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That’s so Canadian: 20 songs that always make us think of Canada

By
Andrea Warner

This piece has been updated from 2016 with four additional songs. Click here to see it in its original form.

When a riff makes you homesick, when a single note snaps you back to the smell of summer grass, when the hum of a chorus fills up your insides with love: this is the power of a song. And there's always at least one song that conveys who we are, that gets at the root of our ideas about identity, country and home.

Canada means something different to every person. There's good and bad to be found inside its borders, and plenty of challenges to overcome and opportunities for improvement. But it's home.

For our Canada Day playlist, we asked CBC Music producers and CBC producers to tell us about the one song that always makes them think of Canada no matter what. From Joni Mitchell, Rascalz, Sarah McLachlan and Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet to the Weakerthans, Informer, Broken Social Scene and Spirit of the West, this is our Canada.


'Come to Me,' France Joli

In Canada, we love it when one of our own gets recognition outside our borders. That's what happened to Quebec's France Joli in 1979 when she filled in at the last minute for Donna Summer at a big outdoor party at Fire Island, N.Y. The crowd of 5,000 went wild and her disco anthem "Come to Me" shot to the top of the pop charts. Joli was 16 at the time. The song reminds me of Montreal at the height of the disco era:  carefree, optimistic and fun. — Robert Rowat


'One Great City!,' the Weakerthans

"One Great City" might not simmer with Tom Cochrane-level patriotism, but it’s as Canadian as you can get. Don’t blame John K. Samson for the downtrodden "I hate Winnipeg" refrain — after all, what Canadian doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with their hometown? — Adam Carter


'Having an Average Weekend,' Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet

Every Canadian who grew up in the '90s will recognize this instrumental classic before the opening bass note is complete. A ready stand-in for our national anthem if there ever was one. Bonus points for its connection to the CBC. — Mark Macarthur


'Seventeen,' Hey Rosetta!

These Newfoundlanders penned this soaring pop song as they were driving along Highway 17, a long stretch of road that runs from just outside the nation's capital, up through northern Ontario, right to the Manitoba border. Not only is this a tribute to that portion of the Trans-Canada Highway, it's an ode to that tender age between childhood and adulthood — precisely when I spent summers on family road trips, taking in the natural splendour of province after province through the window of our little Toyota Tercel. — Emma Godmere


'Fam Jam,' Shad

OK, call me a shill but I've got to speak my truth: Shad's critical yet celebratory "Fam Jam" is the ultimate song for my Canada. It has been since before I worked with the guy. This line gets me every time: "Now when you're third world-born, but first world-formed, sometimes you feel pride, sometimes you feel torn." — Fabiola Carletti


'Working Full-Time,' Constantines

Constantines' Tournament of Hearts came out when I was 15, and it kicked my ass. It was the first time I saw Canadian rock music as not only dynamic, but a true force to be reckoned with, and it was captained by Constantines. On a side note, I also used to restart the home screen on NHL 2K7 if it didn't start with "Working Full-Time." — Kerry Martin


'Home For a Rest,' Spirit of the West

There is very little more purely Canadian than Spirit of the West's "Home for a Rest." From the completely distinctive opening guitar strings to the memories of chugging root beer before realizing the song was about binge drinking, this track oozes Canada. — Alex Redekop


'Bakardi Slang,' Kardinal Offishall

As a kid in Scarborough, I lived in a Canada that wasn't as cool as the U.S. and a part of the city that felt like a Toronto afterthought. So, Kardinal Offishall's "Bakardi Slang" is a refreshing homage to the T-dot (when it was still called that) where I grew up. — Nicolle Weeks


'Jane,' Barenaked Ladies

The Barenaked Ladies were always unapologetically Canadian, but not in a way that suggested they were trying to promote Toronto to the world. They were just comfortable name-checking Toronto intersections and fixtures (GO Trains, Birchmount Stadium, Jane and St. Clair, buying a house on the old Danforth) so that you could follow their stories with a type of familiarity befitting of a Margaret Atwood novel. — NW


'Canadian Dream,' Sam Roberts

When Sam Roberts wrote this tune back in 1999, he wasn’t scared of the political implications of spelling out S-O-C-I-A-L-I-S-M in a song about the Canadian dream. Because the unknown Montreal musician was pretty sure nobody would ever hear it. Fast-forward a decade, and "Canadian Dream" was sent to Barack Obama as part of a playlist to prime the pres on all things Canada. Which, according to this song, includes left-wing politics, superior spelling skills, frozen things and, of course, incredible music. — Talia Schlanger


'Lodestar,' Sarah Harmer

"Breathe in the air and the stillness of the bay/ intensity of stars reflected in the water" reminds me of summer nights at the cottage out on the lake with the beauty of nature surrounding. — Cathy Irving


'Northern Touch,' Rascalz

When this song came out in 1997, it meant so much to me as a small-town kid who was obsessed with rap from New York City. I thought that Canadian rap was inferior, and then here comes this amazing anthem consisting of rappers from B.C. and Toronto that actually took pride in being from the North (well before #wethenorth was a thing). For years afterward, through university and travelling abroad, I would play this song for anybody who dared to say they didn't like rap. And it always reminded me of Canada. With a chorus like that, how could it not? — Jesse Kinos-Goodin


'Is Sorry Enough,' Murray Porter

The song is about Indian residential schools and the government's apology. It is an important part of Canada's history that should never be forgotten. We, as Indigenous peoples, did not talk about residential schools for decades, but in the last six or so years, these stories have been shared more and more. The media has covered it more and more. Murray was one of the first Aboriginal artists to write about residential schools, and his album Songs Lived and Life Played was recognized with a Juno Award. Whenever he plays this song live people cry, including Murray himself. — Kim Wheeler


'In the Woods,' Kim Harris

As soon as Kim Harris sings, "In the woods, I find peace," I'm walking through a coastal forest in Nova Scotia, removed from every busy little thing, listening to her gorgeous voice guide me through the trees. It's so clear that Harris is herself rooted in nature, both in her native Newfoundland and chosen Nova Scotia home, that this song never fails to remind me of all the quiet, outdoor East Coast pockets, waiting for us on the outskirts of each city. — Holly Gordon


'A Case of You,' Joni Mitchell

How can a song break your heart in half — ribcage-cracked-open levels of vulnerability — and still feel so resilient, so defiant, so honest and so very much like home? Whenever I'm on the road, drawing my own map of Canada on a barroom napkin, this is the song that swallows me whole like a dream. — Andrea Warner


'Irving Lake Access Road,' Evening Hymns

Spectral Dusk by Evening Hymns

This gorgeous, nine-minute instrumental piece of music is found in the back half of Evening Hymns' Spectral Dusk. It's a heavy record if you're willing to dig into it and this song provides a space to breathe, reflect and take it all in. And isn't that a bit what Canada is? A space where, no matter what you look like, who you love or where you were raised, you can find your space to breathe, reflect and just take it all in. — Judith Lynch


‘I Will Remember You,’ Sarah McLachlan

I was always a shy (but occasionally sassy) kid, and growing up as an immigrant kid from Hong Kong in the suburbs of Montreal, I often felt like an outsider looking in. There came a turning point though, at a Grade 5 talent show, where I decided to perform Sarah McLachlan's frequently tear-inducing and memorable hit, "I Will Remember You" — and for the first time, I felt like my voice had some kind of place here in Canada. So even though it's not a patriotic song per se, it will always remind me of the freedoms I have here to speak up and sing. — Elaine Chau


‘Informer,’ Snow

There's no song that reminds me of Canada as much as Snow's “Informer.” Every time I travel abroad, it's the one thing that people consistently sing to me or ask me about when I tell them I’m from Toronto. — Vivian Tabar


‘Superconnected,’ Broken Social Scene

There’s a claustrophobia to Broken Social Scene’s “Superconnected” that reminds me why I both love and am often overwhelmed by a city like Toronto. The sea of voices crammed into this track is constantly on the brink of implosion, something that mirrors the inner workings of the Toronto band throughout the years, but it’s also what makes it so galvanizing, so jubilant. Underneath all the cacophony, there is a reassuring sense that we’ll be able to overcome our troubles together. That’s the sense of hope that I’ll always come back to, whether it’s personal or collectively as a community. — Melody Lau


‘Stadium Pow Wow,’ A Tribe Called Red

The rise of Indigenous artists in mainstream Canadian media in recent years means that the country’s musical landscape is finally diversifying in new and exciting ways. Nothing personifies this better than the “powwow-step” style of A Tribe Called Red. “Stadium Pow Wow” is an assertive, powerful anthem that celebrates Indigenous culture while modernizing it through an electronic and hip-hop lens. This is what Canada sounds like, and this is what we need to continue boosting as we move forward. — ML

More to explore:

Watch JB the First Lady talk about Indigeneity, identity and the power of hip-hop

Here’s how to get your Indigenous language and music heard on CBC’s Reclaimed