“Canada So Cold”
Posted by Michael Eldridge on December 12, 2009
After a mild fall in southwestern Ontario—all across the Great Lakes, really—we’ve finally had our first cold snap: daily highs in the ‘teens, with wind chills well below that. (It sounds, and somehow feels, even worse in Celsius.) I grew up in Michigan, spent my college years in da U.P., and did a decade-long grad school stint in Minneapolis, where hibernal hijinks often included winter camping in single-digit weather. So I’m no wimp. Or so I thought. But as my wife put it: after fourteen years in California, even coastal northern California (think Mark Twain’s apocryphal quip about San Francisco), we’ve lost our winter chops. As I walked the mile home from my son’s elementary school yesterday morning, a relentless, dessicating, armor-piercing wind that had somehow arrived direct from northern Alberta, skipping over Manitoba and the rest of Ontario, drilled through my forehead and kept going straight on down to my thermal core, which it kept in its glacial grip all day and night, no matter how much I cranked the heat or how many hot liquids I downed. And it’s technically not even winter yet.
So this is why I can’t get the great Lord Melody‘s “Canada So Cold” out of my head. I’ve written before about how Melody razzed Caresser for hiding away in Montreal, but in March 1958 he came up north to check things out for himself. (I have it in my head that after signing with the American-based Cook Records and seeing his “Mama Look a Boo-Boo” covered by Harry Belafonte, he’d also made a short tour of the U.S., in an unsuccessful attempt to capitalize on the Calypso Craze. But I may be making that up.)
Though the dating of Lord Melody Sings Calypso (the album on which “Canada” appears) is ambiguous, the tune surely comes from that 1958 visit. Regardless, Melody’s sentiments ring true:
Between Canada and de North Pole
Ah wonder which more cold?
Canada and de North Pole,
Ah wonder which more cold?
Ah nearly dead in Canada
The intention was to hold it further
But after freezing from head to toe
I write mih mother and she told me, No
Canada had me so cold, I need some sunshine
I’m going back to the land I left behind
Ah regret the day ah pay mih dollar
And say ah was going to Canada
Is cold, cold, cold, oh mih lawd!
So ah walk back to Trinidad.
(Read the full lyrics courtesy of Guanaguanare, hear a sound sample and buy the disc at Smithsonian Folkways, or stream the track at Yahoo Music.)
“Canada has never been culturally attractive to would-be Caribbean emigrants,” says David Trotman, illustrating his claim with a nod to Melody’s calypso, “and Canadian cultural life never fired their imagination or elicited imitation. Too cold, too clean, too policed, too white…” (187). “A search through the literature of [Canada’s] ‘visible minorities,’” adds Himani Bannerji, “reveals a terror of incarceration in the Canadian landscape. In their Canada there is always winter and an equally cold and deathly cultural topography” (110). True enough, perhaps. Still, for decades, West Indians were kept out of Canada on precisely the pretext (among others) that they were ill-suited to northern climes. And Melody, for his part, isn’t conceding that racist canard. Rather, as Trotman implies, he’s lampooning Canadian cultural frigidity (excepting Montreal, which is “just like Paradise,” and French-Canadian women, who will at least “let yuh try”) and calling out what Eva Mackey calls a “national identity perceived as innocent of racism” (25).
But he’s also being literal. Is cold, cold, cold, oh mih lawd! That’s just telling it like it is.