30 celebrities you might not know are Canadian

Written by:
December 11, 2020
Vittorio Zunino Celotto // Getty Images

30 celebrities you might not know are Canadian

Everybody knows that celebrities like Justin Bieber and Celine Dion are from Canada—their names have practically become synonymous with our neighbors to the north, particularly when we’re playfully poking fun at the stars. But America—and Hollywood in particular—is full of many other Canadians. They live here, work here, and play here, and yet many of our biggest stars hail from the Great White North.

The circumstances that brought them stateside are unique, but they often involve the same themes of following their dreams and trying to make it big. Actors often head toward Hollywood or New York City to catch a big break, leaving their Canadian hometowns in search of fame. Athletes might come to the U.S. to attend a university for more exposure and to increase their chances of being recruited. Scientists and entrepreneurs often follow similar paths, either heading to a prestigious university or beelining to Silicon Valley to pitch their startups.

Once here, burgeoning stars typically assimilate fairly easily. Sure, there’s the love of maple syrup and diehard hockey fanaticism (and some of these cultural assumptions are true), but culturally Canadians and Americans have much in common. They speak mostly the same language (outside French-speaking Quebec); they eat lots of the same foods, and many of the cultural references are the same. Socio-politically, Canadians follow Europeans more in terms of things like free education and universal health care; however, the overall structure and ideas of the countries are alike.

For these reasons, it’s no surprise that these Canadians celebrities blend so seamlessly into the American landscape, often working for years or even decades without most Americans knowing where they’re from. To honor our great neighbors to the north, Stacker has put together a slideshow of 30 of the most interesting celebrities you may not have known are Canadian. Look to see which ones you knew, and which ones you might have guessed.

You may also like: 30 stars who hit their stride late in life

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Sandra Oh

Originally famous for her role as Cristina Yang in Shonda Rhimes’ ABC drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” Sandra Oh has found more recent fame in the U.K. hit “Killing Eve.” Before becoming a well-recognized Hollywood name, she grew up in a suburb outside Ottawa in Ontario, where she took ballet as a child.

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Keanu Reeves

Long before he starred in “The Matrix,” mega-celebrity Keanu Reeves grew up in Toronto, a city he moved to at age 5 with his family after they left Beirut, Lebanon—his original birthplace. Like many Canadians, he played hockey as a kid and in 1986, he was cast as a French-Canadian goalie opposite Patrick Swayze in one of his early films, “Youngblood.”

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Joni Mitchell

Born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, folk crooner Joni Mitchell is so deeply associated with American folk music that most people don’t know she is originally from Canada. In fact, she got her start busking on the streets of Toronto before moving to the United States.

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Lorne Michaels

Lorne Michaels’ name is practically synonymous with New York City given that he’s been running “Saturday Night Live” since 1993. But the comedy producer is actually from Toronto (he was born on a kibbutz in what’s now Israel and immigrated), despite his knack for American humor.

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Pamela Anderson

The “Baywatch” beauty, who gained worldwide celebrity playing C. J. Parker on the popular '90s lifeguard drama, is originally from the Great White North. In fact, she was discovered at a British Columbia Lions football game when she was recruited by Labatt’s beer to be a spokesmodel after her picture was displayed on the stadium screen and fans cheered, prompting officials to bring her onto the field.

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Michael Cera

Born in Brampton, Ontario, Michael Cera first began his climb to fame when he played George Michael Bluth in the hit TV show “Arrested Development.” He starred in the Judd Apatow film “Superbad” in 2007, taking his celebrity to a new level. In 2014, he released a music album on Bandcamp with a quirky tongue-in-cheek bio reading: “Michael Cera was born in Canada in 1988 at the tender age of zero.”

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Russell Peters

Toronto-born stand-up comedian Russell Peters, who earned himself a Peabody Award and an Emmy for his work on “Hip-Hop Evolution,” was ranked by Forbes as the third-highest paid comedian in the world in 2013. The Canadian comic boasts the title of being the first ever comedian to land a Netflix special. He’s sold out the Scotia Bank Arena (formerly the Air Canada Centre) four times, one time selling over 16,000 tickets in two days.

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William Shatner

Did you know that Captain Kirk is actually Canadian? Beloved sci-fi icon William Shatner, who played the leader of the USS Enterprise on the original NBC “Star Trek” series, is from Montreal, Quebec. His first role was in the 1951 Canadian film “Butler's Night Off,” and he has a star on both Hollywood Boulevard and Canada's Walk of Fame.

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Ryan Gosling

Hailing from London, Ontario, this heartthrob moved to Los Angeles before his 18th birthday to chase his dreams of becoming an actor. With over two dozen movie credits, the star of “The Notebook” has credited his home country for his worldview. “I love being Canadian,” he told Hello! “I think growing up in Canada gives you a world perspective that I certainly enjoy.”

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Rachel McAdams

Ryan Gosling isn’t the only star of “The Notebook” who has origins in the Great White North. His costar Rachel McAdams is also from Canada. She got her start working in Canadian productions such as “Perfect Pie” and “My Name Is Tanino” before catching her Hollywood break opposite Lindsay Lohan in 2004’s “Mean Girls.”

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Adam Beach

Perhaps best known for his role as Dr. Charles Eastman in the HBO miniseries “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe, Ojibwe actor Adam Beach hails originally from Ashern, Manitoba. The Saulteaux First Nations tribal member grew up with his family on the Lake Manitoba/Dog Creek First Nation Reserve before becoming a film and TV celebrity. To date, he has more than 50 movie credits under his belt.

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Drake (born Aubrey Drake Graham), is a Toronto native who starred in the Canadian television drama “Degrassi: The Next Generation” before becoming a famous rapper and musician. In fact, when he says, “Iink up at the valet at the Hazy” on his 2015 album “If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late,” he’s referring to his hometown’s Hazelton Hotel in Yorkville.

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Nelly Furtado

Nelly Furtado, who gained fame in 2000 for her album “Whoa, Nelly!,” which contained megahits like "Turn Off the Light” and "I'm Like a Bird,” is another musician from Canadian. In 2016, she opened the NBA All-Star game with a controversial rendition of the Canadian national anthem “O Canada,” in which she sang slowly alongside a Native American flutist.

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Margaret Atwood

Although her most famous novel “The Handmaid's Tale” takes place in New England and envisions a dystopian United States, Margaret Atwood herself is from Ottawa, Ontario. The first season of the Hulu version of her novel establishes Canada as a safe place for American refugees. Atwood has won numerous awards for her many books including the Man Booker Prize and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock) began as a professional wrestler before moving on to becoming an action movie star. The star of “The Scorpion King” and “Rampage” was born in California, not Canada; however, he obtained Canadian citizenship in 2009 on account of his Nova Scotia-born father.

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Alex Trebek

He was an expert in U.S. trivia, among other world facts, but the late “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek was born in Sudbury, Ontario. He attended the University of Ottawa, majoring in philosophy and working for years for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation before moving to the United States in 1973. In 1998, he received U.S. citizenship.

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Kiefer Sutherland

Both Kiefer Sutherland and his father, fellow actor Donald Sutherland, are Canadian citizens, although the 52-year-old actor was born in London. His grandfather is the former premier of Saskatchewan, a politician many people credit for introducing universal health care to the nation.

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Tristan Thompson

NBA player Tristan Thompson is a power forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers; however, he’s perhaps equally famous for being the father of Khloe Kardashian’s daughter True. The Toronto native grew up in a suburb outside the Ontario capital where he played high school basketball, moving to New Jersey as a sophomore to attend Saint Benedict's Preparatory School to get more U.S. exposure.

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k.d. lang

Kathryn Dawn Lang, aka k.d. lang, the ’90s pop-folk singer and gay rights activist who won a Grammy for her 1992 hit "Constant Craving," was born in Edmonton, Alberta. "There’s something romantic about being Canadian," Lang has said. "We’re a relatively unpopulated, somewhat civilized and clean and resourceful country. I always push the fact that I’m Canadian."

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Leonard Cohen

Like Joni Mitchell, the prolific song artist Leonard Cohen is another musician who’s so heavily linked to the American folk-rock scene it’s hard to believe he’s from Canada. But Cohen was born in Westmount, Quebec. In 2003, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada (he was appointed in 2002), an honor bestowed upon Canadian citizens who have contributed “outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.”

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Elon Musk

Although he was born in Pretoria, South Africa, entrepreneur, billionaire, and founder of PayPal, Tesla, and Space-X Elon Musk moved to Canada to attend Queen's University in Ontario. Last year, the tech entrepreneur tweeted that he arrived in North America with “$2000, a backpack & a suitcase full of books.” In addition to Canada and South Africa, Musk also holds citizenship in the U.S.

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Mike Myers

Another “Saturday Night Live” icon, funnyman Mike Myers began life far from the Big Apple. Born in Scarborough, Ontario, his first role was on the Canadian TV show “King of Kensington.” The “Austin Powers” star, who also holds British and American citizenship, loves his home country so much that in 2017, he wrote a humorous memoir titled “Canada” in celebration of the country’s sesquicentennial.

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Nora Fatehi

Although famous for her Bollywood films, actor-dancer Nora Fatehi is actually from Quebec City, born to a Moroccan-Canadian family. She starred in the Indian reality television series “Bigg Boss 9” besides her film and TV credits. Fatehi told India Today that growing up she was bullied in her conservative school for dancing.

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Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey has been making Americans laugh since the ’90s, but he doesn’t originally hail from the United States. The famous comedian and "Ace Ventura" star was born in a Toronto suburb called Newmarket in a region with blue-collar roots. At one time, he lived next door to a wheel factory, and in 2007, he told a Canadian newspaper that his life would have taken a different path had it not been for his acting career: "If my career in show business hadn't panned out I would probably be working today in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Dofasco steel mill."

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Cobie Smulders

Cobie Smulders played Canadian love interest Robin Scherbatsky on the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” for nine seasons during which there was a running joke about her Canadian heritage (namely that she’d once been a Canadian pop star with the alias “Robin Sparkles.”) However, most people don’t know that “The Avengers” star is Canadian in real life, too. She hails from Vancouver, British Columbia.

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Kim Catrall

Most famous for her role as Samantha on the HBO series “Sex And The City,” Kim Cattrall came from Canada before moving to New York. She was born in Liverpool, England and when she was an infant, her parents emigrated to Courtenay on the scenic Vancouver Island where she spent her childhood years. At age 16, she moved to the Big Apple to pursue acting.

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Gloria Reuben

Before landing the recurring role of Dr. Krista Gordon on "Mr. Robot," Canadian actor Gloria Reuben was perhaps most recognized for playing Jeanie Boulet on NBC’s drama series "ER." She started life in Toronto, the daughter of Jamaican-born immigrants, before launching her TV and film career in the United States, which included a role in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."

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Elliot Page

Known for his quirky roles in independent films like "Juno" (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), many people don’t know that Elliot Page comes from Canada. He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and studied at the Vaughan Road Academy in Ontario. When asked about casting Page and another Canadians in the film, "Juno" director Jason Reitman explained: "Perhaps it's something about them being Canadian that gives them the voice to do Diablo's [Cody’s] dialogue... There's something unusual about their voices that lent itself perfectly to this movie. I can't help but attribute some of that to them being Canadian."

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Jason Priestley

Before starring as heartthrob Brandon Walsh in the ’90s teen drama "Beverly Hills, 90210," Jason Priestley grew up in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He became a U.S. citizen in 2007, and in 2016, he was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame. He is giving a nod to his home country starring as a hockey player turned detective in "Private Eyes," a show produced by the Canadian Global Television Network.

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Shay Mitchell

Known for her role as the shy beauty Emily Fields in the ABC Family hit TV show "Pretty Little Liars," Shay Mitchell was born in Mississauga, Ontario. In addition to boasting more than a dozen film and TV credits, as well as an extensive portfolio of modeling work, Mitchell co-wrote a young adult novel in 2015 titled "Bliss."

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