Day 6

Mr. Dressup, hockey and Rush: Cartoonist illustrates what it means to be Canadian

Just in time for the Canada 150 celebrations, political cartoonist Michael de Adder is publishing a new book: 'You Might be from Canada If...' In it, he illustrates our history, our heroes and our nostalgic moments, ultimately defining what it means to be Canadian.
'You Might Be From Canada If...' you think your holiday is named May Two-Four because you always buy a two-four. (Michael de Adder/MacIntyre Purcell Publishing)

When Michael de Adder began working on his latest book, he started with hockey. 

"You Might Be From Canada If…" is about the things that unite — and divide — Canadians. In it, he has a cartoon about the 1972 Summit Series, and another about the lingering anger behind the trade of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers in 1988.

"Our hockey greats are considered gods, in a way," de Adder says to Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"[Gretzky] was the greatest the hockey player that ever played the game. And how can you forget when a country trades its greatest hero. It's like trading Thor."

From Michael de Adder's book, 'You Might Be From Canada If...' (Michael de Adder/MacIntrye Purcell Publishing)

De Adder is political cartoonist whose work has appeared in The Chronicle Herald, The Toronto Star and in papers across the country.

His book gathers important Canadian touchstones, building a sense of identity through his own life experiences, although he says also he tried to envision how younger readers might view the country. 

The book looks at diverse pieces of cultural heritage such as the Oka Crisis, homo milk in bags, and the band Rush.

"There's nothing more Canadian than loving Rush or hating Rush," he says, although de Adder only became a Rush aficionado later in life after meeting a real fanatic.

"I was 'Rushed' to death," he says, laughing.

From Micheal de Adder's book, 'You Might Be From Canada If...' (Michael de Adder/MacIntyre Purcell Publishing)

'Everyone has an Uncle Bunny'

One recurring theme in the book is the quiet respect Canadians have for their military, pointing to landmarks like the Highway of Heroes in Ontario.

De Adder says that he believes that many Canadians have a connection to the military, either personally or historically.

"Every one of us has a family member who served overseas and who came back and never talked about it," he says.

De Adder had an Uncle Bunny who was in the Second World War. Bunny was his nickname because he was an expert at hunting rabbits. De Adder knew that his uncle became an alcoholic and had some struggles during and after the war, but didn't get these stories from his uncle directly.

"The only story I heard of him from the war was that he would steal records from abandoned houses — him and his mates — and they boiled that down to make alcohol and drink it," de Adder says.

In 1980, Uncle Bunny was out hunting and was accidentally shot twice by one of his friends. His funeral is one of de Adder's earliest memories.

"That's why war sticks with me too. I was 10. Everyone has an Uncle Bunny," he says.

From Michael de Adder's book, 'You Might Be From Canada If...' (Michael de Adder/MacIntyre Purcell Publishing)

Gathering Canadiana cartoon by cartoon

Canada's 150th anniversary can be more of a challenge when it comes to building unity, says de Adder, though his own book was published this year to coincide with the celebrations.

He notes that Indigenous people have been on the land for more than 13,000 years, while Newfoundlanders have been a part of the country for fewer than 70 years. 

"Even though this is supposed a non-political book and a it's supposed to be feel good book, I can't help but point out that we don't always get along," he says. 

He knows that some cartoons will have different levels of impact, depending on the region of the country.

"I knew it was going to be hard," says de Adder. "So the way I went about it was to take baby steps — to do one cartoon at a time and hope by the end of it you had a picture of Canada. So it's really just a tapestry of experiences."

To hear the whole interview with Michael de Adder, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.