O'Canada: America's neighbour to the north

It is the nation that gave the world Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, and The Kids In The Hall. <br><br> It is the nation that gave the world Pamela Anderson, Linda Evangelista, and Carrie-Anne Moss. <br><br> It is the nation that gave the world Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, James Naismith, and Bronko Nagurski. Neil Young. The Barenaked Ladies. Our Lady Peace.

It is also the nation that gave the world Celine Dion, Anne Murray, and Bryan Adams.

Hey, nobody is perfect, right?

Occasional musical flaws aside, Canada is without a doubt one of the most geographically stunning and culturally diverse nations on earth. From the auburn-coloured Queen Charlotte Sounds in late autumn to the vast green Saskatchewan prairies in early spring, the majestic blue and white Niagara Falls to the famed gray walls surrounding Quebec City, America's ‘Neighbour To The North' is a model of near-unparalleled scenic beauty.

At 9,984,670 square kilometres, Canada is the second-largest nation in the world, behind only Russia. The border it shares with America, the longest such unprotected boundary on earth, stretches for 8,890 kilometres. The Trans-Canada Highway, linking Perth and Parry Sound, is the world's longest national highway at 7,604 kilometres. The country has a total coastline length of 202,080 kilometres, also the longest in the world.

That is a lot of room for a country that has a population of just over 30 million inhabitants. So why, in the name of Queen Elizabeth II, would anyone leave there and move to Baton Rouge?

"It was a combination of things," said LSU offensive lineman Peter Dyakowski, who weights in at 133 kilograms and stands a lofty 1.85 metres tall. "I liked the coaches, the players I met, the facilities were the best, and I also came down here in January – I left Vancouver with snow on the ground, I came down here and it was beautiful weather. I thought, ‘This is great.'" For the five Canadian athletes currently representing the Tigers – Dyakowski, baseball infielder Ivan Naccarata, soccer defender Chelsea Agar, gymnast Annie Gagnon, and tennis player Peter Richman – Baton Rouge is more than just a place to get an education; it is a calmer home-away-from-home.

"I feel everything is slower down here," said Toronto native Richman. "It's more relaxed, the people are friendly, nobody is in a rush like they are in Canada. I like the relaxed feel here, it's different."

"The whole atmosphere is more relaxed, I like that," said Agar, who herself hails from British Columbia. "There's a lot of a party atmosphere, people go out and have a good time. There's a lot more religion down here, very Christian, as opposed to back home where it was a lot more Asian and Indian influenced.

"The weather was obviously different, and I was away from home my first year so everything was pretty much different. I like the laid back attitude, really."

The weather is a subject that LSU's own ‘Fab Five' are only too eager to talk about. Coming from home towns that see temperatures ranging from a brisk -5.8 degrees Celsius in the Montreal winter to a crisp 26.8 degrees Celsius in the Toronto summer, the 40-degree (Celsius) heat of a Louisiana June afternoon is something that takes more than a little getting used to.

"It's real humid, when we were playing in the Regionals and Super Regionals it was crazy," said Naccarata, who is swinging his aluminium bat to the tune of a .200 batting average with six hits and seven RBI's through LSU's first 11 games this year. "I had to put a wet rag over my head to stay cool, you know?"

"Coming down here from Vancouver where the July, August daily average is around 21, and a hot day would be the low 30's, the beaches will be packed with anything over 25," said Dyakowski. "Down here the average daily high is 32, more even, so running down here in the summer has been one of the worst experiences of my life."

Fortunately, say LSU's Canadian crew, the Cajun food more than makes up for any discomfort caused by the sweltering heat.

"I've been down here for a while, I like the local specialties," Dyakowski said. "Coming down here, probably one of my favourite Louisiana specialties is crawfish, especially in gumbo and jambalaya. Crawfish is number one."

That is not to say the Canadians are without their own culinary specialties though. From a land that at first glance appears to have contributed little to international cuisine, the Canadians have one dish at least of which they are especially proud.

"Poutine," said Richman. "It's definitely something Americans need to pick up, it's that good."

Poutine, for the uninformed, originated in the province of Quebec, and is a savoury French-Canadian dish consisting of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds, and has become so popular that it is even available at Burger King outlets nationwide.

Should poutine catch on south of the border, it will join a long line of famous Canadian exports that includes, among others, Tommy Chong, Phil Hartman, Peter Jennings, and Molson beer. That is a pretty good retort to any anti-Canadian sentiment a teammate may hurl, eh?

"I hear some igloo jokes, "Do you ever see the sun?" stuff like that," said Richman. "I always point out the famous Canadians such as Jim Carrey and people like that, Sum 41. I give it back to them."

"They always say, ‘Damn Canadians! Always wrong in stuff.' They say, ‘Stupid Canadians,'" said Gagnon. "It's just for fun, it's nothing."

"Oh yeah, I hear all the jokes," said Dyakowski. "Nothing mean-spirited, but a whole lot of jokes. If they ever catch an "eh," or other speech mannerisms, they will be sure to point it out."

Dyakowski further explained: "I'll say washroom instead of bathroom, the letter ‘Zed' instead of the letter ‘Z,' and I'll explain to them, every country that uses the Latin alphabet calls it the letter ‘Zed.' They always make fun of me for having a queen. They will get on me for calling oatmeal ‘porridge' early in the morning. Just small things they find differences in, every now and then I'll call something by its Canadian term and they wont even know what I'm talking about, like a knit cap I'll call a ‘tuk' and they wont know what I'm talking about."

The teasing goes both ways, however, and in Louisiana especially the locals are not without quirks of their own that the Canadian contingent has been quick to pick up on.

"On my recruiting trip I just laughed at people, the way they talked," said Agar. "I couldn't believe they talked like that, and I still have trouble with people on my team. Robyn (DesOrmeaux), my roommate, I can't understand some of her slang words, but I've gotten used to it. "All y'all," that cracked me up."

"Some of the really thick southern accents or Cajun accents, I had to ask a few people, "Pardon me?" a few times, I had to ask them to repeat themselves," Dyakowski said. "A few of the guys from the inner city, I tried to pick up on their slang but it took me a few tries to get some phrases pinned down. For the most part I haven't had too much trouble picking it up.

"My aunt tells me she's started to pick up things I've been saying, but I don't think I've ever said "Y'all" in regular conversation yet."

If "Y'all" is innately Southern, then what, pray tell, is innately Canadian?

"Hockey is really big, but that's about the only thing," said Gagnon. "There's a Canadian Football League that's becoming more important, people really like football now, especially in Montreal. We have a really good team. Other than that it's not big, we don't really have any in college – maybe track and football, but it's not like here where it's big."

"I played (hockey) for four or five years, but I'd rather be in the hot weather than being on skates in the cold all the time," said Naccarata, who lettered in hockey at Georges Vanier High School in Longueil, Quebec. "I really, really miss it though, I haven't played in a few years."

One stereotype Southerners may have of hockey players is a peculiar hairstyle that one LSU Canadian legendarily sported until recently. Linked usually with NASCAR and the NHL, the mullet hairdo has been a feature on the Tiger Stadium sidelines over the last two years – but no more.

"I've had the mullet for about four years," said Dyakowski, whose flowing locks have been seen everywhere from the football field to Coon's Corner at Alex Box Stadium. "I'd be very lazy with my haircuts and get two or three haircuts a year, and at one point at the beginning of my grade eleven football season everybody was joking around and someone said, ‘Boy, you could have a pretty good mullet.' The night before our first game I said, ‘If we win, I'm going to get a mullet.' We won, so I got the mullet and I kept it until the end of this last season.

"A few weeks before the Sugar Bowl I told everyone that if we won, I'd cut it, and sure enough we won. I'm not sure if anybody really believed me, but I got out the scissors in the locker room after coach Saban had finished talking, and I grabbed the whole thing and cut it right off."


Armed with mullets and poutine, The Kids In The Hall and the Queen's English in which this very feature was labourously written, Canadians are an integral part of life at LSU. Whether at ‘Dub' Robinson tennis stadium or at the PMAC, at The Box or Tiger Stadium and the LSU Soccer Complex, LSU students queue each weekend to watch America's northern neighbours compete in the favoured purple and gold colours they too have come to know and love.

Two nations. One team.

A perfect recipe for international harmony, eh?

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