American comedian Dave Hill finds his inner Canadian with new book Parking the Moose

Author Dave Hill. Courtesy, Mindy Tucker. Calgary

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Dave Hill was in Clinton, Ont., when he came across a rare find: A Canadian fan of Donald Trump.

Hill is an American and, as it turns out, not a fan of Donald Trump. Nor was his American travel companion for that day. Nevertheless, they found themselves in a gun store, of all places, discussing the president with a Canadian dentist before the conversation inevitably turned to Canada’s gun-control laws.

Were Hill in his home country, he might expect a conversation about Trump and gun control to become heated. But he was in Canada. Small-town Canada.

“He was so courteous,” says Hill, in an interview with Postmedia from his home in New York. “In America, if you engage with a  Trump supporter it’s not a very congenial conversation. He was pretty nice about it. Even at the gun store, these were gun enthusiasts accepting things like only having five bullets in a magazine. In America, people would flip out about anything like that. But these guys were just like ‘Oh, it would be more fun if we have more bullets. But whatever.’ ”

“Canadians are nice” is not the most original observation Hill makes in his new book, Parking the Moose: One American’s Epic Quest to Uncover His Incredible Canadian Roots. But it is a recurring theme. Even the Canucks who seem confused by Hill’s attempts to pin down Canadianness in every town and city he visits are never anything less than polite. Hill’s epic quest takes him from small towns like Clinton and Merrickville in Ontario to Toronto, Quebec City, Victoria, Winnipeg, Halifax, Montreal, St. John’s, Moose Jaw, Regina and Calgary. But whether it be watching a Flames game at the Saddledome, dogsledding in Quebec City or hanging with hipsters on Queen Street West in Toronto, Hill was mostly determined not to fall into Canadian clichés. Granted, hockey, cold weather and poutine are frequently mentioned. At one point, also in Clinton, he tries his best to purchase a cast-iron moose from a stubborn shopkeeper who seems curiously adamant about not selling him a cast-iron moose on that particular day.

But, for the most part, Hill was interested in presenting Canada in all its eclectic, multi-faceted splendour, avoiding “ehs” and keeping references to Bob and Doug McKenzie to a minimum. It’s something that Americans are rarely interested in doing, since his fellow countrymen seem to have woefully little curiosity about their neighbours. Hill, who performs standup around the world and has appeared on TV shows such as The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and NPR’s This American Life, had a bit of a head start when it came to Canada. His grandfather was from Clinton, which is why Hill’s trip to the western Ontario town is central to the book.

“Growing up in America, we’re raised with this idea of American exceptionalism and that America is the greatest country in every way and so much better than anywhere else,” Hill says. “But my grandfather would always say at Sunday dinners that Canada was the best. I grew up thinking the idea of America being great was being pushed on me. I thought I had a secret: Well, no, actually Canada is the best. It was revisiting that idea from my youth.”

Growing up, Hill became obsessed with hockey, which he now thinks was mostly a way to further ingratiate himself with his grandfather. Nevertheless, Hill realized late in his research that he had yet to attend an NHL game. Which is largely why he decided to make the trek to Calgary in 2018. Fittingly, it’s the final chapter in the book.

“A tiny motivation of the book was that I thought it would just be one giant scam to go to hockey games,” Hill says. “Somehow, just in the way I was doing these trips and fitting them in with the rest of my life, I kept showing up in towns when the teams were on the road, whether it be NHL or minor-league teams. It was getting down to the wire and I still hadn’t been to a hockey game in Canada. This is pathetic. The book is completely invalid without it.”

So while the Calgary trip was strategic, it was still a nice topper for Hill and his Canadian experience. He watched the Flames lose to the Dallas Stars, ate poutine at the Ship and Anchor and had several Caesars. He also bought some Lanny McDonald socks and visited an antique shop where he found, but didn’t purchase, a strange French-language album called Lafleur! that had the hockey great offering hockey tips in French over disco beats.

In short, it was a perfect Canadian day.

“I went to a Flames game by myself, which I wouldn’t do again,” he says. “Even though I had a great time, the problem was I had too good of a time. I didn’t realize that Bloody Caesars were invented in Calgary. I got a little too excited about that, I guess, at the game. When you are sitting in the stands not talking you are just drinking that much faster. I didn’t commit any crimes, but it could have gone south.”

Dave Hill will be at WordFest Imaginairium in Calgary on Oct. 19 at Memorial Park Library at 12 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Central Public Library’s Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall. He will attend the Ottawa Writers Festival on Oct. 27 at Christ Church Cathedral at 1:30 p.m. He will attend the Toronto International Festival of Authors on Nov. 3 at the Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront  Centre.