The Canadianization of America

We're rapidly being colonized by the culture and landscape of British Columbia. What's that all a-boot, eh?
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We're rapidly being colonized by the culture and landscape of British Columbia. What's that all a-boot, eh?

The United States won the land north of the Columbia River from Britain mainly by flooding the zone with settlers. The dispute came to a head with the so-called Pig War of 1859, when Americans had taken up settlement on San Juan Island, claimed by the British, and nearly fell into war over a dead porker. The war, of course, was not about bacon, but the borders of empire.

The Blaine Peace Arch was set up with the slogan, "Children of a Common Mother," to suggest we were one people merely separated by a line on the map. But as everyone knows, the border still means something. We might talk about Cascadia, but it's still "us" and "them."

America is commonly portrayed as the brute, the 900-pound star-spangled gorilla, but there's some evidence that the Northwest is slowly being Canadianized, at least culturally. The seeds, of course, were planted long ago.

Vancouver, BC has skinny towers, and Seattle covets them. We envy Vancouver's planning, the so-called "miracle."

Canadian sports such as soccer and pro hockey are the talk of Seattle. The Sounders are darlings, SoDo might soon hear the swoosh of skates and the Zamboni.

Puget, Rainier, Baker, Hood, Whidbey, Vashon: Brit, Brit, Brit, Brit, Brit, Brit. Our landmark icons ought to be celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

And what about the proliferation of British and Canadian accents? You can hardly listen to KUOW these days without hearing news of the BBC and the CBC. During the afternoons, many of the interview segments carry the flavor of maple-tinged tongues. Hmmm. There aren't enough Americans who can conduct interviews?

Steve Scher, you'd better get a new accent.

Canadian viewers are also a powerful force on programming at KCTS, Channel 9. Years of Britcoms.

We used to complain about Texas excess, but now Canada has raised the stakes by one-upping us with Alberta. Canada's the one that likes Big Coal and Oil. Rick Perry, meet your people!

It's enough to make you want to swoon on the chesterfield.

But the biggest phenomenon is the way British Columbia and Vancouver have colonized film and television. It's the "Hollywood North" success of the film industry, which has gone full Canuck.

I got hooked on the TV show Alcatraz this year. It's about (aboot?) a bunch of time-traveling escaped convicts from The Rock who have somehow been transported from the 1960s to now. The guys who chase them frequently go into San Francisco's residential neighborhoods, which on the show are suspiciously green. The tightly-packed Victorians have been replaced by old turn-of-the-century box houses and big yards. You realize: this ain't Frisco, it's someplace else. Call it San Couver.

The Alcatraz series was mostly filmed in Vancouver. No wonder one of its lead characters is a fat guy who wears heavy sweaters and coats all the time. He'd dressed for winter in Kamloops, not the Castro.

The show was also created by the guys who did Lost, and that's just how its geography makes you feel. You find this again and again. Vancouver substitutes for Seattle (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), BC supplies the landscapes of everywhere from Ohio and Kansas (Supernatural) to Oregon (Eureka). Canadian towns stand in for the all-American midwest heartland that produced Superman (Smallville), as well as cities on other planets (Caprica). Even some of the Twilight series was filmed in Canada because they found a place that, I guess, made a more convincing vampire-infested Forks.

I was shocked recently when I learned a new movie set in Seattle, "Safety Not Guaranteed," was actually filmed in Seattle, in the offices of Seattle Magazine, no less.

For the most part, the America of our video dreamscape has been outsourced. Moody and gloomy are rapidly becoming the landscape of thee we sing, except it ain't really ours. It belongs to the Dominion.

British Columbia is such a presence on film and TV — there are red cedar, ferns and rain everywhere — that it's like global warming in reverse. We were supposed to get a California climate, but instead America is being brainwashed to believe that moist and green are standard in TV-land, aka reality.

They might have lost the Pig War, but Canada has counter-attacked with an invasion of the American psyche and cultural colonization in the borderlands.

Wake up and smell the Murchie's, people.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.