Dan Aykroyd couldn’t possibly be more Canadian.
The longtime actor was born in Ottawa on July 1 (Canada Day), 1952, to his father, an English-Canadian privy council officer for Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet, and his mother, a French-Canadian secretary; not to mention his grandfather, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police staff-sergeant, and his Royal Canadian Navy uncle — so to say the man was steeped in total Canadianness from the beginning is an understatement. (Did we mention he was the first child born at Ottawa General Hospital on Canada Day that year? Yeah.)
The country turned 85 that year, and has grown substantially since then. For Canada’s 150th birthday, History is celebrating the country’s achievements in a new three-part original documentary, The World Without Canada. Aykroyd narrates the special, which looks at Canada’s natural resources, technological and medical breakthroughs and humanitarian efforts, and how different the planet might look without Canada as a part of it.
The World Without Canada asks provocative questions and uses dramatizations to illustrate the consequences of a Canada-less world, pulling viewers into an alternate-history reality where Canada’s contributions never existed. Along the way, Aykroyd is there, guiding us on this fascinating journey. Despite his previous knowledge of history, even Aykroyd was surprised by Canada’s far-reaching impact on humankind.
“A lot would go wrong on the planet without Canadian innovation. Our landmass, our oxygen generation, our resource base,” said Aykroyd to Global News. The actor named a laundry list of achievements that the majority of Canadians have no idea about. “The microchip laminate… the fact that we have Nortel developers who figured out how to store information on these little tiny wafers. That’s changed the world, you know. And there was a woman named Elsie MacGill, she helped design the fuselage for the Hawker Hurricane in WWII. There was also a Canadian woman who helped develop the X-ray and radiography machine.”
With CGI graphics illustrating catastrophic consequences, The World Without Canada depicts the startling global ripple effect that would occur if Canada’s contributions failed to exist. The series features commentary from notable Canadian experts including data scientist and futurist, Juliette Powell; acclaimed sci-fi author, Robert J. Sawyer; historian David O’Keefe; and Merritt Turetsky, professor of ecology at Guelph University.
Despite Canadians’ clear impact on the world around us, Aykroyd says our greatest achievements aren’t the tangible ones.
“The most impressive to me, about what we Canadians and what Canada as a culture and a nation has given the world, is the sense of tolerance for those who are different, tolerance for immigrants, tolerance for people who are disadvantaged,” he said earnestly. “Canada had federally legalized and legislated same-gender preference marriage decades ago. There’s a deep current in our culture of tolerance and understanding. The concept of peacekeeping that Lester Pearson originated, that Canada could be involved as a force for peace.”
It’s actually impressive how much Aykroyd and his family are attuned to his home country, unlike many other Canadian celebs who abscond across our southern border as soon as fame hits. Aykroyd’s father’s side of the family moved up from New York state in 1810, and his mother’s side has been in Canada since the 1500s, “since Cartier.”
“Our family has lived near Kingston since 1826, that’s my domicile,” said Aykroyd. “That’s going to be where I live when I’ve finished my career.”
The Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live star affectionately describes driving through a Canadian city in the winter, as he’s done “many times,” and he often sees families of non-Canadian descent playing ball hockey on the road, and it warms his heart every time.
“Just over 20 per cent of our nation is made up of immigrants, and they’ve been welcomed,” he said. “They’re embracing Canada. The beauty of it is Canada allows you to absorb itself. It says ‘Come here, absorb the mantle of our culture, our food, our sports, our entertainment, our land, our topography and make it your own.’ I don’t think any other country does it as well as we do.”
And as for why we say sorry all the time, Aykroyd has a simple explanation:
“I’m sorry because I live in a country that basically kicks [the] ass of every other one around the world!” he exclaims. “I’m sorry I live in the greatest country in the world. I’m sorry! I’m sorry, but Canadians apologize so much because we know we’re the greatest. Sorry!”