Skip to main content

A remarkable document was published 48 years ago, and became a surprise hit. Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada, aimed at young Americans who did not want to fight in the Vietnam War, was slim in size but rich in wisdom.

It advised draft resisters to "get a haircut" before approaching the border, and to read Mordecai Richler and Margaret Laurence to better understand Canada. "Don't even consider buying a house unless you marry a millionairess," it warned. "The average cost of a new home in central Toronto is $30,000." (Adjusted for 2016 dollars, the average cost of a new home in Toronto is one wheelbarrow of diamonds and a unicorn skin.)

The manual, edited by Mark Satin and published by House of Anansi, would go on to sell about 100,000 copies. Thousands of draft resistors did move to Canada, settled, and made profound contributions in the arts, medicine, teaching. They were one in a wave of political exiles Canada has always been so good at welcoming, from Loyalists escaping the American Revolution, to Chileans fleeing Pinochet, to Somalis and Syrians leaving war and chaos behind.

On the horizon, another crowd has gathered, ready to storm our shores. According to the twin oracles of Twitter and Facebook, we will soon be swamped by new waves of refugees: Americans, fleeing madly like villagers before a radioactive monster, and Britons, hoping to escape their teetering Jenga tower built of crumpets and bile.

Google struggles to keep up with "immigrate to Canada" searches. Immigration lawyers eat lunch at their desks to answer phones ringing off the hook. Celebrities like Lena Dunham promise to move to Vancouver if Donald Trump is elected (This has the ring of truth; she's one of the few people who could afford to live there.) Air Canada has even launched a teasing ad campaign, letting Americans know they can "test drive" our beautiful country any time they'd like.

But how will all these new refugees learn our strange northern ways? Who will tell a British person that a compliment on his pants does not mean someone likes his underwear? Who will tell Americans that it's not Judi Dench on our money? What we need in these perilous times is a new manual for prospective Canadians, an updated version of the one that was so useful to Vietnam draft dodgers almost 50 years ago.

My guide would be called Welcome to Canada, You Look Like You Could Use a Beer, and it would read something like this:

Our country and its cities are enviably peaceful. There is crime, of course, but the rates of violent crime are quite low, and on a decline. Where violence does occur, it is usually between man and raccoon, driver and cyclist, and first-time home buyer versus first-time home buyer. There are often altercations between hockey teams and fans on the last day of regular-season play, but these are more likely to end in tears and the rending of expensive jerseys rather than blows.

Our news is often extremely boring. Please refer to the CBC, which recently ran a story about International Mud Day in New Brunswick. It's also true that International Donut Day is our only high holy day. These are dull, I grant you, but at least they're better than the holidays you can expect at home, International Return to Tyranny Day and International Guns in Church Day. Boredom is the price of political stability. The most exciting headlines in our newspapers are the ones that explore the intersection of human and animal life, such as "Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose" and "Man beats off cougar with bare hands."

Despite the delicious smell of weed on every street corner, and the gleaming Martha Stewart-like emporiums selling pot gummies and pot lip balm, it is not actually legal to purchase marijuana without a prescription. Until legalization occurs, you'll have to act like a real Canadian, and buy your weed from a guy named Dwayne who lives in an apartment filled with cats and bongs shaped like Gandalf. This purchase cannot be claimed as a business expense.

Unless you're an actual refugee (and so far "orange bigots frighten me" isn't grounds for asylum), you'll have to apply for residency using a points system based on education, skills and economic resources. Any Briton who googled "What is the EU" the day after the referendum will be immediately disqualified. If I were in charge, an applicant would automatically be granted citizenship if she were named Cher and owned more than two Bob Mackie gowns, but unfortunately no one has let me write the immigration rules. Cher has in fact threatened to move to Jupiter should Donald Trump become president, so we just need to convince her that we're closer and have better nail salons.

While waiting to become Canadian, you'll all have to stand in line, memorizing the passwords ("sorry" "no, I'm sorry," and "can we afford an all-inclusive in Varadero?"). You will be entering not the land of milk and honey, but the land of long-life creamers in tiny crinkly cups, which are much more practical anyway.

Welcome. We hope you'll stay. It's lovely here, and there's room for everyone.