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Canadian Western

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The Canadian Western, or "Northern" as it is properly called,note  is The Western IN CANADA!, with a few characteristic differences. There tends to be more snow in Canada and Alaska, the other setting for the Northern, than in the western United States. As such, instead of the deserts and rock formations of the American Southwest, the iconic imagery associated with the Canadian Western is that of snow-covered boreal forests and mountain peaks under a Wintry Auroral Sky.

Furthermore, there's the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, always dressed in the famous Red Serge uniform, who always get their man (or so they're supposed to do). If it doesn't have Mounties, it's not a Canadian Western. In a way, the Mountie represents a transition phase in the idea of the frontier lawman: he's often isolated out in the field, but unlike The Sheriff, he is part of a larger formal organization with the central headquarters located all the way back in Canada's urban national capital of Ottawa, Ontario, and will occasionally make the trip there on administrative business and vice versa. Therefore, the Mountie represents a key difference between the Canadian Northern and the American Western: it is not a lawless wilderness with occasional pockets of civilization. There is, already, an overarching system keeping order. That's the mythology, anyway. But what happens when that system breaks down? What happens before the Mounties can show up? What happens when you're on the wrong side of their system? That's what these stories explore.

In reality, while they are a common staple, not every Northern has a Mountie as the central character, with examples being White Fang and the 2016 film Searchers.

Another common feature is the Remittance Man. Depending when it's set, this may also be the natural environment of the Prospector driving his Sled Dogs Through the Snow (who may be heroic dogs in their own right), as western Canada had two Gold Rushes in the 19th century - one in British Columbia in 1858, and another further north in the Yukon Territory, in 1898. This latter is considered the last of the major Gold Rushes.

If it overlaps with the Weird West, expect to see the environment portrayed as Grim Up North, where Evil Is Deathly Cold and Polar Madness is an ever-present threat.

Despite popular belief, the Northern is not a Dead Horse Trope. It is still going strong with series such as When Calls the Heart and films such as The Mountie keeping the genre alive.

Compare Nordic Noir, another traditionally-American genre transposed into a more northerly climate.


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  • A Canadian Heritage Minute about Superintendent Sam Steele, head of the Yukon detachment of the North West Mounted Police who kept the peace during the Klondike Gold Rush, is meant to illustrate the difference between the American Wild West and the Canadian West. An American frontiersman (played by Don S. Davis) crosses the border with gambling gear and a pair of revolvers, hoping to make a quick buck, but he gets caught at the border by Steele and his officers and is sent right back into Alaska. Steele doesn't even have to draw his own gun, and is barely fazed when the American draws his.
    Men don't wear pistols in Canada.

    Comic Books 
  • Jonah Hex (2005), an issue of the series finds Jonah Hex in the Northwest Territories tracking down a bounty and running afoul of some Mounties who don't take kindly to an American Bounty Hunter roaming their country.
  • Lucky Luke has "Les Daltons dans le blizzard", where they flee to Canada. Contains this immortal line by Joe on seeing a Mountienote :
    "Hooray, a policeman!"
  • Much of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is set in the Yukon, with Superintendent Steele of the RCMP making a memorable appearance by attempting to arrest Scrooge.

    Comic Strips 

    Film — Animated 
  • Balto is set in Alaska, making it an Alaskan example of a Northern, and centers around the 1925 serum run to Nome. Animals are a common feature in Northerns and dogs and dog sleds were popularized by Jack London with both playing a major role in this one.
  • The Academy Award-nominated animated short Wild Life (Une vie sauvage) is about an English Remittance Man who goes out to Alberta to become a rancher in the year 1909. It is subtitled "A Western" and the main character's body is found by a Mountie.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Death Hunt with Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin is loosely based on the real-life manhunt for Albert Johnson in the Yukon Territory in 1931.
  • Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, a prequel to the first two Ginger Snaps films, combines the genre with a werewolf movie.
  • The Grey Fox, based on the true story of Bill Miner, an American stagecoach robber who staged Canada's first train robbery.
  • Fort Vengeance (1953), two Americans from Montana join the North-West Mounted Police and receive their first assignment: prevent Sitting Bull from forging a pact with the Blackfoot nation.
  • Gunless (2010), a Deconstructive Parody in which a fugitive American Gunslinger (Paul Gross, Due South's Constable Fraser) arrives in a Canadian town and is bewildered to find that nobody owns a firearm. (Handguns were mostly illegal in western Canada at the time.)
  • The Mountie (2011), a lone officer imposes law and order on a Yukon outpost ruled by Latvian gangsters. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • The Gary Cooper movie North West Mounted Police.
  • The post-apocalyptic Western, Six Reasons Why takes place in a future Canada's desert landscape.
  • Togo, based on the same event as Balto.
  • Where the North Begins, the first movie to feature Rin Tin Tin in a starring role, takes place in the snowy Canadian wilderness with a French-Canadian fur trapper as the human lead.

  • Two noteworthy stories of the Northern genre are The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London, the former story even being set during one of the five most notable historical events to focus a Northern around: the Klondike Gold Rush. Another common feature of the Northern are animals with these two stories having been the one responsible for popularizing dogs and by extension dog sleds for the genre.
  • Robert Service's Narrative Poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee" combines this with the Weird West. It's a ghost story about a prospector who freezes to death, and his friend who promises to cremate his remains. The opening stanza is a masterpiece of eerie Yukon atmosphere:
    There are strange things done in the midnight sun
    By the men who moil for gold;
    The Arctic trails have their secret tales
    That would make your blood run cold
    The Northern Lights have seen queer sights
    But the queerest they ever did see
    Was the night of the marge of Lake Lebarge
    I cremated Sam McGee
  • Many of the crime/horror novels by Michael Slade have elements of the Canadian Western. They feature a Mountie crime-fighting unit (Special X), discuss the history of the Mounties' patrols in the Canadian West and the Yukon, and include many other elements of the Western.
  • The short story The Monster of Partridge Creek also combines the Canadian Western with the Weird West, with a Ceratosaurus roaming the Yukon.
  • "The Thing That Walked On The Wind", a Cthulhu Mythos short story by August Derleth, has a Mountie in northern Canada running afoul of sinister cult practices among the native people in his jurisdiction. Like a lot of frontier literature, it's quite racist.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Canadian TV series, The Beachcombers, is technically a Western in the sense that it is placed around the real town of Gibsons, British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province. The regular character, Const. John Constable is a Mountie of a more realistic kind: he wears a standard regular duty uniform, only wears his Red Serge dress uniform on special occasions, and doesn't ride a horse on duty and instead uses a standard police cruiser and patrol yacht on the water.
  • The Canadian TV series Bordertown is set in a town that straddles the US/Canadian border somewhere in Saskatchewan. The border goes through the middle of the law enforcement office, with a straitlaced corporal in the Northwest Mounted Police having his desk on the north side, and a rough-and-ready U.S. Marshal having his on the south side.
  • Due South is this for part of the pilot, before Fraser ends up in Chicago.
  • When Calls the Heart is set in a town in the Canadian northwest (likely Alberta). Mounties, coal miners, outlaws, and schoolmarms drive the show's many plots.
  • Murdoch Mysteries sometimes takes the lead character out of the city:
    • In "Anything You Can Do...", Murdoch travels to rural British Columbia while tracking down a murderer with a North West Mounted Police officer (who turns out to be his half-brother.)
    • "Murdoch of the Klondike" has Murdoch take a leave of absence to become a prospector in the Canadian Gold Rush, inevitably finding a murder and working with Sam Steele of the NWMP.

  • The Challenge of the Yukon, dealing with the adventures of RCMP Sergeant Preston and his sled dog/ally Yukon King. Also a TV series in the 1950s.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Great Weird North is the Canadian sourcebook for Deadlands, expanding the Weird West setting into Canada and allowing PCs to be Mounties, trappers and other typically Canadian archetypes.

     Video Games 
  • The Yukon Trail, a game from the same developers as the better-known Oregon Trail, has the player in the role of prospector during the Klondike Gold Rush.
  • Sly 2: Band of Thieves has a couple of levels that take part in Canada, and feature an ambient Western guitar tune. The villain of the chapter is also an actual lumber baron from the 19th century.

     Western Animation