How do you get a Canadian to say sorry? You step on their foot.
It’s an old joke, but it speaks to a sentiment many people associate with being a citizen of the Great White North.
A visual representation of that joke is just one of the pieces included in Museum London’s new exhibition, which helps kick off Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
Canadian Eh? A History of the Nation’s Signs and Symbols is now open and runs until Sunday, May 7.
The exhibition explores the history of symbols that Museum London curator of regional history Amber Lloydlangston said have come to express the Canadian identity.
“I wanted to do an exploration of the signs and symbols that we identify as standing for us and our country, as well as looking at those things people from outside Canada consider when they think of Canada,” she said. “I also wanted to look a little bit at the history of that. How did these things develop? Where did these symbols come from?”
Visitors will encounter Jack Canuck, Mounties, and the big Bonhomme de neige, as well as real-life Canadian icons such as Laura Secord, Terry Fox, David Suzuki, Stompin’ Tom Connors, and Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.
Works of art and images, from currency and popular culture, illustrations of quintessential vistas and iconic animals including the beaver, moose, polar bear, Canada goose and the loon, are all included in the exhibition.
For as many pieces as the show includes, Lloydlangston admits she could have filled a space twice as large.
So what were the criteria for inclusion?
As a trained historian Lloydlangston knew certain things had to be included, but as a Canadian she had her own feelings on what had to be there too.
But as millions of Canadian school kids will admit, nothing beats the Internet for lending a helping hand.
“I did a Google image search for Canadian to see what would come up and got some fun stuff, she said. “There was maple syrup, Tim Hortons cups, hockey of course, all sorts of things.”
Something that was also important to Lloydlangston was making the exhibition as inclusive as possible.
As such, she wanted a cross section of time frames, but also of genders and ethnicities.
It was “absolutely important,” she explained, to include First Nations figures, both historic and current.
Tecumseh is in the exhibition as an important figure, but similarly too is Elijah Harper and Louis Riel, along with cultural figures like Buffy Sainte-Marie and activists like Mary Two-Axe Earley.
“Some choices were no-brainers. For example, you do not, not include Wayne Gretzky. To many people he is a defining person,” Lloydlangston said. “Others were my choices. I really wanted Viola Desmond. I knew she was up for being on the Canadian currency . . . because I wanted to recognize her activism in taking a stand against racial segregation. These are important Canadians.”
While Lloydlangston said she’s hoping people will learn something about the nation’s history, about where some national stereotypes and symbols come from.
But she wants people to have fun with it as well, which is why Canadian Eh? also includes many light-hearted pieces.
For example, there is a graphic on the wall that includes the word sorry in multiple languages.
Like the jokes suggests, being apologetic is stereotypically Canadian, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s funny, but it’s also a cultural trait and it’s not a bad one to want to maintain positive relations and boundaries and generally be conciliatory. It’s not a bad thing,” Lloydlangston said. “It was Pierre Burton who commented on Wayne Gretzky saying his behaviour, his attitudes, reflected well on Canadians. If he was curious and polite and self-deprecating then these were Canadian qualities that we value and were happy to share.”