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Yearlong celebration features virtual events seeking to increase cross-border knowledge, program awareness

A photograph of the Canada House, which is located behind Western’s Performing Arts Center, on February 24, 2021. This house built in 1909 is the home of the Center for Canadian-American Studies, the Salish Sea Institute and the Border Policy Research Institute. // Photo by Elisa Espinoza

By Elisa Espinoza

Behind Western Washington University's Performing Arts Center, a small and charming cottage-like house is hidden. 

This house, known as Canada House, is the home of the Center for Canadian-American Studies, a first-of-its-kind program on the western side of the country established in 1971.

The center is widely recognized for its well-established program of study dedicated to exploring Canada and its relationship with the United States through an interdisciplinary curriculum.

The center’s celebration would usually consist of a one-night event with dinner and guest speakers, but given Western’s move to the online world, they’ve shifted to a yearlong celebration featuring different virtual events open to the public.

“It’s 50 years, and you always want to have a nice party sometimes — you need something to celebrate,” said Christina Keppie, the director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies and an associate professor of French and Linguistics in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at Western.

The celebration seeks to bring attention to the center’s programs, highlight the work of faculty and students and educate the community on the relationship between Canada and America.

“Canada is our closest neighbor, and for the relationship to work, we need to strengthen our knowledge of each other,” Keppie said. 

Canada and the United States have so many similarities that it can be easy to overlook the importance of studying Canada as a unique country, so it’s important to promote a deeper understanding of the country, Keppie said.

“Thinking, ‘Oh they’re just like us,’ is quite detrimental to our understanding of our world and understanding of ourselves too,” Keppie said. 

When Keppie was appointed director of the center in 2018, one of her main goals was to bring growth to the program and student enrollment.

In collaboration with its sister programs, the Salish Sea Institute and the Border Policy Research Institute, the center has been working towards expanding its course catalog. Along with that growth has come an increase in enrolled students. “The center has not seen enrollment in the double digits for at least ten years,” Keppie said. 

Leo Coulter is a fourth-year student who recently enrolled in the program. He’s majoring in energy science and technology and economics, with a minor in energy policy and Canadian-American studies. 

Coulter said the program offers very personalized interactions and a good learning experience. 

“The Canadian-American studies program does a really good job at exposing their students to all the different intricacies of the Canada and United States relationship,” Coulter said.

Through the center, Coulter obtained a virtual internship with the Consulate General of Canada in Seattle, where he has been involved in energy projects and monitoring public opinion on things that relate to Canadian interest in the Pacific Northwest.  

“Understanding the relationship between Canada and the United States has much broader implications than just those two countries,” Coulter said.

He explained that studying this relationship can allow for a better understanding on trading, foreign policies, politics, diplomacy and globalization.

After graduating, Coulter hopes to obtain a job with a Canadian consulate. 

Dimitry Anastakis, the L.R. Wilson and R.J. Currie Chair in Canadian Business History at the University of Toronto in the Department of History and the Rotman School of Management, focuses his research on understanding Canada within the North American context.

“We are a country that is attached to the United States in ways that no one else in the world really is,” Anastakis said.  

The United States has a meaningful influence on Canada’s economy, politics, culture and consumption. Anastakis attributed this to the disproportionate power balance between both countries.

He said Canadians have the urge to remain educated about the United States, whereas Americans do not have this same need, which creates an “asymmetry in knowledge level.”

“Canada is just one of many other countries that the United States deals with, where for Canada, the United States is the most important country by far,” Anastakis said. 

Distracted by the similarities, Americans often overlook the importance of analyzing the relevant differences between both countries, Anastakis said. 

“It is still absolutely essential for Americans to understand how Canada functions,” Anastakis said. 

The United States does not often look to Canada for guidance, but Anastakis believes that doing so could be beneficial. 

“If Americans paid a little more attention to the Canadian experience and the Canadian example, they might actually learn different alternatives and different paths that they can follow,” Anastakis said.  

Places like the Center for Canadian-American Studies are necessary because they are one of the only few places outside of Canada dedicated to exploring the similarities and differences between Canada and the United States, Anastakis said. 

“I am so glad this anniversary is being recognized because it comes at a really important moment in the Canada-U.S. relationship,” Anastakis said.

He hopes the anniversary serves as a reminder for people to think of the importance of understanding this relationship.

More information about the Center for Canadian-American Studies and its upcoming events can be found on their website.

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