of Waters, Michigan, USA on June 27, 1916 with U.S. Patent # 1,188,981. The differing snow conditions in Quebec motivated Joseph-Armand Bombardier of Valcourt, Quebec to invent a different caterpillar track system suitable for all kinds of snow conditions in 1928. Bombardier refined the design and with many other firms the modern snowmobile was born in the mid to late 1950’s.

The Jet Ski: was invented by Arizonian Clayton Jacobson II (sometimes spelled Jacobsen) to include both the sit-down and stand-up models. Canadian Company Bombardier approached Jacobsen and they manufactured the Ski-Do until 1971. Jacobsen also did business with Kawasaki and Yamaha with the lawsuits to prove it. With the success of the product Canadian Bombardier started to again manufacture the Jet Ski as the Sea-Do.
Short Wave Radio? Claims by this author get more and more dubious. I suspect that he may have forgotten about Marconi. Frankly, the invention of radio can be attributed to the work of many people to especially include Nikola Tesla the Serbian/Croatian/Austro-Hungarian/American inventor who is regarded by many as one of the most important inventors in history.

29. The Zamboni – A Canadian Invention: The Zamboni was created by Frank J. Zamboni who was born in Eureka, Utah in 1901. He grew up in Utah and Idaho and evolved into an entrepreneur and inventor. When Frank moved to Southern California he opened up an ice rink, Iceland, in Paramount, California and conceived the Zamboni to resurface his ice surface. The Zamboni factory is located nearby.

The Zamboni is a lot better than the two, fifty-five gallon drums with hot water bolted to two skids with towels to apply the new ice surface at Lenox School on our outdoor rink in 1959.

23. Superman-Created by a Canadian: Jerry Siegel (aka Joe Carter) of Cleveland, Ohio and Joe Shuster [born in Toronto and immigrated to the United States (naturalized citizen)] created Superman in 1938. Shuster moved to Cleveland when he was ten and helped created Superman as an American. We can certainly give Shuster credit for his birth place.

We humbly concede claims made for Coffee Crisps and only sometimes, better beer commercials.

So, that’s the last of it.  Really no big deal though we can thank all the inventors of the world – whatever their nationality - for their imagination, creativity and drive in making the World a better place to live.

Progress, eh?


Ned Buxton

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sure there were some dubious claims laid out in a random forward e-mail. We all know to take the things said in those with a grain of salt. However, I would hold that anything taking place in Canada even before it was a country can be claimed as Canadian. Otherwise how can the Americans claim that the battle of the Alamo happened in Texas or any of the events that occured in Lousiana before it's statehood? Heck, even the Brits would be hard pressed to call events that took place during Roman times as happening in 'Britain' then. Native Americans were here first, but their descendants are now Canadians. They count.