Something happened in the gallery the other day... A small group came in, and, judging by their conversation, they weren’t from around here (Canada). No surprise there; Granville Island, where our gallery is located, is a very touristy area. It’s actually the second-most-visited public place in the country behind Niagara Falls. We get people from all over the world, but a lot of Americans, especially. 

I heard one guy in the group ask aloud, “Hey, what’s a Canuck?” Also common here – I wouldn’t expect anyone from outside of Canada to know that term. Most guess it’s some sort of animal, usually a whale or a shark, which they get from looking at the Canucks’ current logo, an orca. 

At that point I’ll fill the person/people in – “It’s slang for a Canadian, like how an American is a ‘Yankee’” – and then ask where they’re from. I did that with this group, as I always do, and a woman amongst them said, “Oh I’m from here, they’re visiting from Seattle.” 

Me: “Got ya… so why didn’t you tell them what a Canuck was?” 

Her: “I didn’t know!”

WHAT?! You didn’t know? Shocking… truly shocking. Ok, maybe if you’re a younger person from somewhere else in Canada and don’t watch hockey at all – maybe then I’d give you a pass. But, if you’re from B.C., even if you don’t follow Vancouver’s NHL franchise, you must know what a Canuck is. Surely.

When the Canucks are winning their stuff is everywhere. People wear jerseys, put flags on their cars. They put signs in their windows. You’d have to work hard to ignore it. And the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011, so if you’re over 20 you’d remember what it was like. This woman was definitely over 20.

Maybe I’m being harsh. I’ve been known to be a little snobby at times when it comes to sports and music. I expect people to know things. You don’t have to share the same views, necessarily, but you’ve at least got to know. To me, a Vancouverite not knowing what a Canuck is is akin to a Western person not knowing who The Beatles were. It’s just common knowledge. 

But, it’s 2019, and I’m trying to be better – a better human that doesn’t judge people and expect them to be a certain way. I’m trying to be compassionate and accepting. I know a lot of people are turned off by sports, by contact sports especially. The competitive nature, the aggression… I can see why it wouldn’t be appealing and therefore why you might not know what “Canuck” means. 

In any case, no matter what a person’s reason is for not knowing something, if I can’t say anything nice in response maybe I should just not say anything at all. Kindness is key. And so why did I take the time to write this, then? Well, initially I felt like ranting a bit, but then I also saw it as an opportunity to educate myself, and others, in a couple of ways. I’ve just buried the lead a little...

It’s okay to not care about sports. Sometimes people actually apologize to me when they come in, about not being a “sports person.” Or they just turn around and leave. One of the things that I love about the gallery is that it can actually appeal to all kinds of people. The vintage photography, especially. You can take an interest in the history of it all, in the antiquated uniforms and equipment. You can get a sense, through a sport like baseball or tennis, of how much things have diversified over the years. Or, you can just take a liking to a particular logo or colourway, for no real reason at all. 

It’s also okay to like sports, but to not know a lot about them. Competitiveness isn’t restricted to athletes. Sports fans can be the same – they want to be the best, most knowledgeable fan, and they’ll easily ridicule others they see as lesser. I myself have been guilty of this in the past. Oh, well I’m a season ticket holder, and I got my first jersey when I was a baby, and I know X’s stats from 1977… Wait, you’ve only been a fan for two years?? Talk about jumping on the bandwagon. I see it all the time, in person and online. 

Making someone feel bad for being new to a team or sport isn’t helpful. We all have to start somewhere. Not everyone is so lucky to have a parent that plays catch and that buys their kid jerseys for Christmas. And the whole bandwagon thing – of course winning gets people involved. That’s the whole point! When a local or national team is doing well, it gives people a reason to band together. To be upset about having more people wanting to cheer on your team is something I’ll never understand.

I guess, in short: we all don’t have to agree, but we can still be nice about it. 

So, if you, like the woman that was in here earlier, don’t know what a Canuck is – well, you’re in luck. Here’s some information from the always-handy Wikipedia, which will get you even more in the know about all things “Canuck.” Here ya go!

"Canuck" /kəˈnʌk/ is a slang term for a Canadian. The origins of the word are uncertain. The term "Kanuck" is first recorded in 1835 as an Americanism, originally referring to Dutch Canadians or French Canadians. By the 1850s, the spelling with a "C" became predominant. Today, English Canadians and others use "Canuck" as a mostly affectionate term for any Canadian [...] Johnny Canuck [is] a personification of Canada who appeared in early political cartoons of the 1860s resisting Uncle Sam's bullying. Johnny Canuck was revived in 1942 by Leo Bachle to defend Canada against the Nazis.

The use of the term as a nickname in hockey actually dates back to a Pacific Coast/Western Hockey League team, also called the Vancouver Canucks, who were founded in 1945. Their logo was based on the original Johnny Canuck cartoon. This franchise didn’t carry over into the NHL, but the 1970 Vancouver expansion franchise took on the name. The Canucks brought back Johnny Canuck in 2007, though on NHL ice it’s only been used as an alternate logo

So, there you go, that is the short-hand history of the term/nickname “Canuck.” I hope it felt like what I wanted it to be – a celebration of acceptance and of all levels of sports knowledge. Funnily, at the end of the day, what may bring this all home best is Vancouver’s current hockey slogan: We Are All Canucks. If you’re a Canadian then you’re, like, literally a Canuck. We’re all different, yet we’re all “Canucks.” Amen.

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