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Canada bicentennial recalls triumph of 1812

Some of the Anchorage "people movers" (known as "buses" elsewhere in the country) have advertising that warns of a dangerous invasive weed. It is called the Canadian thistle.

How can this be? Canadians are probably the nicest people on earth. Why would anyone name a noxious weed after Canadians? I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you that we would be so culturally insensitive.

I know about Canadians having spent the first 20 years of my life in Canada. I've got the scars to prove it. For example, any Canadian my age knows of Anne Murray (she's Canadian, you know). She was a singer who became famous for the "Snowbird" song.

Canadian content rules required that a large percentage of radio songs be by Canadian artists, of which there were few. But we had Anne Murray, so I grew up listening to that damn "Snowbird" song as a teenager night after night, day after day.

I often find myself humming the song even now -- "The snowbird sings the song he always sings / And speaks to me of flowers that will bloom again in spring." It's awful. Argh.

Years later, on a car trip from Madison to Chicago, a business colleague decided to listen to all the songs from his favorite recording artist -- Celine Dion (she's Canadian, you know). It was the longest three hours of my life.

Canadians have always had a bit of an inferiority complex living so close to the Big Dog. They are constantly out to prove themselves, especially in comparison to Americans.

The upcoming celebration of the War of 1812 is a case in point. And I do mean celebration. You know the War of 1812. That's the one started by the Americans, when a hearty band of Canadians defeated the massive onslaught of American troops bent on destroying the Canadian way of life.

In Canada, bicentennial events are celebrating the lives of Laura Secord, Sir Isaac Brock and of course Tecumseh, the Indian chief who joined with the Canadians to beat back the hordes. Apparently, there were no Mounties back then to maintain order.

You think I'm joking? According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, actor Christopher Plummer (he's Canadian, you know) is on TV telling all who will listen that 1812 was when "we fought on sea and land," "we faced relentless American fire and stood our ground" and "Canadians came together as never before to shape our future."

Here in the U.S. we think of the War of 1812 as against the British, with some mild skirmishes taking place along the border. We remember that the British burnt down the White House and something about Dolly Madison saving some paintings.

I suspect the best bicentennial event we will do is a reenactment of the Battle of Baltimore where Francis Scott Key authored lines like "And the rockets' red glare/ the bombs bursting in air" to the tune of an old English drinking song. Of course that song became our national anthem.

Canadians would never embrace such bellicose sentiment. In his great new book "The Road to Freedom" economist Arthur Brooks notes that the American founding was based on stirring words like "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." In Canada, the principles on which confederation was based were "peace, order and good government." See the difference?

Actually, Canadians are feeling pretty good about themselves these days. The loonie (seriously, this is the nickname for their dollar) is strong, and so is their economy. Housing prices have gone through the roof, although some think it's a bubble. And they still have the largest French population never to have surrendered to the Germans.

If you head to Canada to take in the bicentennial, I have some advice. Don't say "how much is that in real dollars?" Remember they don't sell M&Ms -- but Smarties are a reasonable substitute. And don't try to fake being Canadian by saying "aboot" when you really mean "about." Those Canadians are smart, eh. They can spot a Yank a kilometer away.

Jeff Pantages is an investment adviser. He lives in Anchorage.



By JEFF PANTAGES