From Gord Lightfoot to Gord Downie, Canada is rich in musical talent from coast to coast to coast. That means there’s no shortage of songs dedicated to its beauty, its history, its diverse cultures, and the challenges we continue to face as a country (because we wouldn’t be Canadians without a small dose of self-deprecation, right?). Dig out your earbuds and get ready to turn up the volume, we’ve got your Canada Day playlist right here:
Helpless – Neil Young
The “town in North Ontario” that Young references in ‘Helpless’ is not, as the singer himself says, “literally a specific town, so much as a feeling.” That feeling is one that Canadians who’ve spent time in that part of the province will recognize: a feeling of safety, of placidity, and of being right on the edge of something vast and wild.
One Great City! – The Weakerthans
Ah, the great Canadian love/hate relationship with our hometowns! No song has ever quite captured that “we can criticize our city all day long but don’t you dare say a bad word about it if you’re not from here” vibe than The Weakerthans’ ode to Winnipeg.
Frostbite – Tanya Tagaq
Somehow Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq has composed a song that sounds exactly like what it feels like to be alone in winter in the wilderness (which you’re never very far away from, no matter what part of Canada you’re in).
Started From The Bottom – Drake
This NSFW clip from the self-proclaimed king of the 416 spoofs Canadian cool (or our attempts at it) as the camera follows Drake through the snowy streets of Toronto in a convertible with the top down. Other nods to the Canadian experience include the CN Tower dominating the Toronto skyline, the ubiquity of Shoppers Drug Mart, beard grooming rituals, and our unmatched ability to make fun of ourselves.
This Is The Dream Of Win and Régine – Final Fantasy
Canada has a surplus of musical talent. For music-lovers, it’s incredible. For musicians, it’s competition. Owen Pallet’s song highlights how hard it is to stand out in Montreal’s crowded music scene by paying homage to a couple of fellow musicians who eventually made it: Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne.
Wheat Kings – The Tragically Hip
Saskatchewan natives know that The Hip’s Gord Downie is referring to Saskatoon and it’s abundance of bridges when he sings “Sundown in the Paris of the Prairies” at the beginning of this tune. Canadians know that he’s singing about the David Milgaard case and the 22 years he spent in prison, serving time for a murder he did not commit. Confronting injustice through art? So Canadian.
Stadium Pow Wow – A Tribe Called Red
The video for Tribe’s 2016 anthem movingly captures Indigenous communities at the intersection of urban, reserve, and rural life, from pipeline protests to the preservation of Indigenous culture and the empowerment of Indigenous youth. Along with Tagaq, the group is using their music to define what life looks like for the next generation of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
I Love This Town – Joel Plaskett Emergency
More hometown love/hate vibes, this time for Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Plaskett sings: “If you saw my band in the early days/Then you understand why we moved away/But you’ll hold a grudge any way (because it’s fun)” When it comes to Canadian hometowns, the decision to leave or to stay looms over you once you hit a certain age—go if you have to, but be ready to be needled about it every time you return.
Canadian Railroad Trilogy – Gordon Lightfoot
The trans-Canada Pacific Railway holds so much meaning and history for Canadians: It’s the thread that connects Canada from the East coast to the West and it’s the monumental accomplishment that defined us as a young country. Lightfoot’s CBC-commissioned song was first aired in 1967, to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday.
Hello City – Barenaked Ladies
Hello Canadian city, hello Canadian city nightlife. Steven Page and company confront Halifax’s siren song of a party scene in this tune that name-checks The Palace, The Warehouse, and all of Barrington Street. All that’s missing is a shout out to Pizza Corner’s heyday.
Northwest Passage – Stan Rogers
Rogers’ song captures the adventurous spirit of the kind of Canadian that longs to explore every square kilometre of this expansive country—no matter how cold and wild and inaccessible it might seem.
Western Skies – Blue Rodeo
Outside of Toronto, a big part of the Canadian experience involves trash-talking Toronto. Hell, it’s even part of the experience INSIDE Toronto. So when Blue Rodeo say they’d “rather be back in the Rocky Mountains/Than sitting in some bar on Queen Street” we all totally get it.
The Rest of My Life – Sloan
“One thing I know about the rest of my life/I know that I’ll be living it in Canada.” Next to our national anthem, does any song say it better than this Sloan lyric?