Olympics bring out the pride in 'Canlantans'

Life’s not always easy for your transplanted children here. If metro Atlanta were a big house, Canadian expatriates would be the really nice neighbors we never really bothered to meet.

And, when they come over, we practically yank the welcome mat out from under them:

Our eateries don’t serve authentic Canadian poutine, the gloppy french fries-and-meat gravy staple one expat wistfully calls “a guilty pleasure and a cardiac surgeon’s dream.”

We’re so busy planning our own birthday party on July 4 that we never remember theirs on July 1.

We still can’t forgive them for Celine Dion.

You’d think the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia — which start on Friday — would make Atlanta more eager to get in touch with its Canadian side.

Then again, Canada isn’t our strong suit.

“Everyone always asks if you’re from Toronto,” said Farah Remtulla, laughingly echoing many Canadian transplants’ complaint that Americans are geographically clueless about their next-door neighbor. The 26-year-old Emory University information technology services operation manager moved to Duluth seven months ago from Edmonton, Alberta — Canada’s sixth-largest city with more than one million residents. “When I say, ‘No, I’m from Edmonton,’ they say, ‘Well, do you know so-and-so? I think he’s from Toronto.’ ”

So, these Olympics are the perfect chance to do something about all that, eh?

At this very moment, Canadians living in and around Atlanta (Canlantans? Atlanians?) are flourishing their pride like a gold medalist’s curling broom in anticipation of Friday’s Opening Ceremony. The excitement stretches from a Sandy Springs pub all the way to the Consulate General of Canada offices in Colony Square, where Stephen Brereton dignifiedly gloated over his bright red, already-a-collectors-item “Vancouver 2010” mittens last week.

“We think Canada truly embodies the Olympic spirit in that it welcomes all people to our beautiful country,” said Brereton, the consul general and a native of, um, Toronto. During an interview, he deftly managed to slip in a couple of references to Canada’s sweep of the men’s and women’s ice hockey gold medals in Salt Lake City in 2002, the last time the Winter Olympics were held in North America. And to the fact that their women won gold again in 2006. “We’re going for a three-fer.”

If you believe there’s strength in numbers, such collective preening isn’t all that surprising. According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey for 2008, some 12,040 people of Canadian birth live in metro Atlanta (Mexico-born Atlantans led the way, with about 205,000).

But it is surprising considering that when it comes to chest-pumping and overall obnoxious swagger, Canada is no “Jersey Shore.”

“I think, on the whole, we’re a little more laid back,” said Marty Seed, 37, a Canlantan for nearly eight years who lives in Sandy Springs. “Someone used the term ‘pod people’ to describe us. Because of the way we look and talk, we can just fit in and no one really knows who we are until we come out and tell them.”

Consider it done. Come Friday, Meehan’s Public House in Sandy Springs will take down the shamrocks and become Canadian expats’ and fans’ Olympic headquarters for 17 days. The brainchild of Seed, a native of, um, Toronto, this so-called “Canada House” is a logical extension of the Canada Day parties he’s helped organize for the past several years. Along with staff dressed in Maple Leaf red and white, there’ll be specials on Canadian beers and whiskeys, all-Olympics-all-the-time-they’re-on on the giant-screen TV and “some things that are Canadian foods,” Meehan’s general manager Paige Hester said somewhat vaguely last week (Poutine, eh?!).

All nationalities are welcome at Canada House, emphasized Seed, a database analyst/consultant who started the Atlanta Canadians Web site in 2005 (www.atlcanadians.com). But only one country will have total control of the supersize TV (approximately 20 feet by 15 feet) there during the Games.

Even if, say, there’s a really good college basketball game on at the same time as Olympic curling?

“That’s what they [Meehan’s] have other TVs for,” Seed said slyly.

Hmm ... Maybe we’ve been underestimating Canada and Canlantans for too long. Canada is Georgia’s top export market, according to the consulate office, which also reports that 211,750 Georgia jobs are supported by Canada-U.S. trade. Here in Atlanta, the newly installed artistic director at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company in Little Five Points is Canadian. So are eight Atlanta Thrashers players, their head coach and Orazio LaManna, the executive chef at Turner Field.

LaManna moved here from Ottawa in 2004 to oversee everything culinary from the 755 Club on down to the concession stands’ quintessentially American ballpark franks. His wife, Val, works for Emory’s University Technology Services, where she carries an iPhone wrapped in a Canadian flag “skin” and she once brought in Canada Day cupcakes with “Eh?” scripted across the top in frosting. The Montreal native, now living in Newnan, is counting down the days remaining until the Olympics on a dry-erase board on her office wall. She and her co-worker, Farah Remtulla, are politely browbeating the rest of their department to wear their countries’ colors on the duo’s self-declared “Olympic Day.”

“I have a feeling I’ll be seeing a lot of red, white and blue,” mock-groaned LaManna, who actually likes it here so much that she’ll soon apply for dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship along with her husband and their teenage son. “I had to remind a few people, ‘It’s happening. It’s in Vancouver. That’s in Canada.’ ”

But at least now they know. And soon so will many others, Seed hopes. If nothing else, he says, these Olympics might clear up a few of our more egregious misconceptions about Canada.

“Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to, with the ocean on your left and the start of the Rocky Mountains on the right,” Seed said. “But I think some of the world has this view of Canada being a very cold, wintry barren wasteland where we all live in igloos.”

But everyone does live in Toronto, right?

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