Table of contents

  • Introduction—Michael Dawson, Catherine Gidney, and Donald Wright
  • 1. Beaver —Colin M. Coates
  • 2. Canoe —Jess Dunkin
  • 3.Totem Pole—John Sutton Lutz
  • 4. North —Donald Wright
  • 5. Lacrosse—Gillian Poulter
  • 6. Hockey—Kristi Allain
  • 7. National Anthem—Michael Dawson and Catherine Gidney
  • 8. Flag —Donald Wright
  • 9. Fleur-de-lys —Alan Gordon
  • 10. Maple Syrup—Elizabeth L. Jewett
  • 11. Canadian Pacific Railway—Bill Waiser
  • 12. Mountie—Michael Dawson
  • 13 .Dollard des Ormeaux—Patrice Groulx
  • 14. Laura Secord —Cecilia Morgan
  • 15. Vimy Ridge —Ian McKay and Jamie Swift
  • 16. Peacekeeper—Kelly Ferguson
  • 17. Anne of Green Gables —Michael Dawson and Catherine Gidney
  • 18. Niagara Falls —Karen Dubinsky
  • 19. Universal Healthcare —Cheryl Krasnick Warsh
  • 20. Eh?—Steven High
  • 21. Poutine —Caroline Durand
  • 22. Tim Hortons—Michael Dawson and Catherine Gidney
  • Acknowledgements
  • Photo Credits


From Timbits to totem poles, Canada is boiled down to its syrupy core in symbolic forms that are reproduced not only on t-shirts, television, and tattoos but in classrooms, museums, and courtrooms too. They can be found in every home and in every public space. But where did these symbols come from, what do they mean, and how have their meanings changed over time? Symbols of Canada gives us the real and surprising truth behind the most iconic Canadian symbols revealing their contentious and often contested histories. Includes 200 images, eh?


“What do timbits, the beaver and the blue beret all have in common? They are all iconic symbols of Canadian identity and they are all subjects of this amusing, insightful book. Along with poutine, totem poles, roll up the rim and plenty more. Pop culture meets serious history. What better way to understand the origins of our national dreams, eh?”

- —Daniel Francis, author of Selling Canada: Three Propaganda Campaigns that Shaped the Nation

Sharp, insightful and deeply funny: At once celebrating and critiquing symbols within Canadian identity, contributors are invariably witty and sometimes barbed, creating a rich, quick and satisfying reading experience.

- Ottawa Life Magazine

Symbols of Canada is a path breaking book. It unravels the real origins and cultural significance of national symbols such as the “Mountie” or the Maple Leaf that are widely popular but little understood. This book will prove informative not only for Canadians but for anyone interested in the issue of national identity.

- John Bodnar, Department of History, Indiana University

Nations exist through their symbols. Dawson, Gidney, and Wright have drawn together an impressive array of scholars to reveal – with insight, flair, shrewd judgement, humour, and unexpected serendipity – how Canadian national symbols do their work.

- Richard White, Department of History, University of Sydney

Symbols of Canada challenges us to think about why particular stories, activities, landscapes, and events are invested with national meaning. From colonialism to consumerism, the contributors to this collection deftly connect the past with the present, and demonstrate how national symbols are made, re-made, and sometimes forgotten.

- James Opp, professor of history, Carleton University and co-editor of Placing Memory and Remembering Place in Canada

The beaver may be a rodent, the north merely a compass point, and the paternity of poutine still undecided but these, among many, signs and symbols define, sometimes divide, and frequently distinguish Canadians. While worthy of any library, this insightful, informative and entertaining collection proves that Canadiana, demystified, de-mythed and de-kitsched, can go “coffee table”. Solid and original scholarship, superb illustrations, concise and punchy writing combine with (sometimes self-deprecating) humour.

- Jane Koustas, professor of modern languages, Brock University