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What’s in a Canadian? AncestryDNA finds out

By Murissa Barrington, Postmedia Network

Close up of a DNA model. (GETTY IMAGES)

Close up of a DNA model. (GETTY IMAGES)

Celebrations are in full swing across the country for Canada’s 150th birthday.

From Muskoka chair painting competitions to poutine donuts (ahem, Tim Hortons), people all over are celebrating all things Canadian -- but what really makes a Canuck?

Experts at AncestryDNA decided to conduct a study to find out.

Thanks to our country’s wildly diverse population, every single ethnic group found its way into the colourful pie that is the average Canadian person.

“We said, let’s take 70,000 people from our Canadian database and look at their DNA to find out all of the different ethnicities that make the average Canadian person,” said Julie Granka, manager of personalized genomics at AncestryDNA.

What they found was that 46% of the average Canadian’s DNA traced back to origins in continental Europe. That’s more than the 43% of British, Irish or Scottish roots that came second highest in the ancestry study.

The average Canadian had a high percentage of Eastern European DNA; three times that of people in the U.K.

“In provinces such as Ontario and Quebec, there are high percentages of Jewish European DNA which could be explained by the large migration of Jews to Toronto and Montreal after the Second World War, but it is interesting to see such a relatively high percentage of Jewish DNA in a place like the Yukon, which traditionally has not had a significant Jewish population,” explained Granka.

While the Yukon has the second highest percentage of Jewish European DNA, the 2011 census showed only 175 people in the territory claimed to have Jewish roots.

“When we look at these results, often the next place we want to look at is why the results are the way they are,” she says. “We can make our hypothesis’ about how our ancestry is made, for example certain immigration and migration patterns, but ultimately more research needs to be done. Certainly, Canada’s long-standing culture of inclusion has helped shape the collective DNA of the nation”

Participants in the study provided DNA samples via saliva to AncestryDNA’s large database where it was then studied to estimate each person's genetic makeup.

Compared to the United States, the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand, we boast the highest percentages of DNA from Finland and North Russia combined with Iran/Syria and the Middle East.

While our population may already be vast and diverse, data from Statistics Canada indicates the country is growing at an accelerating rate. By 2063, it’s estimated that the Canadian population will reach over 63 million people.

Which makes some wonder what will our ancestry look like 10 years from now? It’s hard to tell. But AncestryDNA’s Granka agrees that it will be exciting to find out.

“This analysis has highlighted that the average Canadian isn’t so average after all and that there’s an impressive amount of diversity that does exist in this country, which Canadians should be very proud of," says Granka.