Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 26, 2015
When you hear tell of Jack Canuck, it’s important to realize that he’s not a real person but rather the Canadian counterpart to America’s Uncle Sam. Yes, Jack Canuck means a Canadian. Of course, that’s not to mean that there aren’t some Jack Canucks who were named Jack Canuck at birth because there are, but for the most part, Jack Canuck refers to a Canadian.
In the Rome News-Tribune edition of July 22, 1969 the question as to the whereabouts of Jack Canuck was put to readers. The short news bite was quick to point out that Uncle Sam had been around long enough to be part of American folklore with his top hat, long coat-tail coat and old codger appearance, and to personify America to the rest of the world. But it wondered where Jack Canuck had gotten to over the years.
Meanwhile, what has become of Canada’s Jack Canuck? While Uncle Sam can be crafty looking (particularly in Pravda) and England’s John Bull too fat, Canuck used to be beyond reproach as a trim, youthful, vigorous ranger of the wide, open spaces.
Nearly twenty years earlier, the Ottawa Citizen reprinted a brief article from the Edmonton Journal on December 27, 1952 entitled, “Jack Canuck With Wings.” It reported that the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) bigwigs and the company manufacturing the new all-Canadian CF-100 jet fighter planes were against having them referred to as Canucks.
Hostility to the name is hard to understand. For nearly a century, Canuck has been the commonest unofficial designation of Canadians. How it attained that position is obscure. Most dictionaries suggest that is was originally an Indian word, applied to French-Canadians and later extended to the whole Canadian people. However that may be, Canadians are familiarly known as Canucks throughout the English-speaking world, and “Jack Canuck” has become the symbol of Canada, as John Bull is of Britain or Uncle Sam of the United States.
In the August 11, 1945 edition of the Toronto Daily Star, Prime Minister King spoke of the “world-shaking and world-changing events” that had happened the previous week that underscored the urgency for reconstruction after World War II. The article was titled, “Jack Canuck And Uncle Sam To Wage Peace Side By Side.”
Twenty years before the Toronto Daily Star article, the Carp Review newspaper published an article by Beatrice Plumb on June 11, 1925. It was all about the Dominion Day celebration coming up on July 1, and was aptly titled, “A Dominion Day Jamboree.” With regards to sending out invitations, the following was suggested by Beatrice Plumb.
Your invitations may be written on white note paper with a small Union Jack or picture of Jack Canuck stuck to the outside page. On the left-hand inside page of your invitation write a patriotic verse. On the opposite page write the necessary directions, such as place, time and special events of picnic.
In the next paragraph, Beatrice Plumb continued with this wonderful suggestion.
Coax some dependable man to dress up like Jack Canuck and be master of ceremonies. Now you are read to plan the program.
Now back in 1915, there was a magazine published titled, “Jack Canuck” and was considered a daring magazine in its time. It carried articles that reflected on how everyday people saw things and spoke about them, and was said to prod Canadian politicians mercilessly. The magazine is also said to have been responsible for shaping and framing voters’ ideas with regards to the members of parliament and what they were up to once elected.
The idiom was used in cartoons as well. Jack Canuck was in a cartoon published by the Toronto World newspaper on January 26, 1916 where he said, “It’s up to us, boys, honest Canadian khaki now — or the Hun’s dirty livery later.”
And Jack Canuck was in a cartoon published in the Daily Mail And Empire newspaper on January 13, 1898 where Jack Canuck asks Sir Wilfrid Laurier, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea for us to refine our own metal?” to which Sir Wilfrid responds, “A good thing for Canada, no doubt, but think how discourteous it would be to our neighbours.”
Just because Jack Canuck was used in cartoons and in newspaper articles, should that mean that the term was understood by most people to mean Canadians? On March 29, 1899 Sir Wilfrid Laurier is said to have stated this in Parliament in the House of Commons.
It’s hard to think that for twenty years I vowed to woo dear Uncle Sam, and then after clothing him in sealskins from our seas, and sprinkling his hair with gold dust from our mines, he should calmly take my clothes and show me empty-handed out. How shall I present myself at home to Jack Canuck? I guess I’ll have to tell Jack to thank God I did not lose my hide.
Nearly a generation earlier, in 1877, author Ella Farman — later known as Ella Farman Pratt — wrote and published, “Good-For-Nothing Polly.” Ella Farman (1 November 1837 – 22 May 1907) was an American author who wrote juvenile literature, and was the editor of “Wide Awake” and “Our Little Men And Women” magazines.
When it came to “Good-For-Nothing Polly” the assumption by many is that this is a story about a girl or woman, the fact of the matter is, the main character was known as Polly Witter away from home and at home was known as Willy Potter. He was from a family of four, and his sister’s name was Pollie. The term Canuck was used in this book to describe Canadians.
“You get out,” said another of the young Canadians. “Thet ar’d be jest the capital to start a newspaper. Ye ain’t wantin’ to hire a first-rate reporter now?”
Willy didn’t get mad at the chaffing.
“Never you mind what I’m going to do with the money. If you’ve got the stamps you can get that knife mighty cheap. You Canucks don’t see just such a knife as that every day. That knife cost the old gentleman two dollars — it needn’t cost a fellow here more’n fifty cents. That purse goes for fifty cents too. Why, the silk cost more’n that. And them fish-hooks is five cents.”
Since Canada became a country in 1867, one wonders if the term Canuck was used before Confederation. The answer to that question is yes, as it appeared in Volume 33 of “Harper’s New Monthly Magazine” published in 1866.
The following comes from very near the Canada line, and was perhaps as fearful to the subject of the story as the great Fenian scare was to the Canucks.
In the book “Acadia, or, A Month With The Blue Noses” written by American humorist Frederic Swartwout Cozzens (5 March 1818 – 23 December 1869) who had previously published “Sparrowgrass Papers.” This books was published in 1859, the term is used in the story with the expectation that readers will know what is meant by its use.
The mail coach was soon at the door of our inn, and after taking leave of my fellow-traveller with the big hat, I engaged a seat on the stage-box beside Jeangros, a French Canadian, or Canuck — one of the best whips on the line.
Interestingly enough, Cozzens use of the word in 1859 to describe a French-Canadian is in keeping with the claim made by the Edmonton Journal nearly a hundred years later in their December 27, 1952 article.
It should be noted that the first official use of Canada when referring to the country that is now known as Canada was in 1791 when it was known as Upper Canada and Lower Canada. In 1841, Upper and Lower Canada became known as the Province of Canada.
As a side note, in 1535 Jacques Cartier mistook the Huron-Iroquois word kanata (which means settlement) to mean that was the name for the country as a whole. Maps in 1547 referred to everything north of the St. Lawrence River as Canada. As explorers and fur traders expanded their territories to the west and south of what already considered to be Canada, much of the American Midwest as far south as present day Louisiana was known as Canada.
All that cool historical information aside, the first reference Idiomation was able to find for Canuck was in Frederic Swartwout Cozzens’s book published in 1859 and the first reference to Jack Canuck was in 1899. Somewhere between 1859 and 1899, Jack Canuck was understood to mean everyday Canadians. Idiomation therefore pegs Jack Canuck to sometime after Confederation in 1867.