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Canuck Defined, check out The
When the Canucks joined the NHL, Orland
Kurtenbach became the first "Captain Canuck".
One of the most common
questions I get asked when we travel into the USA to
cheer on the Canucks is "What's a Canuck?" The
simple answer is "a Canadian". The
complete answer takes a little more explanation.
Years ago, I was watching a sports commentary show where
the topic was team names. During an interview with Stan
Fischler, the New York sports reporter commented that he
didn't like the name "Canucks" because it was
an offensive term (worse than "Redskins" or
"Indians"). What was he talking about? We all
know that "Canuck" is just another word for
In a seemingly unrelated story, I had just installed a
copy of WordPerfect on my computer. WordPerfect has many
great features, including a grammar checker (so much
for thinking that I'm a pretty good writer). After
producing a road trip brochure, I thought I'd give the
grammar checker a try. The first thing it found:
CANUCK: Avoid this
offensive term. Consider revising.
Huh? So, now we have to
change the name of our hockey team? I don't think so.
Okay, so just exactly what
is a Canuck and why is it an offensive term? Then again,
if the word is so insulting, why did they name our team
the "Canucks"? Off to the library I went.
The first dictionary I checked reported:
CANUCK () n. Slang. Canadian [sometimes offensive
or patronizing in non-Canadian use]. Origin obscure.
Boy, when they said
"origin obscure" they weren't kidding. It
seemed like every dictionary had a different origin for
the word. One suggested that the word came from CANUC
which is used vulgarly and rather contemptuously for
Canadian. Another suggested that it came from
CONNAUGHT which was a nickname given by French
Canadians to describe Irish Canadians in the early
Finally, there was a suggestion that
"Canuck" began as the Hawaiian word KANAKA
which represented a south sea islander (no,
not a New York Islander). It seems that French Canadians
and these islanders were both employed in the Pacific
Northwest fur trade and the term was used to describe
them. The theory is that the word evolved, taking
"CAN" from "Canadian" and adding it
to "AKA" to form CANAK (CANUCK).
One of the earliest uses of the word in print appears in
"From Notes Upon Canada and the United States"
by Henry Cook Todd and published around 1835:
distinguishes a Dutch or French Canadian, by the term
The earliest use of the
word with the spelling we recognize today is found in
"L'Acadie: or Seven Years' Exploration in British
America" by James Edward Alexander, published in
also met a lusty fellow in a forest road with a keg
of whisky slung round him who called to us 'Come boys
and have some grog, I'm what you call a canuck: ' a
Okay, I'm not sure about
some "lusty fellow" offering free booze to
strangers, but maybe things were different then. Wherever
the word came from, by the mid 1800's "Canuck"
was regularly used to describe a Canadian.
In the 1860's, editorial
cartoonists created a character by the name of
"Johnny Canuck". Johnny was used to represent
Canada, just as Uncle Sam represented the United States.
Johnny Canuck was depicted as a wholesome young man,
wearing the garb of a habitant, farmer, logger, rancher
or soldier. Johnny was often drawn resisting the
bullying of Uncle Sam. We could use someone like that
now to protect Canada's interest in the NHL.
Johnny had one flaw -- he wasn't too bright. This
may explain something. Let's say your best friend comes
up to you, pats you on the back and calls you a goof.
You laugh it off. On the other hand, if someone you had
never met did the same thing, you might take them out
back and settle the issue. Maybe that's why Canadians can
call themselves Canucks and be proud of it, but don't let
those darn Yankees call us Canucks!
During World War II, a new comic book hero was
introduced. His name was also Johnny Canuck. This time,
Mr. Canuck was a caped strong man who protected
Canadians from the Nazi menace. Johnny Canuck had no
special powers, but he waged a one man war against Hitler
with human strengths belonging to any fine fighting
Canuck. Even today, tell someone from Holland that
you are a Canuck and they will thank you for liberating
their country from the Nazis.
So, now we have the
Canadian image of a Canuck. Powerful (not superhuman but
capable). A defender of Canada. A fighter. A tough guy
(in spirit and in body). Sounds like a hockey player.
When Vancouver was admitted to the Pacific Coast Hockey
League in 1946, they seized upon the image of a team of
Canucks. The name worked. Despite the fact that we don't
hear much about Johnny Canuck anymore, the term
"Canuck" still represents the best qualities of
being a Canadian.