*Note: This essay was published in the New York Daily News online edition on April 12, 2021. An image of the header to the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.
One hundred years ago, Canada planned to invade America militarily. A century later, they may actually have done it through other means, and it’s the nicest kind of invasion anyone could imagine.
In late 1920, a Canadian thirtysomething, Lt. Col. James Sutherland “Buster” Brown, sat down at his desk and envisioned the worst of the world to come. With help from others at the Canadian National Defence Headquarters, the World War I veteran wrote Defence Scheme Number 1, completed on April 12, 1921. It was a hedge against future hostilities with the United States.
The plan recognized the U.S. outnumbered Canada’s population 13-to-1, “a difficult and on the surface an almost hopeless task,” wrote Brown, “but on further study…has a good many advantages” for Canada. Brown envisioned a coordinated attack to “gain time to allow the British to react,” according to historian Stephen J. Harris. The shock would provide a buffer for Great Britain to sail in support.
Canadians were to strike south all across the 49th parallel’s roughly 5,500 miles. In the West, the plan directed Pacific Command to take Spokane, Seattle and Portland. Prairie Command would converge first on Fargo, and then seize the Twin Cities, cutting off the port city of Duluth, Minn. Great Lakes Command would hold the lakes, Quebec Command would aim at Albany, and in the East, Maritime Command would thrust into Maine.
The plan recognized Canada’s fundamental geographic problem. Peter Zeihan notes that Canada is broken into several “largely autonomous pieces” by: the Rocky Mountains; a central barren region left by glaciers; and the Saint Lawrence River, which separates the Eastern provinces.
As Kenneth Boulding wrote, “Canada has no cultural unity, no linguistic unity, no religious unity, no economic unity, no geographic unity. All it has is unity.”
That and deep links to the United States. According to Zeihan, 80% of Canadians live within a two-hour drive of the border, and their infrastructure is now “fully hardwired” into the U.S. The two countries are called the world’s “closest” trading partners, with more than three-quarters of all Canadian exports heading to the United States. Recently, Canadian Pacific acquired one of the largest railroad companies in the U.S. in a bid to build the first freight-rail network linking Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
The Second World War scrapped Buster Brown’s concerns about the world’s longest undefended border. Since then, it’s been a cooperative relationship that supported NATO, the United Nations and established NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) together. COVID-era closing of Canada’s border to Americans is but a hiccup. The security logic for the cooperation is strong: Canada gives the U.S. critical strategic depth and reach. The U.S. provides Canada raw material heft and weight it wouldn’t have otherwise.
For these reasons, the Canadians shelved Buster’s war plan and took up an older strategic philosophy: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
The interweaving of our two nations has produced some predictable Canadian angst. Novelist Margaret Atwood has called Canada “dominated” by the United States.
In some ways, it is. But those pipelines and phone lines run both ways, carrying more than currency and communication. They’re carrying culture. Canada’s greatest export south may be creativity; in that realm, Canadians have made an outsize impact on the entire American landscape, especially of late.
Atwood herself acknowledged that “Canadian writers often find that they have a better time in the United States than they do in Canada.” Canadians like Malcolm Gladwell and Jordan B. Peterson routinely top American book best-seller lists. Paw Patrol and other Canadian children’s TV shows claim millions of young eyeballs.
Canadian singer Drake busted past 50 billion streams on Spotify, the first artist to do so. The Weeknd dominates charts and conversations. Celine Dion’s sold hundreds of millions of records. The Toronto Raptors won the 2019 National Basketball Association championship (the first international team to do so).
And the Golden Age of Streaming has been very good to Canada. Hulu’s dystopian “The Handmaid’s Tale,” filmed in Canada and based on Atwood’s 1985 novel, continues to win awards as its fourth season begins this month.
“The Expanse,” based in Toronto, first backed by SyFy, is now an Amazon Prime show. It’s smart, sophisticated science-fiction that’s survived six seasons modeling a racially diverse future. “The people who make it out into space, it’s not just going to be Neil Armstrong, clean-cut,” the show’s creative team agreed in a 2016 interview with The Verge — it’ll be “a mix of everybody, every ethnicity.” It’s a view of what a better future could look like.
Same goes for “Schitt’s Creek,” although the sitcom takes place in our own world. Chocked with Canadians, the show’s dominated the awards circuit the past few seasons. Its positive messages, like ”Into the Wine, Not the Label,” have become rallying cries to legions of fans.
The show’s plot — a rich family losing everything, then moving to live in a motel in a town they once “bought” as a birthday gag — is as far-fetched as Canada seizing Saint Paul. The very idea was so crazy it came from the mind of another Canadian thirtysomething, Daniel Levy, who sat down at his desk to envision a better world to come. With help from others, Levy wrote “Schitt’s Creek,” and almost a century to the day later, found himself at the front of a group of Canadians that’ve done more to take America than the Canadian military ever could.
But it was a positive kind of invasion, where the show’s smash finale features a wedding between a Canadian (Levy) and an American citizen (actor Noah Reid). It’s the kind of happy-ending-story even the likes of Buster Brown would appreciate.