Canadianisms in The Great Canadian Baking Show

by Jet McCullough
February 5, 2021

In the previous three pieces of our series, we explored the use of British vs. North American baking terminology in The Great Canadian Baking Show, as compared to The Great British Bake Off. Another way that the Canadian show distinguishes itself linguistically from its European antecedent is in the presence of Canadianisms, words that are, if not strictly Canadian, at least “distinctively” so (“Canadianism,” Oxford English Dictionary (OED)).

One such term is “poutine,” referring to the dish of French fries, gravy and cheese curds, a term which appears in season one, episode 4 (S1:E4), in contestant Sabrina’s “s’mores and poutine doughnuts”. The dish originated in Quebec, and the term as used here derives from Canadian French (“poutine,” Canadian Oxford Dictionary (COD)). According to A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP-2), it originally would have “referred to any kind of pudding-like dish”. There appears to be some disagreement about whether the word “poutine” derives from the French “pouding” (pudding) or the English “pudding” (“poutine,” OED), the latter origin being favoured by linguist Charles Boberg (“poutine,” DCHP-2). In any case, the term is distinctively Canadian, and when used in Canadian English, it refers strictly to this dish of Québécois origin (DCHP-2).

Another term associated with Canada can be found in the same episode, in contestant Linda’s “maple bacon and double-double doughnuts.” “Double-double,” a term which describes a coffee with two creams and two sugars, is recognized by lexicographers as a Canadianism, with the OED marking it as “Chiefly canadian,” and the COD similarly marking it as “esp. Cdn.” The term is noted by the DCHP-2 to have originated with the Canadian “Tim Hortons coffee chain” and to be “still mostly associated with” said chain.

One word that appears in the series that is associated with Canada, though the food it describes is Turkish in origin and internationally known, is “donair,” which describes the dish of “sliced meat cooked on an upright spit, served in pita bread with vegetables, sauces and seasoning” (DCHP-2). This word appears in the tourtière challenge in season one, in contestant Julian’s “Halifax donair” tourtière (S1:E4). “Donair” is even described in the show as a distinctively Canadian food, “a classic maritime late-night snack” (DCHP-2). The word “donair” derives from the Turkish “döner,” meaning “rotating” (“donair,” COD), an elliptical reference to “döner kebap” (“doner kebab,” OED), the Turkish name for the dish, or the dish upon which the Canadian donair is based. The DCHP-2 notes that this word “is found most commonly in Canada compared with other domains”, and this agrees with the framing of the dish as a Canadian specialty within The Great Canadian Baking Show. Interestingly, "tourtière" is itself a Canadian food and thus also a Canadianism: the COD defines it as “a French-Canadian meat pie” and gives its origins as “Canadian French”.

We also see Canadian terms of the type that include a Canadian place name, such as “Montreal bagels,” the technical challenge of season one’s bread week, a type of bagel that is “thinner, lighter and sweeter than other bagels” (DCHP-2). One of the most distinctive of these terms is “Nanaimo Bar.” This term, for the dessert bar of a chocolate and coconut crust, custard filling, and chocolate topping, appears in the series’ first episode, in contestant Linda’s “Nanaimo bar cupcakes.” The bar also appears in the opening title sequence of each episode. The name “Nanaimo bar” refers to Nanaimo, the city on Vancouver island, a name which derives from “Sne Nay Muxw," the name for “a member of an Aboriginal people inhabiting lower Vancouver Island and the mainland north of Vancouver and around the Fraser River delta” (“Sne Nay Muxw,” COD). While the bar is eaten elsewhere in the world, it is more common in Canada than elsewhere (DCHP-2).

In these examples, we see how Canadian colour is sprinkled into the English used in this Canadianization of a British television show. The vocabulary unique to Canadian English cannot help but find its way into such an adaptation, and we see that even around a subject as universal as baking, Canadian English insists upon its own quirks.