Canadians and Nostalgia

Nostalgia has always been known to be a powerful influence on people. Whether it’s the song that reminds you of an old high school flame or some old wedding pictures, things from our past have the power to evoke a melancholy contemplation. This is a power that has not gone missed by marketers in Canada. Perhaps you’ve noticed that beer comes in “stubby” bottles again. Or maybe you’ve picked up on how the Ottawa Senators regularly wear their “throwback” alternate sweaters that recall the uniforms introduced in 1929. All over Canada, consumers see brands, designs, and items that were retired decades ago.

It is important that this is not a trend that is entirely specific to Canada. Evidence to the wider appeal of nostalgia can be seen just south of the border. Coca-Cola regularly revives old formulas and flavours like “SURGE” as short-term marketing plays. Ray-Ban sunglasses are only cool when they’ve been out of style for about 20 years or so. This is also a global trend. Mazda recently released their newest version of the MX-5/Miata, the most popular two-seat sports car ever produced. The new model recalls that of two decades ago: small, light, low-powered, and bare-bones. When was the last time you saw someone physically fold back the roof on their convertible? The tagline of the commercial has to do with reminding you “when you were you”. This vehicle, sold on 6 continents, is an example of a nostalgia appeal aimed at the whole world.

However, recently it seems like this trend has been exemplified Canada. Take NHL commercials. While they may be the same in both the US and Canada, it’s safe to say that the largest market for their ads are people who are Canadian or have Canadian links. These commercials feature old-school greats like Wayne Gretzky and depict events like Bobby Orr’s 1970 Cup-winner widely referred to as “The Goal”. The Tragically Hip experienced an immense resurgence, attracting national attention surrounding their final concert after lead singer Gord Downie’s announcement that he suffers from terminal brain cancer. Though hits like “Grace, Too” never disappeared from the airwaves (thanks to Canadian content requirements), The Hip’s music has made a huge, if brief, resurgence. It’s probably safe to say that some of us from the Great White North are experiencing this nostalgia because of Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation, but why? Anniversaries typically evoke patriotism, but less often nostalgia. So why are we finding ourselves drawn to our stubbies and throwback sweaters again?

The answer lies in Canada’s unique history. For much of Canada’s history, British imperial influence impacted Canadian culture, but distance meant that it developed its own cultural tendencies that were loosely tied to UK holdovers, including our respect for the royals and our strong affinity with bagpipes. It meant that our closest cultural partner wasn’t the United States. Now there is virtually no American show that doesn’t appear on Canadian cable. Songs by American artists inundate our airwaves. And yes, we’ve accepted their longneck beer bottle style. American culture often feels like a powerful tide that Canadians resist halfheartedly. The result is that over time, it’s as if we’ve lost much that sets us apart from our southern neighbors. As such, patriotism in Canada tends to be tied to nostalgia. We feel more Canadian when we recall a time when we were less American.


Gordon Milne

Works Cited

Picture titled, "Bobby-Orr-the-goal", taken by fcmorris on May 26, 2013, obtained through Creative Commons (