The best Canadian rock bands of all time

There’s more to Canada than hockey and poutine. When it comes to the music — and not just its fantastic national anthem — that’s come out of the country, there’s plenty to celebrate. Here’s a look at our top rock bands to hail from Canada.

 

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The pride of Montreal, Simple Plan became part of the saturated pop punk scene of the mid-to-late 1990s and into the 2000s. Yet, the band’s debut somewhat cleverly titled No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls (2002) produced a top-40 hit with “Perfect,” the infectiously potent “Addicted” and “I’m Just a Kid,” which was featured in the Steve Martin remake of Cheaper by the Dozen. Its follow-up Still Not Getting Any (2004) hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200. From there, the band put away the teen-angst focus and tried to mature its sound with four more album, each achieving various levels of success.

 

Saga

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From its 1978 debut to the band’s 22nd record from 2021, Saga has showed some serious staying power. The group, which has gone through many lineup changes over the years, is best known for 1981’s Worlds Apart album and its lead-off track “On the Loose.”

 

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18. The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers

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The New Pornagraphers are one of the more uniquely creative bands to hail from Canada —Vancouver, to be exact. Formed in 1997, The New Pornographers are a hodge-podge of singer/songwriters, most having been part of other Vancouver bands, treading water in a world of indie and power pop. Led by the versatile Carl Newman, the group is known for sharing vocals. Aside from Newman, the group’s most recognizable on-and-off again member is Neko Case, who has enjoyed a solid solo career.

 

Sum 41

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From the Toronto area, Sum 41 enjoyed plenty of success within the pop-punk movement, starting with its 2001 debut All Killer No Filler. From the album, “Fat Lip” hit No. 1 on Billboard‘s Alternative Airplay chart in the United States. “In Too Deep” also earned some decent air play. The two-time winner of at the Juno Awards, celebrating the best Canadian musical artists, Sum 41 also received a Grammy Award nomination for the 2012 song “Blood in My Eyes.” Lead singer/guitarist Deryck Whibley was married to fellow Canadian pop rocker Avril Lavigne.

 

Metric

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This Toronto indie rock group, which is also appreciated in synth-pop circles, started in the late 1990s as the duo of Emily Haines and James Shaw. It has since grown into a foursome that continues to draw raves from a loyal fan base and music critics. Among the eight studio albums Metric has put out, 2009’s Fantasies remains the gold standard. It won the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year, and the song “Stadium Love” has been incorporated into game-day experience by the Toronto Blue Jays and Edmonton Oilers over the years. 

 

April Wine

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April Wine got its real break in Montreal, but the band has roots in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Originally steered by the Henman brothers, then the multitalented guitarist-keyboardist-vocalist Myles Goodwin, April Wine earned its first true North American success with 1972’s On Record. Then in mainstream form with First Glance (1978), Harder … Faster (1979), The Nature of the Beast (1981), and Power Play (1982). The group is probably best known for the top-20 ballad “Just Between You and Me” — the first video by a Canadian artist to be played on MTV.

 

Triumph

Triumph

The Toronto-based power trio might be one of the more underrated bands of the arena rock era of the 1970s and into the ’80s — regardless of country. A multiple-Juno Award nominee, Triumph put out 16 studio albums, highlighted by 1981’s Allied Forces, with several going Platinum. Triumph is also a part of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Songs such as “Magic Power” and “Fight the Good Fight” can still be heard on classic rock radio and remain popular with fans of hard/progressive rock and heavy metal.

 

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13. Cowboy Junkies

Cowboy Junkies

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The three Timmins siblings and bandmate Alan Anton have been going strong since 1986. The Toronto four-piece might not have enjoyed consistent mainstream success through the decades, but it remains a sturdy alternative/country rock band that’s put out more than 15 studio albums. The Cowboy Junkies are likely best known for their version of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” which was featured in the film Natural Born Killers.

 

Loverboy

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When it came to hard rock during the early 1980s, Calgary’s Loverboy did it better than most. Known for top-40 favorites like “Turn Me Loose,” “Working for the Weekend,” “Hot Girls in Love,” “Lovin’ Every Minute of It,” and “This Could Be the Night,” Loverboy received extensive radio air play, and its videos were a regular presence on MTV. Frontman Mike Reno also enjoyed his own top-10 hit in “Almost Paradise,” a duet with Heart’s Ann Wilson for the Footloose soundtrack. 

 

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11. Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies

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Much like Nickelback, it’s easy to pan Scarborough’s Barenaked Ladies as a band that didn’t really take itself seriously. Then again, perhaps that’s a reason for its success during the 1990s. Alternative rock, pop rock, college radio, folk: BNI’s music has fallen into many categories over the years. But the group, led in its heyday by Ed Robertson and Steven Page, drew plenty of mainstream rock fans with hits like  If I Had $1000000” and “One Week.” Not to mention, the band’s responsible for The Big Bang Theory’s theme song. It’s won seven JUNO’s, two Billboard Music Awards, and BNI has been nominated for two Grammys.

 

Voivod

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Hailing from Jonquière, Quebec, Voivod has built itself into one of the most creatively versatile metal bands in the business. Formed in the early 1980s, Voivod, which once featured former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted in its lineup, started as a speed metal band. But over the years — and 15 studio albums later — its sound has also featured elements of progressive, thrash, and alternative forms of the metal genre. The group’s 1989 record Nothingface remains the highlight of its Juno Award-winning legacy, one that’s still being written today.

 

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9. Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Bachman-Turner Overdrive

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The first of two groups on this list to feature Winnipeg native Randy Bachman. Teamed with brothers Robbie and Tim, Fred Turner, and then Blair Thornton, BTO music can still be heard on classic rock radio and streaming services. Known for hits like  Let It Ride“, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and, of course, “Takin’ Care of Business,” BTO was good for straight-up rock and roll. That led to three Juno Awards and a spot in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

 

Nickelback

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From Alberta but based in Vancouver, Nickelback gets railed on often for being considered “posers.” A post-grunge, alternative/hard rock act on the outside, but with a pop-rock vibes and tunes that music fans of all ages and genres seem to get behind. Sure, it’s easy to rag, but Nickelback has been nominated for six Grammys, won seven Billboard Music Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, and 12 JUNOs. From 2001, “How You Remind Me” went No. 1 in the Hot 100 and All the Right Reasons (2005) topped the Billboard 200 album chart. The latter sold roughly 11 million copies. Not to mention, Nickelback continues to draw praise for its high-energy live shows. By the way, frontman Chad Kroeger was also married to Avril Lavigne.

 

Skinny Puppy

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Considered among the pioneers of the industrial music and electro-industrial genres, the Vancouver-based group originally started as a side project for co-founder Kevin Compton (a.k.a. cEvin Key) in the early 1980s. However, it quickly evolved into a full-time gig for Compton when Kevin Oglivie, (better known as Nivek Ogre) became more involved. Even with 13 studio albums under its belt and plenty of acclaim, Skinny Puppy never enjoyed much mainstream love. However, the group left a lasting impression on the likes of Moby, Nine Inch Nails, and Korn.

 

Blue Rodeo

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As of 2021, these Toronto country rockers have put out 16 studio albums, along with several live offerings. Since putting out its debut record Outskirts — featuring the hit “Try” — in 1987, Blue Rodeo has amassed a significant following. High school pals Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor got the ball rolling, and it hasn’t really stopped. Though the group has won more than 10 Juno Awards over the years, its success has no doubt gone beyond the borders of Canada.

 

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5. The Guess Who

The Guess Who

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Before Randy Bachman earned success with Bachman-Turner Overdrive, he and keyboardist Burton Cummings went from the streets of Winnipeg to enjoy international stardom during the 1960s and into the ’70s. Best known for its No. 1 classic “American Woman,” which was actually anti-U.S., The Guess Who also scored with “These Eyes” and “No Time.” All tunes that continue to be played today on various classic rock formats and certainly celebrated in the band’s home country.

 

Arcade Fire

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As of 2022, the genius of Arcade Fire was responsible for six studio albums, won one of the 10 Grammys it was nominated for, and claimed 11 JUNOs. The band’s first three albums — Funeral (2004). Neon Blade (2007) and The Suburbs (2010) — might be the best opening run for a band in the last three decades. Not to mention, the magnitude of its spirited live shows. Started in Montreal by Win Butler and Josh Deu, Arcade Fire has won over fans ranging from the worlds of indie rock to dance music. By all accounts, it has no intentions of stopping. 

 

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3. The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip

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When it comes to Canadian-specific popularity, The Tragically Hip are rock royalty — even after the band called it an official career following the death of frontman and provincial legend Gord Downie in 2017. A combination of alternative and folk rock (enjoy “Ahead By a Century“), The Tragically Hip was well-respected in the United States, but the Kingston, Ontario, group won 17 Juno Awards and nine of the 13-plus albums it released topped the Canadian charts. This was a band that loved its home country but wasn’t over-the-top. That subtle national pride, found in its music, made the Hip a truly national gem.

 

The Band

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Formed in Toronto, four of the five members of The Band were Canadian (Levon Helm as the lone American). However, these country/folk rockers, who spanned the 1960s, ’70s and even the ’80s, and also included fellow music legends Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko, became internationally renowned thanks to classics like “The Weight” and “Up on Cripple Creek.” Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and awarded the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, The Band has been cited as a major influence on the likes of the Black Crowes, Wilco, the Hold Steady, and Death Cab for Cutie.

 

Rush

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When it comes to progressive rock, Rush sits atop the mountain. While these Rock and Roll Hall of Famers no longer tour under the band’s name following the death of legendary drummer Neil Peart (consider “YYZ” an homage), the legacy remains strong. Rush started out as a pure rock outfit after forming in the Toronto area, but soon, the band advanced the intricacies and structure of its songs. Just about any Rush album – Fly By Night (1975), 2112 (1976) or Hemispheres (1978) or Moving Pictures (1981) – is truly an experience. Fellow legendary bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Red Hot Chili Peppers have cited Rush as a serious influence.

A Chicago native, Jeff Mezydlo has professionally written about sports, entertainment and pop culture for nearly 30 years. If he could do it again, he’d attend Degrassi Junior High, Ampipe High and Grand Lakes University.