5 Canadian myths that just won’t die

Our Book of Lists checked the facts on Canuck alcohol content, beaver parts, taxation and guns
White House (Shutterstock)

1. Our beer is stronger than American beer: That’s bogus, a myth born out of the different methods once used to measure alcoholic content on labelling. Americans long listed percentages of alcohol by weight on the bottle, while Canadians used a measure of alcohol by volume. The difference distorts the picture somewhat, because alcohol weighs less than water, making Bud and other sudsy U.S. staples appear weak in comparison to Labatt and Molson, for example. Actually, most beers around the world hover in and around the five per cent mark, in terms of alcohol by volume—that includes the much-maligned Bud—meaning that it will get you as stinko as fast as most Canadian brews.

2. Beavers will bite off their own testicles when confronted by a predator: This myth has an old pedigree, going back to ancient times, with commentators such as Pliny and Claudius Aelianus describing how the beaver, confronted by hunters, would sacrifice its testicles, which were prized for their medicinal value, in the same way a man who is mugged might immediately present to the robber the contents of his wallet. Both NDP MP Pat Martin and literary icon Margaret Atwood have played a role in perpetuating this legend. Actually, male beavers hold their family jewels within their bodies (not like Papillon carried his money, but you get the idea).

3. Canadians burned down the White House: It’s a story a lot of Canadian kids grow up believing—that in 1814 we sacked D.C. and put our torches to the president’s house, setting it aflame (and in this way produced that indelibly American relic, the half-burned portrait of George Washington). But actually it was the British who did it.

4. Canadians own a lot fewer guns than Americans: The U.S. is a pistol-packing country, but it’s not also true that Canada carries an entirely empty holster. According to a 2007 International Small Arms Survey, there are 30.8 guns in this country for every 100 citizens. Not quite the 88.8 guns for every 100 American citizens, but enough to place Canada 13th on an international ranking of gun ownership—five times that of England.

5. Canada’s taxes are higher than America’s: We are socialists who tax the stuffing out of business, particularly in comparison to our southern neighbours, right? Not quite. Last year, for the first time, Canada ranked in the top 10 in PricewaterhouseCoopers’s global comparison of the most advantageous places to pay corporate taxes, placing eighth. Canada’s total average tax rate on medium-sized domestic companies weighed in at 26.9 per cent; it’s 46.7 per cent in the U.S., putting the Americans in 69th place.

The Maclean’s Book of Lists, Vol. 2, is now available at, in the iBookstore, and on newsstands. Don’t forget to tune in to City on July 1 and test your knowledge of all things Canuck with Maclean’s Great Canadian Countdown, airing at 7 p.m. EST.