With the obvious exceptions of Antarctica and Australia, North America has the fewest number of sovereign nations for a continent, with just Canada, America, and Mexico sharing everything “From the mountains to the prairies/To the oceans white with foam” which make up its border.  Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans share the continent, and share a heritage.

America and Canada of course both have their origins as “sister nations” of sorts, both founded in large part by the British Empire, and happily enough, for the most part, the two nations have gotten along the way good siblings should.  Sure, we’ve had a few squabbles here and there—we WILL win the Gold in Men’s Olympic Hockey again, Canada…heartbreaking losses in 2010 and 2014, but we’ll be back!—but on the whole, there’s a good deal of cross-cultural blending and harmony. 

Just how deep do the roots between the two nations go, and how do Canadian-Americans stack up against other ancestry groups in America?  Let’s take a look.


Canadian and American Ancestry

German population of the United States 1872 via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:German_population_1872.jpg

German Population of US [Public Domain]

First, a few miscellaneous facts about ancestry in both nations.  We’ve all heard about the huge number of immigrants now living in the United States who are of Latin American descent, and while they’re NOT all Mexican—refer to them as such at your own risk—nevertheless, more than 30 million Mexican-Americans currently reside in the United States.  Historically, one of the biggest immigrant groups have been German-Americans, who came to the States throughout most of the 1800s and early 1900s and whose ancestors number now number slightly more than 50 million.  In Canada, the main founding groups of the English, French, and Scottish are all well represented, and there are a great number of different minorities as well, including more than a million Chinese and Ukrainian immigrants, the majority of whom reside in Vancouver and Manitoba, respectively.  


Some History

St. Paul By AlexiusHoratius (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Saint Paul by Alexius Horatius / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

While Canadian-American ancestry isn’t as prominent or widely-reported as other ethnicities and groups in America, Canadian-Americans make themselves known, and have consistently done so over the course of history, from the earliest colonial days to the present.

Three American cities have been named for or were founded by Canadians—Saint Paul in Minnesota (settled by Pierre Parrant), Mobile in Alabama (founded by another French Canadian colonist, Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville) and Juneau in Alaska (named for Joe Juneau).  The state of Connecticut celebrates a Canadian American Day every June 24.

Ted Cruz is Canadian-American, having held dual citizenship…and to what must be the relief of Canadians everywhere, he’s decided to renounce the former half of that identity (presumably to focus on expending more hot air on “behalf” of the latter in the 2016 election season).  But good as Senator Cruz is at filibustering and derailing a dialogue, we shouldn’t let him get us too far off track—there are many prominent Canadian-Americans who have done both nations proud, including Warren Beatty, Landon Donovan, Jim Carrey and, of course, Captain Kirk (and Denny Crane!) himself, William Shatner.


Americans of Canadian Descent

Thomas Edison via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edison.jpg

Edison by Stein der Weisen [Public Domain]

A significant and incredibly-notable amount of Americans can trace some of their ancestry back to the Great White North.  Americans of Canadian descent account for somewhere between 640,000 and 1 million Americans, among them:

  • Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road and one of the most famed and enduring writers of “the Beat Generation.”
  • Thomas Edison, whose aptitude for invention was only exceeded, perhaps, by his capacity as a businessman (and, yes, his “ability” to beg, borrow, and ultimately steal from Nicola Tesla).
  • Walt Disney, who…well…founded and began to make the Mouse into the all-consuming media monster it is today. 
  • Judy Garland, who had a Canadian grandfather and became one of the all-time leading ladies of Hollywood, singing “Over the Rainbow” as she starred in a little film you might have heard of—The Wizard of Oz.
  • Matt Groening, whose father is not only Canadian, but helped serve as a source of inspiration for a certain famous cartoon patriarch Groening created—Homer Simpson.


Canadians of American Descent

Jarome Iginla By Resolute (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Jarome Iginla by Resolute / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The list goes on, and in case you’re wondering, it goes both ways.  Though there are only roughly 372,000 Canadian-Americans according to the 2011 census, taking total ancestry into account, are somewhere between 900,000 and 2 million Canadians of at least partial American descent, making for yet another small but substantial community.

Many American-Canadians are the result of different events which occurred over the course of American history which in turn resulted in the removal, migration, or forced migration of different groups.  One of the most well-known examples here is that of the Underground Railroad, which was responsible for hundreds of thousands of African-American slaves making their way from the slavery of the pre-Civil War American South to freedom in the Great White North.  There are likewise a great many different ethnic groups who were forced to head north, most notably people recognized as Native Americans and First Nations.  More recently, thousands upon thousands of draft dodgers seeking to skip service in the Vietnam War made their way to Canada, with many choosing to stay even after the war had ended and a certain degree of clemency had been accorded to them by the US government.

There are many prominent Canadians of American ancestry, including:

  • Brendan Fraser, star of the film and TV world, most famous for the Mummy series
  • Jarome Iginla, who stands as not just the all-time leading scorer for the Calgary Flames, and a member of the 500 Goal club, but is currently providing veteran leadership to the up-and-coming Colorado Avalanche.
  • Elizabeth May, a prominent activist in the Canadian political scene who currently serves in Parliament, representing the Saanich-Gulf Islands region.
  • Lauren Holly, of NCIS fame, can likewise lay claim to American ancestry.

Then there’s the simple fact that, while America rightly gets a lot of press for being incredibly diverse, Canada can lay claim to that as well, which is how someone like Ted Cruz can claim from the Great White North.  Whether or not Cruz is your cup of “Tea,” Canadian and American ancestry has long and proud history.


Who Do You Think You Are? - Rachel McAdams


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