Expats celebrate Canada Day with beloved foods | Food Feature | Indy Week

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Expats celebrate Canada Day with beloved foods

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Across the Triangle and from sea to shining sea, firework stands are sprouting in strip mall parking lots like mushrooms in the woods.

In eager anticipation of July 4th, children are begging for sparklers and adults are pondering the eternal question: whether it's nobler to endure a wimpy driveway fireworks display or head across the border into South Carolina to smuggle back an illicit motherlode of pyrotechnics. And let's not forget the food. There are the deviled eggs to be made, hot dogs and hamburgers to be grilled.

Yet not everyone is rushing to drape their house in all-American bunting. Canadians who left the Great White North for jobs or college in North Carolina, are intent on securing an adequate supply of Molson's, maple syrup and beloved Tim Horton's coffee—essentials for ex-pats celebrating Canada Day on July 1.

Canada Day commemorates the 1867 federation of the British North American colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada (including Ontario and Quebec). Some of the estimated 5,000 Canadians living in the Triangle will start the party early at a celebration Sunday in Wake Forest.

"It's a family-friendly event, and you don't have to be Canadian to come," says Sean Mitton, who created CanSouth in 2004 as a way to help Canucks make local connections. The Ontario native also created the Canadian Expat Network, which provides a similar service nationwide. "Just like Southerners, Canadians are very polite and welcoming."

Mike Rumble, who moved here from Toronto, appreciates the bonds he's made with Canadian friends. "I love my life here, but when people find out you're from Canada they always want you to say 'eh,' or 'our and about,'" quips Rumble, who provides North Carolina travel information at the state Division of Tourism. "The funny thing is, my dad sometimes tell me I sound Southern."

CanSouth members want their neighbors to know that they're not as defined by Canadian clichés as Robin Scherbatsky of How I Met Your Mother, and that their politicians (such as Toronto mayor and crack aficionado Rob Ford) are no more bizarre than ours.

They are, however, fierce defenders of curling, a sport most Americans deem as dismissible as ice dancing. Cliff Gray of the Triangle Curling Club will lead a demonstration on Sunday; the club's $1.4 million rink opens later this year on So-Hi Drive in Durham.

"It was always hard for people to get into curling because it was held for the odd hours when skaters or hockey didn't have control of the ice," says Gray, a Quebecer who took up the safer sport after enduring years of hockey injuries. "Our ice will be for curling only."

Later, the celebration will shift toward food. The meal will be catered by Sammy's Bar & Tavern, a haven for hockey lovers, and supplemented by potluck dishes. Gray, who dreams of Swiss Chalet—a Canadian chain famous for rotisserie chicken bathed in a secret sauce—can't wait.

"I'd really like to have some steamed hot dogs and Montreal smoked meat. Oh, and candy bars," he says. "Coffee Crisp is a wafer-type chocolate that tastes like coffee, and Crunchies are sponge toffee covered in chocolate. There's just nothing like it here."

Rumble is hoping for a Nanaimo bar, a creamy chocolate dessert named for the town located on Vancouver Island, just north of Washington State. Square Rabbit in downtown Raleigh lists "Janice's Nanaimo bar" on its specialty dessert list.

"One of our members created that recipe and it is so good," says Rumble. "For a long time, I was sad that I couldn't buy Billy Bee creamed honey here. You can get it in every grocery store in Canada. I found it recently at Trader Joe's and I was very shocked. I was so happy, I almost cried right there in the aisle."

Riva Soucie and her husband, Adam, moved to Raleigh in January from Washington, D.C., where they had been working at the Canadian Embassy. Formerly of Ottawa, they're now on assignment at N.C. State University. They've been happily surprised by the food here, including a wider selection of vegetarian restaurants than in D.C.

For Sunday's party, Soucie might make beaver tails—flattened ovals of dough that are fried and, depending on what part of Canada you are from, dusted with cinnamon sugar or dressed with maple syrup and butter. Or maybe authentic poutine, a dish traced to rural Quebec that covers crisp French fries in brown gravy topped with cheese curds. She recently discovered a faithful rendition at Joule Coffee.

Sean Mitton says such food not only stirs taste memories but reminds us that it's good to spend time with people who understand cross-border issues. Like bulking up for winter with Canadian Thanksgiving in October and American Thanksgiving in November.

"Food is one of those things that binds us, like when Paul Henderson scored the goal in 1972 that won the Summit Series against Russia," says Mitton, who collected the memories of dozens of Canadians 40 years later in a book, The Goal That United Canada.

"Even people who weren't alive at the time know the legend," says Mitton, whose partner will give birth to the couple's first child—a bona fide Southerner —in a few months. "The Triangle is a great place to raise children, and it's our home. It's a great place to be Canadian."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Northern exposure."

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