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Concordian John Batt tries to redefine Canada, one Instagram post at a time

The English grad’s popular social media account and events uncover a Canada that’s a lot funnier and regionally rich than the one he sees on TV
June 18, 2024
By Jordan Whitehouse

Dog stands on hind legs mimicking a statue of an 8-bit orca whale breaching out of the water “Dog and Orca” photo that was shared on John Batt’s Instagram account.

Ever heard of a Montreal melon? Or wonder who Laura Secord was? Do you know the history of Canada’s Caesar cocktail?

John Batt, BA 12, has done the digging and has made a career out of showing and telling his audience about these kinds of underappreciated and often hilarious bits of Canadiana through his popular Instagram account

The Concordia English literature grad also hosts events across Central and Eastern Canada that are similarly aimed at poking holes in — and fun of — the narrow version of Canada he sees on TV.

“It’s that version of maple syrup, moose, Mounties and hockey — it only represents a small percentage of the country,” says Batt.

Instead, the story of Canada that Batt sees and presents is a lot more regionally rich, historically nuanced and funny. It’s one where followers might learn about the dozens of Volvos lying on the bottom of Halifax’s Bedford Basin or the RCMP’s spy campaign of Rita MacNeil in the 1970s or the popular 1990s classroom computer game Crosscountry Canada.

Much of it is aimed at nostalgia-loving millennials, but this isn’t simple sentimentalism, says Batt.

“Canada is actually a lot more sad and pathetic and mundane and funny, and I think millennials get that. We’re pro Canadian, but not pro Canada as a state, so I think people appreciate that the account isn’t just this happy-go-lucky Canada.”

He seems to be on to something. At last count, the Instagram page had more than 80,000 followers and Batt’s events were selling out breweries, church basements and arts centres in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.    

Man with a beard, plaid shirt and white baseball cap smiles in front of a brick fence. John Batt, BA 12, hopes that followers and event goers walk away with a different idea of Canada than the one presented by beer companies. | Photo credit: Aaron Wynia

A prank goes viral

Batt started the Instagram account in 2017 while working what he calls a “soul crushing” office job in downtown Montreal. He saw that the official-sounding handle was available and snatched it up, thinking it would be funny to post generic nationalistic photos and follow his friends. 

To Batt’s surprise, though, the account eventually racked up a few hundred followers, and it was around then that he started posting about amusing moments in Canadian history.

“And then I just started getting into it and thinking how funny would it be if I really worked hard on these near-essays for a few strangers online who might read them — almost like a performance-art thing,” he says.

Over the years, that irony would fade as the follower count ticked up into the thousands and high-profile Canadians such as Anne Murray and Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor slid into Batt’s DMs to share their admiration.

Now, as the account continues to take off and Batt looks to his audience for ever more interesting Canadiana to post about, that Concordia English degree is coming in handy.

“The thing about an English degree is that if you’re doing five courses, you’ve got five books on the go at once,” he says. “You can’t possibly be reading five books at a time, so what this degree does is it teaches you how to find the important information in texts and write as if you’re an expert on the entire body of work.” 

‘We need to think about everybody’

That lesson is also proving useful for the events, which he started in January 2023.

Each one follows a similar template of Batt roasting himself and the city he’s in as well as deep dives into some of his Instagram posts. But each show is completely different. 

“The stupid thing I’ve chosen to do is tailor each one to the city, so every time I write a show it goes in the garbage after I’ve performed it,” he laughs. “That’s why I don’t think I’ll ever be in a position to do several shows in a row, like a tour.”

Still, the shows allowed Batt to quit his day job in November. He did eight of them last year and will likely do 15 to 20 this year, most of them in Central and Eastern Canada.

Batt couldn’t have imagined any of this happening back when he was pranking his friends with his first posts, he says.

His hope now is that followers and event goers walk away with a smile, some surprise and a different idea of Canada than the one presented by beer companies. 

“I hope they realize that newer Canadians and immigrants, minorities and Indigenous peoples have a much larger part of the story than the one we’re usually fed,” he says. “We need to think about everybody.”

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