Dave Bohlken, 65, found a way to stand out from the more than 900 other winter residents basking in the sun Saturday at Mesa’s Pioneer Park for the Canada Day Picnic.
He wore a foot-tall foam hat modeled after the Canadian flag — red and white with a maple leaf front and center.
Bohlken, who along with his wife, has split his year between Edmonton, Alberta, and the Mesa Regal RV park for the last 10 years, said Canadians and their influence here aren’t the easiest thing to spot.
"Canadians usually don’t wear their patriotism on their sleeve, or their head," he said, "unlike our neighbors to the south."
While the influence of Mexico, less than 200 miles to the south, is more visible in the East Valley and Arizona, our neighbors 1,500 miles to the north continue to quietly shape our lives here.
About 26,000 Canadianborn people live in Arizona, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. And Canadians make more than 250,000 visits to the state every year, according to the Canada-Arizona Business Council.
The relationship between Canadians and Arizona is more than a social one — it’s economic. The value of trade between the two totaled $2.9 billion in 2002, according to the Canada-Arizona Business Council.
One recent example of Canada’s business presence is the purchase of Circle K stores, once based in Phoenix, in December by the leading Canadian convenience store company, Montreal-based Alimentation Couche-Tarde.
Having Canadians do business here isn’t anything new. In the early 1970s, a Canadian real estate company turned McCormick Ranch, Scottsdale’s last large-scale equestrian ranch, into the city’s first swath of red-tile roofed housing.
All this has happened without a coordinated push from the north, said Glenn Williamson, a Montreal native and Phoenix investment banker, who helped launch Scottsdalebased Go Video, a electronics manufacturer, among other companies.
"Canadians have not had a banner to rally around. There’s no chamber of commerce down here for Canada, and the cities aren’t doing a lot," he said.
Last month he launched the Canada-Arizona Business Council, which is pushing to double the amount of trade between Canada and Arizona within five years.
They’ll be getting help from a trade consulate Canada plans to open in early April in Phoenix. Its staff will advocate Canadian interests in both the business and legislative arenas, said David Bostwick, consul and trade commissioner for the Canadian consul general office in Los Angeles.
Canada is particularly interested in Arizona’s computer, aerospace and biotech industries, he said.
Joseph Koziak, who sits on the Canada-Arizona council’s board, came down from Edmonton three years ago to open drug maker Isotechnika’s first U.S. office in Scottsdale.
The company makes antirejection medication for organ transplant recipients, and needed an American presence, mostly for its dealings with the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Patent Office, he said.
Scottsdale rose to the top of the heap for several reasons, including the cost of living and the cost to set up operations and facilities, he said.
"Arizona is very convenient," he said. "There’s access to an international airport, and you can get around globally pretty easily, and there are a lot of administrative and scientific professionals to recruit."
Arizona may have a lot of economic advantages, but climate is still a factor, he said. "When we have conferences we’re able to get people to come out here really easily," he said.
But it’s not just Canadian business people who are attracted to the area. Some Canadians — or at least folks born in Canada — simply visited the Valley and fell in love with the area.
That’s the case with Don Chapman, who along with his wife, have been Mesa residents since 1989.
"We had friends who lived here who drove us around one night, and before we knew it we had a house," the airline pilot said.
Chapman also is a humanrights activist who has been waging a 31-year battle against what he sees as an unjust law in his homeland.
He spent the last week in the Canadian capital of Ottawa and plans to go back this week. He’s meeting with top aides to Prime Minister Paul Martin and being interviewed on top news programs, as the face of the "Lost Canadians."
A legal quirk has denied citizenship to him and possibly thousands of others born on Canadian soil. A law passed in 1947 and repealed 30 years later made the citizenship rights of children born in Canada contingent in most cases on the child’s father. When it was changed in 1977, it was not made retroactive.
Chapman, 49, was 6 when his family moved to Seattle from Vancouver, British Columbia, and he has been trying to regain his Canadian citizenship since he was 18.
Chapman said he’s proud of the "hybrid" he’s become through the influence of the two countries, and said the American influence may have contributed to the "in-yourface" crusade against what he sees as a grave injustice.
"I often say about the Canadians that their greatest attribute is they’re so nice, and their greatest detriment is that they’re so nice," he said.
As his battle to win back his right to citizenship begins to finally reach critical mass — a bill calling for change was read in the country’s Senate Thursday — he still thinks he’ll keep one foot in the desert.
"I’ll probably end up being a snowbird," Chapman, 49, said. "It’s not even about moving, it’s about the right."