People, Way of Life
Elvis Stojko, Donovan Bailey, Olympic medal winners, National Hockey League teams, Olympic winners
The complex regional and cultural composition of Canadian society means that there is no single Canadian way of life, but certain generalizations can be made. Perhaps the clearest is that Canada shares with the United States, most European countries, and Japan a high standard of living relative to the remainder of the world. Most Canadians are well housed, fed, and clothed. Canadians also enjoy an advanced, efficient health care system that is universally available to all citizens and landed immigrants (immigrants who are allowed permanent residence in the country) regardless of their location, income, or social standing. In fact, recent opinion polls have shown that Canadians see this system of socialized medicine as a defining characteristic of their national identity.
Generally, Canadians devote the highest portion of their income to housing (22 percent of household expenditures in 1992). Most (63 percent) own their homes, and the majority (57 percent) reside in single-family detached homes. Housing quality is generally high, and only about 1 percent live in units defined by government agencies as crowded. However, housing quality is not as high in rural and northern areas as it is in Canada’s cities. Problems are especially prevalent on Indian Reserves (lands set aside for Status Indians); in 1991, some 39 percent of all dwellings on Indian Reserves required major repairs as opposed to a national average of 8 percent. Housing in the Arctic region poses special problems; permafrost can cause foundations to shift and makes providing water and sanitary services difficult. Frequently, aboveground, insulated utility systems are the only feasible solution.
The nature of Canadian households has changed considerably over the past quarter-century. With the liberalization of divorce legislation in the late 1960s and changing social attitudes about marriage, the number of single-parent households and common-law unions has increased.
Canadian eating habits are also being transformed. Concern for better health has led to a small decline in total meat consumption; Canadians are also spending more on fruits, vegetables, pasta, and other complex carbohydrates. Canadians, especially those in the larger cities, have also acquired more cosmopolitan tastes. The range of foods and beverages available is far greater than ever before, and includes dishes from Ethiopia, Thailand, Latin America, and a variety of Chinese regions. Still, many traditional regional eating habits have been retained, such as the distinctive diets of the Inuit and other indigenous groups, and the French-influenced cuisine of Quebec.
Although lacrosse was Canada’s first national game, hockey is its most popular. At the professional level, there are six National Hockey League teams in Canada, including two of its most venerable, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadian Football League was created in 1956. Baseball has been played in Canada since at least 1838, and a Canadian professional league was established in 1876. The Montreal Expos became Canada’s first major league team in 1969. The Toronto Blue Jays were formed eight years later and have become one of the most successful major league teams, attracting more than 4 million fans in a single season (1992) and winning the World Series twice. Two Canadian teams joined the National Basketball Association in the 1990s: the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Amateur sport also thrives, and Canada consistently produces Olympic medal winners in a variety of sports, such as rowing, track and field, and, most notably, figure skating (for example, Elvis Stojko). The most famous of these Olympic winners in recent years was Donovan Bailey, who won the 100-meter sprint at the 1996 games. Ordinary Canadians are participating in sporting leagues, fitness classes, and individual exercise to a greater extent than ever before. In the 1991 census, one-third of all Canadians reported that they were “very active” in some form of sport or exercise.
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