Friday, June 17, 2011

What is a Canuck?

The other day a friend from Virginia emailed me and asked me a strange question. Was it an insult to refer to a Canadian as a Canuck? I have never thought it was but I asked a friend of mine. She was convinced that the word Canuck just referred to the Vancouver hockey team and that got me thinking. I started to do some research and today I want to tell you more about the etymology of the word while showing you photos of what I have seen around the city.

The origins of the phrase Canuck seem to be shrouded in mystery. It looks like it was coined in the 19th century and according to Bart Bandy's Lexicon of Canadian Etymology the term evolved from the French term canule around the time of the American Revolution but how it evolved from there is still unclear.

This editorial cartoon  circa 1910 shows a version of Johnny Canuck standing against Uncle Sam from the US and John Bull from England.

Johnny Canuck was a cartoon character and superhero that was created around 1869 and later reinvented most notably as a World War II action hero in 1942. The Vancouver Canucks used a rendition of Johnny Canuck as a lumberjack as one of their team logos. At that time they were with the Pacific Coast Hockey League and then the Western Hockey  League. When the team  joined the NHL in 1970 they discontinued Johnny Canuck.

(I saw this Vancouver Canucks' logo on a tshirt downtown on Tuesday. I didn't stop the gentleman wearing it though to talk with him.)

When Johnny Canuck first appeared in political cartoons in 1869 he was portrayed as a younger cousin to the U.S.'s Uncle Sam and Britain's John Bull. He could be a logger, a farmer, rancher or soldier and he was usually depicted as being wholesome and simple minded. But Johnny Canuck always stood up against the bullying of his older cousins.

In World War II Johnny Canuck appeared in February 1942 issue of Bell's Dime Comics No.1 as a superhero fighting the Nazis.

(If you look in the lower corner you will see Johnny Canuck)

Although he initially had no superpowers, Johnny Canuck was quite successful and fought Nazism to almost singlehandedly end the war.

After the war the use of such stock figures diminished in popularity but in 1975 a new comic book character, Captain Canuck emerged.

Richard Comely was apparently unaware of Johnny Canuck's exploits and created Captain Canuck as more of a typical superhero in dress and manner.

In 1995 Canada Post issued a series of superhero stamps and Johnny Canuck was among them.

And don't count Johnny Canuck out yet! Ty Templeton and Moonstone Books are recreating Johnny Canuck in a comic  book series originally entitled Johnny Canuck and the Guardians of the Northern Lights but that was changed to The Northern Guard.

(this sheet music cover is circa 1900.)

Some other notable facts about the term Canuck:

- Canuck is a nickname for the Curtiss JN4 biplane and Avro CF-100 jet fighter. The CF-100 was the only Canadian-designed and built jet fighter to enter operational service. From 1950–1958, 692 Canucks were built. They remained in service until 1981.

- One of the first uses of the word Canuck - in the form of Kanuck - referred to Dutch Canadians as well as French Canadians. (Apparently it is a derogatory term when used in reference to certain French Canadians)

- The Canadian National Rugby Team is nicknamed the Canucks.

- The Canuck's Rugby Club has been playing in Calgary since 1968.

- Canadian alpine ski racers who competed successfully on the World Cup circuit in the '70s were called the Crazy Canucks.

- The goaltender for the Canucks Roberto Luongo, has a picture of Johnny Canuck on his goalie mask.(Or at least he did when the information I am reading was published.)

-A British SAS raid led by Canadian captain Buck McDonald in January of 1945 was nicknamed Operation Canuck.

- The official Canadian Olympic gear of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics bore the term Canucks.

-The Marvel Comics character Wolverine is often referred to affectionately as "the Ol' Canuklehead" due to his Canadian heritage.
(this artwork is in an alley downtown. It stretches the entire block so I will have more to show you from that at another time.)

So in regards to whether the term Canuck is an insult to Canadians I gotta say: I'm a Canuck and darn proud of it eh?

And even though the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins I want to congratulate my home team. Those men played a great series and gave Vancouver a lot of hope. Next year you'll get it. Congrats must go to Boston, well played.

As for the riots - that was a disgusting display that appears to have been orchestrated beforehand. In my opinion it would have happened whether the Canucks won or lost. The good part is that at 7am the next morning citizens were downtown helping with the cleanup. That is the true spirit of Vancouver.

I hope  you find the beauty around you.

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