For about (or aboot, if you prefer) three quarters of the twentieth century, most Americans had minimal impressions of our neighbors to the north, if any at all. Of course there was always the icon of the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman – the Mountie – proudly regaled in his wide-brimmed hat and virile red coat, consistently virtuous, gentlemanly and steadfast far beyond the capability of any mere mortal (especially a male mortal) to achieve. The Mountie “who always gets his man” was first popularized in Victorian era dime novels, then immortalized by Nelson Eddy in the 1936 movie classic Rose-Marie, and ultimately caricatured as Dudley Do-right on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show in the 1960's.
But if you asked most US citizens who didn't actually know a Canadian what real Canadians were like, they would generally say things like, “They live in igloos or log cabins and ride dogsleds” or “They speak French and they are too proud of their liberal politics.”
Then came SCTV, or more accurately, The Two Minute Fillers That Changed Canada Forever. SCTV was a television program that sprang from Toronto's Second City comedy troupe and featured members of the Second City cast. The show was produced by Toronto's Global Television Network and syndicated to the USA, and it's premise was that it was the clumsy, self-produced variety programming of a fictional town called Melonville somewhere below the 49th Parallel.; When CBC, Canada's largest television network, adopted the show in 1980, the network executives insisted that an extra two minutes of material had to be added to make the show fit CBC's airtime format and they wanted that two minutes to be specifically and identifiably Canadian in content. Ric Moranis and Dave Thomas, deeply annoyed by the intimation that SCTV wasn't inherently Canadian in spite of its fictional USA setting, responded by taping a series of sketches in front of one camera on a crude set. Improvising without scripts and wearing knitted caps that Canadians call tuques, they cooked real back-bacon for themselves on a camp stove and drank real beer while they lampooned the speech and mannerisms of a certain class of northwestern Canadian men.
The result was “The Great White North” with Bob and Doug McKenzie, played respectively by Moranis and Thomas. In an interview with Kenneth Plume 20 years later, Thomas said, “It was all very low key and stupid, and we thought, 'Well, they get what they deserve. This is their Canadian content. I hope they like it.'" But to their complete bewilderment, the viewers raved over these short filler pieces and a phenomenon was born, one that reached its peak with Moranis and Thomas recreating the roles of Bob and Doug in the movie Strange Brew. Some of the sketches were added to the programming being sent to the United States, and in an instant, a whole new stereotype of Canadians had reached the mainstream of American culture. Today, when the rank and file American citizen is asked to think of a Canadian stereotype, Bob and Doug McKenzie springs to mind.
Peppered throughout the sketches was a new word Americans had never heard before: ‘hoser'. Actually it was one most Canadians weren't familiar with either and many thought Moranis and Thomas invented it. However, the term actually came from the sport of hockey in the days before Zamboni machines when the losing team had to hose down the ice with water, ergo the word ‘hoser' means ‘loser'. And that's exactly what Bob and Doug were… losers.
To be sure, the buffoons that Moranis and Thomas played were caricatures of a stereotype that existed already, but it was one that Canadians shared among themselves in bars and living rooms, not on syndicated television. More significantly, it was one that Canadians applied to one small group of Canadian citizens, not to ALL Canadians. They laughed and recognized the friend of a relative or some guy down at the grocery store, but they didn't see themselves.
However, for the United States it was the filling of a void that had been vacuous far too long, and we couldn't help collectively wetting our pants laughing. We might have heard a Calgarian say ‘aboot' instead of ‘about' before, but we had never had such a cornucopia of Canadian culture and mannerisms doused on us at one time. Of course we never saw Bob and Doug as real people or as representing the intellectual level of ordinary Canadians, but we saw Canada through the minds of Canadian comedians and we knew we were seeing what Canada saw. As we popped our guts on the sketch about how to get a mouse into a beer bottle so you can get a case of free beer from the manufacturer… or the one where Doug compared Florida's shape on a map to a cow's teat and tried to squeeze it to see what would come out… we felt as if we had finally discovered the real Canada.
However any stereotype is exactly that – an oversimplification. And in the case of Bob and Doug, it is a false one. Over the years I have known many Canadians, both visitors to our country and expats, who have come from different parts of the world's second largest geographic nation and none of them have reminded me of one another. And except perhaps for western Canadians that say ‘aboot' instead of ‘about' or use ‘eh?' far too much, none have resembled Bob or Doug in any way whatsoever. Just as people from the Antebellum South and Bostonians don't sound or act the same, neither do Ontarians and Albertans.
In only one way have I seen a common trait among the Canadians I've known. They are all proud of their country, their culture and their people. Yes, some eat beaver tail and some love maple syrup. Yes, many from Ontario or eastern Canada have a French accent, and some from the Northwest Territory have even ridden in a dog sled at one time or another (although I never knew anyone who actually owned one). And I would guess every Canadian I've met could probably be classified as a political liberal in comparison to say, John McCain. But all of those characterizations are far from universal.
So maybe when we think in stereotypes we are what Bob and Doug might call the real hosers.