|Roleplaying in the Great White North|
By Geoff Gander
Seeing as how people have already written on setting roleplaying games in modern Blighty and America, it seems only fair that I should step forward and admit to the fact that I live in Canada, and that I should quickly put the boots to any thoughts that my country is a frozen land of smelly, French-speaking lumberjacks and fur traders, enigmatic Indians, and industrious, loyal Mounties. Winter lasts only eight months a year, not twelve. But anyhow...
Canada is Big
Canada is a very big country. Bigger than the US, and much bigger than the UK. In fact it's the second-largest country in the world, after Russia, but the vast majority of that land is either tundra (and thus not all that conducive to large-scale urbanisation), or boreal forest (again, not too many people live there). The vast majority of Canada's population, not all that surprisingly, lives within 200 km or so of the border with the US - this is where our largest cities and most densely populated regions are located. Canada also has a low population density relative to its size - roughly 30 million people to inhabit a land of roughly 3,690,410 square miles. It is possible to travel for great distances in my country without seeing a single settlement of any sort.
As with many big countries, Canada contains within its borders almost every topographical and ecological niche extant in the world - except for tropical rain forests and torrid savannas. We have mountains, tundra, glaciers, forests, wide plains, swamps, hilly country, and even deserts (in southern Alberta and British Columbia, near the US border). As could be expected, there are considerable variations in climate, which leads me to point number one:
Canada is NOT a frozen wasteland
We do get quite nice weather in the southern regions - at least the tourists like it, and we hate to think they're wrong ;-). While it *is* true that Canadian winters are much worse than what could be expected in most of Europe and the US, there are some regions of the country which receive little or no snow during the colder months. Coastal British Columbia (especially around Vancouver) is one prominent example - it just rains there an awful lot. Certain parts of southern Ontario (along the northern shores of the Great Lakes for all you geography buffs) and the Atlantic provinces are also relatively glacier-free during the winter months.
While our winters are generally quite cold (read: freeze your John Thomas right off in less than a minute), our summers can be equally nasty. In Ottawa, for example (where I live) the winters can be as cold as -40 Celsius, and above +40 Celsius in the summer, accompanied by high humidity.
Basically the main point of all this is to say that any type of climate can be experienced by your players should they venture to Canada, depending on where they go.
Canadians: We're not all lumberjacks and that's okay...
Much as I love Monty Python and the Lumberjack Song, I figured now was as good a time as any to set the record straight here: We aren't a land of smiling Mounties and flannel-wearing woodsmen. Just about anyone you could expect to find elsewhere in the world (and just about any ethnicity) can be found in Canada - especially in the larger cities like Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Montreal.
Along main streets you'll see Indian restaurants doing business check-by-jowl with Japanese sushi bars and Italian gelato shops. Of course, this isn't quite as true once you get off the beaten path; in smaller towns and villages, the "original" ethnic stock of Canada still predominates to a large extent. In most cases, this means English, French, Irish, Scottish, German, Ukrainian, and Aboriginal (more on this later), among others.
Most of these smaller settlements date back quite a while, and the people you see living there are likely the descendants of the first European immigrants to that region of the country. They're all assimilated pretty much (ie: almost all of them outside of Quebec speak English as their native tongue), but older cultural traditions die hard, and you can easily throw in quirky cultural habits or other elements to spice up an adventure. Whatever you encounter in any European or American city, you can find in a Canadian one, too.
One other thing to mention while I'm here - Quebec is not the only province that has French-speaking people. In fact, almost every province has a French minority living within its borders, and in a couple of them - Ontario and New Brunswick, namely - the French population is quite large (about half in the latter case, if I recall correctly). Many of these other French Canadians do not really identify themselves with Quebec, either.
Another thought while on the same topic - while some Quebeckers want their province to secede from Canada, they aren't the overwhelming majority - numerous polls conducted here have shown how fickle electorates can be as a whole. This doesn't stop you, as a GM, from using pro-independence terrorists as a potential villain, though.
Language, people and other stuff...
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Copyright © 1999 Geoff Gander