25 Famous People You Didn’t Know Were Canadian
Some of America’s national treasures actually hail from our northern neighbor. For Canada Day, July 1, let’s celebrate these celebrity Canucks!
Canadians are known for being modest, so maybe that’s why we don’t hear much about their accomplishments, like these 20 things you never knew were invented in Canada. And that goes for people we didn’t even realize are Canadian, too. For example, did you know Killing Eve‘s Sandra Oh is originally from Nepean, now part of Ottawa, Ontario? On her recent Saturday Night Live hosting gig, she joked, “It’s hard for me to accept compliments because I’m Canadian, and in Canada, you cannot brag…so the Canadian response to a compliment is, ‘Sorry.’” But the Golden Globe-winner deserves all the praise she gets—even in her home country, where she was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2011. “Being a Korean Canadian growing up in Canada, being a Canadian living in America—there’s always this slightly outsider point of view, which I really try to embrace,” the Grey’s Anatomy alum told Vogue.
Canadians love to make fun of themselves for how much they apologize, and Detective Pikachu‘s Ryan Reynolds, born and raised in Vancouver, is no exception. “Little known fact: Canadians are born with a black belt in apology,” Reynolds tweeted. But in seriousness, he feels most at home in the wilds of British Columbia. “That, to me, is my ideal version of heaven,” Reynolds, who narrated Great Bear Rainforest, a nature documentary about the Canadian habitat, told the Vancouver Sun. “It is when you move away that you really realize what you are missing. More than anything I find I just long for it all the time. I’m lucky to shoot the Deadpool movies in Vancouver, so I get to take my kids out and experience as much of British Columbia as possible.”
Canadian crooner Michael Bublé hails from Burnaby, British Columbia, just outside of Vancouver. And he’s always stayed close to his Canadian roots: Bublé is an owner of the Vancouver Giants hockey team and is moving to a newly completed mansion in Burnaby across from his elementary school (he previously had a home in West Vancouver). After his son underwent successful cancer treatment, Bublé thanked Canadian fans on the Canadian talk show The Social. “This is the biggest chance I’m going to have in my country to tell people,” he told the show’s hosts. To the camera, Bublé said, “Hi Canada, I can never fully explain to you in words how much your love and your support means to me and my family…I was excited to be able to come here to really tell you how much I love you and how proud I am to be one of you.”
Could a dystopian vision as dark as The Handmaid’s Tale really have come out of such a pleasant country as Canada? Beyond her most famous work, now a hit TV series on Hulu, author Margaret Atwood has also written about Canadian identity in literature. Atwood was born in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. “We always did a lot of traveling, so I saw a lot of Canada at a very young age,” she told Canadian Geographic. “I first went to the Arctic in 1975, and I started traveling in the eastern part of it in 2003. We’ve been going up there quite a lot ever since. It’s a stunning part of the world. You’ll never think about the planet in the same way again once you’ve been there.” (By the way, if you like ice, check out what it’s really like to sleep in an ice hotel in Quebec City.) The prolific Canadian writer will be publishing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, in September 2019.
Growing up in London, Ontario, The Notebook and Doctor Strange actress remembers some very chilly Halloweens. “It’s so much colder [than the United States], it’s like minus five degrees, so it changes the costume a bit,” McAdams told Conan O’Brien. “You have to put your snowsuit on—I was a fairy princess with a turtleneck.” (Maybe the frigid temps are why Canada goose jackets are so expensive?) But the fame-shy actress still lives in her home country, now in Toronto. “That’s everything for me, for my sanity,” she told Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s CBC News about balancing out her Hollywood life. “I need to be around my family and my friends, and just come home. I feel like it recharges my batteries and I love being here.”
McAdam’s Notebook co-star and ex-boyfriend Ryan Gosling also hails from Ontario. The former child actor, who made his big break on Disney Channel’s The Mickey Mouse Club, hasn’t forgotten his roots: He stopped by a local coffee shop at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, after which the owner called him a “well brought up Canadian boy.” Gosling told CBC News of his Canadian upbringing, “I think it was very helpful to grow up in Canada or in a small town. Because I think if you grow up [in Hollywood], it might be hard to remember that there’s a world outside of it. But I always felt like I had something to go back to.”
Before coming to America, comedian, actor, writer, and director Seth Rogan got his start doing stand-up in his hometown of Vancouver. Because his father was American, he always had dual citizenship. Yet, “I definitely associate with being Canadian much more than being American,” he said in an interview. “I was in Canada until I was 18 so you’re always, ‘Wow, that happens here?’ As long as you’re [in America], there’s still new weirdness to uncover.” Like what? “I still say some things Canadian, like pencil crayons: They say colored pencils [in the U.S.], which is so weird,” he told Hello! magazine. “And parkade: In Vancouver, we call parking garages ‘parkades.’” Another weird thing: Canadians drink milk out of bags. The actor is also now the voice of the Vancouver and Toronto transit systems. “It was a hilarious and an incredible honor,” he said. “I have a lot of pride in being Canadian, and to be ingrained in the culture of Canada is something that I am happy about.”
Baywatch actress, model, and animal rights activist Pamela Anderson grew up on Vancouver Island. Coincidentally, she was born on Canada Day, July 1, 1967, on the centennial of Canada’s founding in 1867. Because of her role as a California lifeguard in Baywatch, many people may associate her with the Golden State, even though she didn’t move to Los Angeles until her twenties. “People say I’m the ultimate California girl, which is funny, being that I’m Canadian,” she told Esquire. Her Canadian childhood best friend is still her best friend today.”She works for the DMV in Canada and has this very normal life, and she has the same problems that I do; it’s just all relative,” Anderson says. “She’ll be like, ‘This girl in the office did this horrible thing to me!’ And I’ll be like, ‘Did you see The Enquirer?’”
The beloved actor and current internet darling, now starring in John Wick: Chapter 3, Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe, and Toy Story 4, actually grew up in Toronto. His Toy Story 4 character might give viewers a clue to his nationality: Reeves voices Duke Caboom, a Canadian stuntman toy complete with maple leaf costume. Director Josh Cooley told reporters, “We went after Canadian actors, and he was the first one on our list. I’m so thrilled that he said yes.” Reeves revealed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon that he got his start on the Canadian kids’ show Going Great. “It was really fun,” Keanu says of his kid-on-the-street interviewing gig. But his penchant for silly improvisation—like pretending a cute teddy bear attacks him—might not have been what the directors had in mind. “They fired me after the first year,” he laughs.
Like her How I Met Your Mother character, Robin, actress Cobie Smulders comes from Canada. “The funny thing about Robin becoming a Canadian was that [the show’s creators] liked that I was Canadian and thought it was exotic, which is the very first time I’ve ever been called that,” Smulders told Canada.com. But she hopes the depiction of Robin’s sometimes outlandish Canadianism wasn’t offensive to her countrymen. “My prayer and my hope is that all Canadians think that it’s funny and are complimented,” she said in another interview. The Avengers actress—soon to be seen in next season’s ABC series Stumptown—grew up in Vancouver, which she calls the “Bahamas” of Canada due to its milder temperatures compared to the rest of the country. Maybe that’s why it’s one of the most popular travel destinations in Canada.
Director of Titanic and Avatar, explorer, and environmentalist James Cameron grew up in Ontario. The only person to make a solo trip to the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the ocean (and all of Earth), Cameron first discovered his love of exploring in Canada. “It’s some combination of the actual tactile experience of it and a sense of exploration…having a solitary experience that’s meaningful in some deep psychological way,” he told Canadian Geographic, remembering his first open-water scuba dive in Ontario’s Chippawa Creek with a rope around his waist and his father holding the other end on the pier. In between directing gigs, Cameron, a vegan, also recently invested in a Canadian pea processing plant in Saskatchewan.
The Canadian rapper, born Aubrey Drake Graham, has so much love for his home country he even got a tattoo of Toronto’s CN Tower on his inner arm. “Toronto with me always,” he posted of it on Instagram. He also co-founded a Canadian record label, OVO Sound, and is currently the biggest (some might say most annoying) Toronto Raptors fan as the team headed to the NBA finals. Drake got his start acting on the Canadian teen show Degrassi: The Next Generation before venturing into music. Although he says many U.S. fans have been surprised to find out where he comes from, “I wouldn’t have it any other way—I’m from Toronto, a place where it’s a true mosaic and the most open-minded place you could possibly find yourself,” he told CBC News. “[But for others,] they were like, ‘You’re Canadian? You’re Jewish? You’re half-black?’ It was mind-blowing to them.”
Friends might have been set in New York, but star Matthew Perry grew up in Ottawa. He was actually a classmate of current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—and even admitted to bullying him in fifth grade. “I think he was excelling in a sport that we weren’t, so it was pure jealousy,” he told Jimmy Kimmel Live. “I’m not bragging about this, this is terrible. I was a stupid kid.” Trudeau seems to have gotten over it, though: “I’ve been giving it some thought, and you know what, who hasn’t wanted to punch Chandler? How about a rematch?” he lightheartedly tweeted at Perry. “I think I will pass at your request for a rematch kind sir (given that you currently have an army at your disposal),” Perry replied. Fun tidbit: Perry’s mother was press secretary to former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father. Here are 20 more facts you never knew about Canada.
Rocker Avril Lavigne hit the Canadian music scene as a teen in a very unusual way. “I sang with [fellow Canuck singer] Shania Twain when I was 14,” she told Billboard. “I won a local radio contest by submitting a tape of me singing.” Bucking the image of the “polite” Canadian, Lavigne’s rebellious attitude made her a hit in her native country and in the United States. The singer-songwriter from Ontario recently released her first album in over four years, Head Above Water, after a serious battle with Lyme disease.
The Jeopardy! host might owe his wealth of knowledge to Canada: He went to the University of Ottawa and is honorary president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. In a recent CBC News interview, he even credited his Canadian upbringing with helping him through chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. “I’m Canadian, I played hockey,” he said in reference to his treatments. “I’m a tough guy.” Trebek actually got his start at the CBC, as a news, weather, and sports announcer.
The list of famous Canadian comedians is endless: Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Howie Mandel, Martin Short, and so many others, including Dan Aykroyd. Is there something in the Canadian water that makes them funny? It may have to do with Toronto’s The Second City comedy troupe. “My experience at Second City was in a fertile time for Canadian comedy,” Aykroyd told Canadian Living. “You have to know we had fun with that first Toronto cast, which included [John] Candy, [Gilda] Radner, [and Eugene] Levy.” The Ghostbusters star also fondly remembers the Canada Day centennial in 1967, for which his father was the director of publicity. Fittingly, July 1 is also Akyroyd’s birthday. “Canada will always be my home and ultimate domicile—it’s where I intend to reside after quitting work,” he says.
We can’t forget the female Canadian comedians, who include My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘s Nia Vardalos, TV host Samantha Bee, Caroline Rhea, and Catherine O’Hara, also a Second City alumnus. O’Hara currently stars in the Canadian fish-out-of-water sitcom Schitt’s Creek, which became a sleeper hit with U.S. audiences through streaming service Netflix. (Funnily enough, fans have been wondering if the show takes place in the United States or Canada, but the creator recently cleared it up: It’s Canada.) Unlike her Schitt’s Creek character, O’Hara fondly remembers visiting rural Canada as a child. “When I was growing up, my parents rented a cottage every year, and I inherited their love of the country,” she told Toronto Life. “My husband and I are so fortunate to have found our cottage [in Muskoka, Ontario] 20 years ago.”
He may be famous for Beverly Hills, 90210, but Jason Priestley actually comes from Vancouver, Canada. If American audiences have been wondering what the actor has been up to lately, he’s been starring in the Canadian TV series Private Eyes in Toronto (U.S. viewers can catch it on ION network). “We really go out of our way to showcase Toronto, and all of the thing that Toronto has to offer,” he told CBC radio about the show, in which he plays a retired hockey player-turned private investigator. The hockey connection to his character isn’t lost on Priestley. “I played hockey my whole life until my ambition outstripped my ability, which happens to most Canadians around 15 or 16 years old,” he told Indie Wire. U.S. audiences can also catch Priestley on the Beverly Hills reboot, BH90210, beginning August 7 on Fox—the show is reportedly being filmed in North Vancouver, Priestley’s hometown.
The folksy sound of singer Joni Mitchell may be drawn from the Canadian culture and landscape itself. In “Case of You,” she sings, “I drew a map of Canada, O Canada.” Born in Saskatchewan, Mitchell recently had a waterfront park named in her honor in Saskatoon, the largest city in the province and where Mitchell first started playing. “My years there were glorious, really—I loved growing up in Saskatchewan,” she told Reader’s Digest in 2005, when she released her ode to her home province, Songs of a Prairie Girl. “We always lived on the edge of small towns, so I had the luxury of riding my bicycle into the country, looking for beautiful places, which usually constituted a grove of trees.” Mitchell would go on to inspire fellow Canadian female singer-songwriters Alanis Morissette, Diana Krall, and Sarah McLachlan.
Beam him up—up to Canada, that is. Star Trek‘s original Captain Kirk hails from Montreal. “I love to go through customs in between Canada and America, because the Canadian customs officers always look at my passport and say, without exception, ‘I didn’t know you were Canadian,”‘ Shatner told CTV News. Readers of The Atlantic also crowned him King of Canada. In an interview with the magazine, the singer and Priceline spokesperson joked, “I think Canada is in danger of being overrun by people from all over the world who think it’s the best country on the face of the Earth.”
Actor, director, screenwriter, and author Jay Baruchel makes no secret of being a proud Canadian: He even has a maple leaf tattoo on his chest. “Two big pastimes in my household were self-doubt and not wanting to inconvenience strangers,” Baruchel laughed with Conan O’Brien about the stereotypical Canadian over-niceness. The low-key actor, who voices Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, still lives in his home country, now in Toronto (he’s originally from Montreal). “If it was up to me I would never leave Canada to make movies,” he told Hello! Canada. Baruchel recently authored his first book, Born Into It, a memoir about his life as a Montreal Canadiens super-fan.
Currently starring in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, Ellen Page, who also starred in Juno and X-Men: Days of Future Past, describes herself on Twitter as “a tiny Canadian.” Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, the former child actress got her start on Canadian television. Although she’s proud to be Canadian, Page has been openly critical about some aspects of Canada that aren’t as rosy as people may think. “I love Canada—I’m grateful to be from here,” she told The A.V. Club. “But what we did to indigenous people [called First Nations in Canada] is something to be mindful of.”
Michael J. Fox
Back to the Future actor and Parkinson’s activist Michael J. Fox, who has the disease himself, draws strength from his Canadian background. “I always feel very connected to Canada,” he told CBC News. “My reference for everything is my Canadian background, my life in Canada.” And Fox knows Canada, as he moved around the country a great deal in his childhood. “I grew up in Edmonton [Alberta], but my father was in the military, so we lived in places as far apart as Chilliwack, British Columbia, and North Bay, Ontario,” he says. “So I traveled around a lot: I crossed Canada a couple times before I was ten.” Because of his Canadian upbringing, Fox says he approaches things just a little bit differently. “There’s something I have about being Canadian, there’s a distance it gives you when you live in the States and operate in American culture,” he says. “You approach familiar things a different way; you come at it from a different angle. It’s a trait that runs through a lot of Canadian artists’ work and actors’ work and musicians,’ that kind of special remove.”
He’ll forever be associated with Massachusetts-set Dawson’s Creek, but Joshua Jackson, now starring in Netflix’s When They See Us and recently in Showtime’s The Affair, grew up in Vancouver. “As much as I feel a part of American life, there are still aspects of this country that make me glad to be Canadian,” he told The Guardian. “[Such as] the political structure…that makes me proud to be Canadian.” The actor, who celebrated his 40th birthday last year, said the required attire for his celebration was the “Canadian tuxedo”—denim on denim. “And we looked good,” he joked to Hello!.
Pop singer Justin Bieber, raised by a single mom in Stratford, Ontario, first got noticed when he posted videos of himself performing on YouTube. But after a tumultuous time as a troubled teen idol in Los Angeles, the Biebs is getting back to his roots and rediscovering himself. Bieber and his new wife, Hailey Baldwin, have settled into a home outside Toronto, and, according to a recent Vogue interview, love to lounge around the house, watching movies and listening to music. But Stratford will always be his hometown: The local museum is currently running a Bieber exhibit with personal items including clothes, his Teen Choice Awards, and his drum set.