It’s not a secret that Canadians love to identify other Canadians who made it big in America, as in “Did you know that Ryan Reynolds is Canadian? Keanu Reeves? Kim Cattrall? Pamela Anderson? Michael J. Fox? Drake?”
However, what is perhaps less known about this national pastime of Canadian-spotting is that its focus extends far beyond spotting actual Canadians.
In recent days, it’s become clear that not only are we determined to identify anyone famous who hails from our nation, but anyone famous who has a distant, tenuous connection to it.
Enter Kamala Harris, U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden’s official pick for vice-presidential running mate.
If you’re reading this outside of Canada, you may know Harris as a United States senator from California with a tough-on-crime, tough-on-Brett Kavanaugh reputation, a former district attorney of San Francisco and later the attorney general of California.
Also, not a small deal: the first black woman and Asian American to appear on a major party presidential ticket.
If you’re reading this inside Canada, however, you probably know Harris as a woman who went to high school in Montreal. A lot of ink has been spilled to relay the message to you that Harris moved to Quebec as a middle schooler after her mom got a job at McGill University.
The candidate attended Westmount High School in Montreal, before returning to the States indefinitely — a sequence of events Canadian media reiterated several times this week and I suspect will continue to reiterate until election day in the United States, at the expense of more relevant information such as: who is Harris beyond a former Montreal high school student and what exactly does she stand for?
Going off some recent Canadian news coverage you might not know — stories whose headlines can be summed up as follows: “Montreal high school graduate Kamala Harris is running for vice-president of the United States. Did we mention she went to high school in Montreal?”
Brace yourself for more of these headlines in the coming months, likely (I’m guessing) along the lines of: “Kamala Harris’ favourite Montreal haunts, according to her Grade 11 P.E. teacher,” “Harris classmates tell-all” and “You’ll never believe what Kamala Harris said about Bonhomme.”
The odd thing is that the adolescent pasts of our own political candidates — Canadian candidates that is — are rarely examined as closely as Harris’ was this week.
I have yet to read, for example, a feature article about 16-year-old Peter MacKay’s preferred extracurricular activities. Was Erin O’Toole a social butterfly at Bowmanville High School? I guess we’ll never know.
The other odd thing about the Harris-Canada news moment is that though we may fixate on and relish stories of her time in Montreal, Harris isn’t quite as nostalgic. Here she is in her own words, from her 2019 memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.
“I was 12 years old, and the thought of moving away from sunny California in February, in the middle of the school year, to a French-speaking foreign city covered in 12 feet of snow was distressing, to say the least.
“My mother tried to make it sound like an adventure, taking us to buy our first down jackets and mittens, as though we were going to be explorers of the great northern winter. But it was hard for me to see it that way.”
“By the time I got to high school, I had adjusted to our new surroundings. What I hadn’t gotten used to was the feeling of being homesick for my country. I felt this constant sense of yearning to be back home.”
And home is where she went as soon as she was able.
In other words, despite the excitement of many Canadian fans of the candidate on social media this week, it doesn’t sound like Harris is going to pull a Harry anytime soon and renounce the presidential ticket for a quiet life in Canada.
But none of this matters. The further Harris is from our grasp, the closer we will embrace her.
The Canadian press and the Canadian public in general will never cease to be fascinated with Canadian celebs who move to America and with Americans like Harris who make a pit stop in Canada on their way to glory.
Perhaps it’s just who we are and who we will always be: true, north, strong and desperate for the affections of people who leave us.
Emma Teitel is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.