More alike than not: Canadians defy regional stereotypes 0
QMI Agency File
Growing up in Calgary, Scott McClelland was never attracted to the stampede of horses. Instead, his passion is creating houses of horror.
As the ringmaster behind a travelling circus sideshow Carnival Diablo -- which offers freakish spectacles, such as a lady who dances on broken glass, a strongman who bends iron with his teeth and McClelland, who drinks boiling water and toys with rail spikes in his head -- he's long rebelled against an established regional identity.
"Even Albertans think I must be originally from Toronto or the States," says the 47-year-old showman who was born in Regina, grew up and started his sideshow spectacle in Calgary and moved to Ontario only years later.
Touring seven times across Canada over two decades, McClelland said he's noticed a subtle transformation among Canadians.
"Many old stereotypes," he suggests, "are just disappearing."
The death notice of the Alberta redneck stereotype made national headlines after Alison Redford became premier last year and Naheed Nenshi took the city reins in Calgary a year before.
A University of Lethbridge survey last November found Albertans share a view with those in most other provinces on issues like same-sex marriage and legalized medical marijuana.
And a Leger Marketing poll for QMI Agency, released last weekend, saw Canadians -- other than in Quebec -- sharing similar public opinion results on a wide range of issues.
So are some fences coming down?
After generations of knee-slappers over burnt-out light bulbs, jokes about Newfoundlanders are out of vogue.
West-coasters don't seem so left-wingy, especially as B.C.'s Liberal government fights to preserve its centre-right coalition.
And to the rest of the country, Torontonians seem far less full of it.
OK fine, many Canadians agree Ontario is still self-centred, though our own online polling shows the second most checked description is that Ontarians are pretty much the same as everyone else.
Quebec still doesn't fare well when it comes to broad impressions by the rest of the country -- or by some who live within. Recently, a convenience store in Montreal was the scene of protest when an employee, who reportedly refused to speak French to customers, seemed to describe Francophones as beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking welfare recipients.
But experts suggest English Canadians -- though the QMI Agency poll found we're still divided whether stereotyping is widespread -- are alike on most fronts, so much so that most of us could blend in with our U.S. cousins, according to one scholar.
Ed Grabb, a professor in the University of British Columbia's Department of Sociology, has begun a new course outlining how Canadians and Americans, while not identical, are more alike than most of us would have thought.
In fact, on things like attitudes toward health care, government and individuality, research has found we're very similar.
Even differences in religion are shrinking. In 1991, Americans were 16% more likely than Canadians to take in a religious service at least once a week. By 2006, that number had dropped to 11%.
While Grabb sees regional differences in both countries -- during national elections, Quebec generally pulls Canada to the left just as the southern U.S. pulls that nation to the right -- he's also noticed a softening of old hackneyed chestnuts.
"I do think the Alberta redneck jibe is an endangered species," Grabb said. "I think that the assumption that all Ontarians are affluent is also going by the boards.
"Everyday experience may occasionally confirm some stereotypes -- there (is likely) less road rage in Vancouver than in Toronto -- but people don't lapse into categorical thinking as much as they used to."
While stereotypes remain, Grabb said thanks to social media, an influx of non-European immigrants and increased travel within Canada, there is a clearer understanding of those things that make us the same as well as the parts that make our regions unique.
Ed Shirran is president of the McMurray Newfoundlanders Club in Fort McMurray, Alta., which started as a social club in the 1970s.
Newfoundlanders can still get a nice pan-fried cod or bowl of pea soup there.
But these days, there's less participation by Newfoundlanders, though the club does attract a younger weekend crowd as a nightclub.
Shirran said the work of Newfoundlanders in the oilsands and in senior positions in Fort McMurray has diminished negative stereotypes. "Newfoundlanders are not the guys in the bar getting drunk," said Shirran, who left the East Coast 35 years ago and is now a project manager for the local housing and development corporation. "Here, they have healthy lives."
But he said his native province still has some image repair to do in places like Toronto.
Just as Carnival Diablo ringmaster McClelland says Quebecers must work on their image after he had to modify his show to perform there in the past. He once hired a diminutive-sized actor, dressed as a smaller version of himself, to translate every chilling detail into French.
But if a man can survive having a six-inch spike pounded into his skull or lift 40-pounds of rocks with a shark hook through the tongue, perhaps there's new hope people in Alberta can mellow a bit on the view that Toronto sucks.
CANADIANS SPLIT OVER REGIONAL STEREOTYPES
So very typical. Canadians straddle the fence when it comes to making up their minds about regional and provincial stereotyping across the country.
After running extensive online polls across Sun Media, from Canoe.ca to the five Sun sites, and factoring in much more scientific public opinion number-crunching by Leger Marketing, QMI Agency concludes Canadians are wrestling with lingering attitudes about age-old biases.
"We're cut down the middle," said Leger pollster Derek Christie on the results from a national survey on stereotyping for QMI Agency.
Leger found 39% of Canadians think perceptions of their region or province are accurate, while 44% of those polled found the images to be inaccurate.
And compared to a decade ago, about half of Canadians feel the stereotypes of their corner of Canada have remained the same, though our outlook improves with age.
"As people get older, they tend to believe the opinions people have of their province or region get better," Christie said.
Apart from the Leger polling, online questions on Sun Media sites have found Ontario still comes off in a less than favourable light than other provinces. Toronto was the top choice if a city had to be blown off the map while 43% said they'd trade Quebec for Hawaii.
But the majority, 67%, said they would never avoid visiting any province.