Canadian Heritage Minutes are awesome.
I don’t need to spend anytime giving reasons, they just are, and anyone who grew up in Canada in the 90s understands why.
They’re one of those cultural artifacts, like Fred Penner and PJ Phil, that should be celebrated endlessly in nostalgic listicles on Buzzfeed that
keep us trapped in a permanent childlike state incapable of critical thinking bring joy and community to all of Canada.
Well, we don’t have a Canadian Buzzfeed. So we don’t have an article like “The 78 Greatest Heritage Minutes in Canadian History”.
Now, there’s no need to rate all publicly available Heritage Minutes. No sane person would attempt such a thing.
That being said:
- Whenever there are articles about Heritage Minutes, the author will inevitably mention/embed a few they enjoy. But people tend to throw out the same 8-10 clips every time. What about the other 70? Many are just as filled with ironically hilarious moments, and if Laura Secord can enjoy her 98,421st moment in the sun, then Andrew Mynarski deserves a few extra too. Who’s Andrew Mynarski?” you ask. EXACTLY.
- When Ipsos Reid attempted to find Canada’s favourite Heritage Minute two years ago, the result was…a tie. Which in many ways, is perfectly Canadian. But this is the Internet. Things can’t just *be*. One Heritage Minute has to be the best, one has to be the worst, and we will discover them and everyone else in between.
- Between the release of a new Heritage Minute last week to general acclaim and a sold out launch party in Ottawa this week (a real thing, I assure you), this part of our culture is definitely having a moment. And that moment should be
exploited for pageviews on a site I maintain for freecelebrated to the hilt.
This should happen. It’s time to celebrate Canada’s great achievements, like basketball and standard time and Not Being American.
Are you excited? I know I am. Let’s get going.
There are many ways you could rank Heritage Minutes—by silly facial hair, contrived conversations, abrupt transitions, placement of heartwarming music, etc.—but there are two overriding factors that make a Heritage Minute great.
First, it feels like a Heritage Minute, in all the best ways. By which I mean: silly facial hair, contrived conversations, abrupt transitions, placement of heartwarming music. But also twist endings, hokey accents, even hokier costumes, dramatic staredowns, Powerful White Men Being Skeptical, and narration that ties everything together. And of course, a Burnt Toast moment, where somebody has a Eureka! moment on the strangest thing, is always preferable (you’ll understand the reference when we get there). Each minute will be ranked out of 10 on the Heritage Factor, which can be generally summed up as “Could this minute-long video be anything other than a Heritage Minute?”
Second, the person/event/thing it celebrates is quintessentially Canadian. By which I mean: Adorable. Earnest. Self-congratulatory. Slightly irrelevant. Heritage Minutes have created consciousness but also reinforced stereotypes. Each minute will be ranked out of 10 on the Canadian Factor, which can generally be summed up as “How much do value this thing as part of our identity?” Bonus points if that thing is inherently silly.
Also, while there are 79 Heritage Minutes publicly available, we won’t be rating the most recent one of the Winnipeg Falcons released just a week ago, because, like history itself, it needs time and space before it can be properly assessed.
Many videos will score high marks in one or both categories. For the most part, these first 19 won’t. There’s a reason you won’t remember most of them, but they too deserve their 15 minutes—or 60 seconds—of nostalgia.
#78: Paul-Émile Borduas (5.5 points)
The plot: An artist paints black stripes over a canvas. Discordant music plays. He’s muttering to himself. “Fear of finding yourself alone with god? It’s enough to make me you sick to your stomach, when you see all of the rewards giving to appalling cruelty.”
This is for children.
Then he starts talking straight to the camera, for any 6-year-old that hasn’t run away from the TV.
Eventually, he finishes his masterpiece. “L’Étoile noire,” he says, which I assume is French for “oddly shaped dice cube”.
The takeaway: All artists are depressed and create strange things to confuse children.
Heritage Factor: 2. You know that Ipsos Reid poll I was talking about? It contained this sentence:
“What most generations could agree on, however, was their least favourite Heritage Minute with all Canadians, with the exception of those aged 35-44, saying the Heritage Minute on Paul Emile Borduas.”
You don’t say.
Canadian Factor: 3.5. DID YOU KNOW WE CELEBRATE FRENCH ARTISTS WHO PUSHED PEOPLE TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES?
#77: Soddie (6 points)
The plot: An eastern European couple is dropped off in the middle of the prairies. They do some farming. Then they build a house. Then they do some more farming. Then they keep building a house. Then the pregnant women faints. She recovers. Eventually, they have a house. They have a farm.
“Many built their first house from the same earth that would grow their bread. They called it a soddie.”
The family is happy.
The takeaway: People in the prairies built homes that were made of sod.
Heritage Factor: 3. First of all, the narrator appears 20 seconds in, which is inexcusable for any Heritage Minute. Second, there’s no stilted conversation between the couple about why they’ve come to Canada, what to call their new house, and somehow stumbling on “Soddie” for inexplicable reasons. Third, there’s this weird choral music in the background the entire time. I understand why they felt a need for a Saskatchewan immigration Heritage Minute, but everything is just a tad off.
Canadian Factor: 3. DID YOU KNOW THAT SOME PEOPLE DIDN’T LIVE IN TRADITIONAL HOUSES?!? Lots of people in lots of areas of the world lived in dwellings that now seem strange. Like igloos or teepees. Shame neither of those exist in Canada.
#76: Saguenay Fire (6.3 points)
The plot: A family in a Quebec farm sees a fire. The daughter whines (It’s coming for us!) Their home is on fire. The daughter whines (The fire’s getting closer!) They decide to escape to the river. The daughter whines (We can’t leave everything) They see the river. The daughter whines (I’m afraid) They get to the river. The daughter whines (I can’t swim!) The husband tells her to get in. The daughter whines (I can’t!) They survive. The narrator tells us there were lots of fires that summer, but people survived, because they had “resourcefulness and courage”. The daughter probably whines some more, but we’re out of time.
The takeaway: Canadians can survive fires? Other countries would have packed it in after a bad fire?
Heritage Factor: 4. The best Heritage Moments tend to be little one-scene sketches, or mini-epics that cram four or five distinct scenes into one minute. Ones like these, with compressed ultra-linear narratives, end up being sort of bland…although this one gets bonus points for the delightfully lo-fi orchestra that “heightens” the drama.
Canadian Factor: 2.3. DID YOU KNOW THAT WE HAD A BIG FIRE ONCE?!? I guess it’s cute this even counts as something worthy of talking about in Canada — but the Minute’s main problem is that it doesn’t explain why this fire was more historical than any other fire.
#75: Lucille Teasdale (6.8 points)
The plot: A woman is holding a baby. A voice proclaims that she is the baby, and the woman is her mom. The baby explains that her mom spent much of her life in Africa, creating a modern hospital and providing health care for thousands, even through “20 years of civil war”. Eventually, she dies of AIDS.
The takeaway: The narrator’s mom was a pretty awesome lady.
Heritage Factor: 3.3. The music, narration, and cinematography all scream “polished documentary” rather than “Heritage Minute” for the first 40 seconds, which make it like every other professionally done historical vignette you’ve ever seen and then quickly forgotten. But it does have our first twist ending—another doctor tells her to disinfect herself, she refuses (“there’s no time, this man’s bleeding to death”), and the daughter wraps it up.
It’s genuinely effective at conveying her heroism. But sadly, that isn’t a defining element of Heritage Minutes, so the ranking is still low.
Canadian Factor: 3.5. DID YOU KNOW A CANADIAN WENT TO AFRICA AND HELPED LOTS OF PEOPLE?!?
#74: Tommy Prince (7 points)
The plot: People are describing Tommy Prince. He’s half-soldier, half-Bill Brasky and one of Canada’s greatest soldiers. After WW2 and Korea, he came home and “had to fight the battles of peacetime in a community where Indians have it hard.” He sold off his medals, became a drunk, had his children taken away from him and died. Now we’re at the funeral, and some white dude he’s never met is giving his obituary.
The takeaway: Life contains multitudes.
Heritage Factor: 4. There’s a reason most Heritage Minutes don’t try and summarize a person’s entire life in a minute, and that’s because YOU CAN’T SUMMARIZE A PERSON’S ENTIRE LIFE IN A MINUTE. This one wrings all the pathos possible from an obituary reading and uses plenty of classic Heritage Minute touches, but it ends up feeling a little empty in the end. I suppose that’s bound to happen when you don’t try to put a tidy bowtie on things.
Canadian Factor: 3. “Did you know that Aboriginals have brought great pride to Canada, but many have also struggled for a multitude of reasons, that we’re only going to obliquely mention in an educational segment for young Canadians? You’re correct, it’s a difficult subject.”
#73: Joseph Casavant (7.2 points)
The plot: Joseph Casavant is a blacksmith who decides to go to school (We know this because someone says “A successful blacksmith giving all this up?”). A Powerful White Man Is Skeptical (We know this because one of the pastors says, incredulously “You’re still a blacksmith!”). Joseph Casavant then agrees to do something, for some reason.
No, seriously, I can’t understand why.
Seriously, am I missing something here?
Anyway, the thing he agrees to do is build an organ, I think. He shows people in the parish his organ. It’s a big organ!
Decades later, his children create an organ company.
The takeaway: A man once was a blacksmith, and then for some reason, made organs.
Heritage Factor: 3.8. It’s eminently possible that I missed something with Casavant that would make this Minute clearer. Until then, it’s something that has many hallmarks of the form, but completely botches the Burnt Toast moment that is so crucial in vignettes where a person does something singularly great.
Canadian Factor: 3.4. DID YOU KNOW A CANADIAN BLACKSMITH MADE A REALLY COOL ORGAN, AND THEN HIS KIDS MADE LOTS OF ORGANS?!? This gets points because it stars a stoic Canadian who works hard and creates something cool, while also inferring that we haven’t made that many cool things in our history, but that’s about it.
#72: Le Réseau (7.5 points)
The plot: Bell Canada wants to build a trans-Canada microwave network. “4,000 miles of microwave links!” A Powerful White Man Is Skeptical.
But the head Bell Canada guy meets with a bunch of people, and eventually we get a Trans Canada Microwave Network. It’s all very
The takeaway: Canada built other coast to coast things besides a railway, but that’s the only one we can tell a good story about.
Heritage Factor: 4.5. With the contrived meetings and powerful white man being skeptical, is certainly looks like a quintessential Heritage Minute. The narrator and inspirational music make it quack like a quintessential Heritage Minute. But it just doesn’t come together in a way that inspires, amuses, or elucidates.
Canadian Factor: 3. DID YOU KNOW CANADA HAD THE LONGEST MICROWAVE NETWORK IN THE WORLD?!?
#71: Myrnam Hospital (7.8 points)
The plot: It’s a cold night on the prairies, and someone comes into the pseudo-hospital in Myrnam. Chaos ensues, for underexplained reasons.
Like, it’s all just shouting. Then we cut to a town hall, where a man says Myrnam needs a real hospital. Everyone agrees to pay to build a hospital. The narrator at the end says “maybe we started something.”
The takeaway: Hospitals are good.
Heritage Factor: 5. A Heritage Minute where Diverse People Come Together For The Greater Good should be a home run, but this ends up being just a single because there’s just too gosh darn much going on. In the liner notes for this Minute, it’s explained that the town had a doctor but he moved to Prince Albert because he wasn’t making enough, and the village begged him to come back, but he agreed only if they would build a hospital and guarantee his pay, and then a group of community leaders from rival political and religious groups met, and eventually they all pitched in. THAT’S a story. But because of the opening scene, none of that comes through.
Canadian Factor: 2.8. DID YOU KNOW UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE STARTED IN MYRNAM, MAYBE?!? It’s a shame this is the only Minute about universal health care. How can Tommy Douglas truly be our Greatest Canadian if he doesn’t have a Heritage Minute of his own?
#70: Les Voltigeurs de Québec (8 points)
The plot: A French-Canadian band rehearses a new song for Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations. At first, they play it poorly. The conductor yells at them. They play it again. This time it’s good. And that little song would grow up to be our national anthem. And now you know the rest of the story…but actually, you don’t, because there was no twist or tension or Burnt Toast situations in this entire Minute.
The takeaway: The orchestra that played O Canada for the first time didn’t play it well their first time through?
Heritage Factor: 5. Eventually, these Minutes will start to soar with the heightened and hackneyed dialogue that we’ve come to know and love in the 7 we’ve collectively remembered. But for now, we dredge our way through many that have the cadence of classic Minutes, but don’t have any of the memorable scenes.
Canadian Factor: 3. DID YOU KNOW WE HAVE A NATIONAL ANTHEM? Yes, Heritage Minutes. Everyone has a national anthem. Good for us.
#69: Midwife (8.4 points)
The plot: A pregnant young lady is about to have a baby, and she and her midwife need to cross Generic Forested Canada in time. Their horse is pretty good, but at one point they hit a roadblock and pregnant lady freaks out.
Midwife literally says “calm down”, because she’s chill like that. But eventually they make it, and she has a baby. Just a midwife, going about her job.
The takeaway: Midwifes were pretty cool.
Heritage Factor: 5.4. The random HORSE RACE AGAINST LABOUR is delightfully Canadian, as is all the snow and the log cabin and the decision to fade out once we see the child.
Canadian Factor: 3. DID YOU KNOW CANADA HAD MIDWIFES? I would have enjoyed hearing the pitch before this one was approved: “So, should we just one do one midwifes?…No, none in particular, just the concept…no, it doesn’t have to be just giving the baby, she can be in a horse race or something.”
#68: Étienne Parent (8.8 points)
Wait, the story’s not about him. It’s about this guy.
Étienne Parent. He’s a journalist who wrote editorials that criticized the government, but espoused peace and tolerance between the English and French. We see him smuggle some writings out of his cell through sympathetic guards, and that’s pretty much it. But I suppose he endured in prison for so long that his struggle was…wait, he was only in jail for four months?
The takeaway: If you’re a journalist, you have to go to prison to get a Heritage Minute made in your honour. I’m looking forward to the Conrad Black Heritage Hour.
Heritage Factor: 4.2. It’s fine? I mean, it feels like a Heritage Minute, but it doesn’t have the tidy wrapup or amazing revelation to have a meaningful impact. Consider the narration at the end: “A century later, the political ideas that had inspired Parent would reappear and transform Quebec in its Quiet Revolution.” Dandy.
Canadian Factor: 4.6. DID YOU KNOW A CANADIAN JOURNALIST WAS JAILED FOR WRIGHTING EDITORIALS SAYING PEOPLE SHOULDN’T FIGHT? That actually sounds about right, come to think of it, even if he’s not exactly well known today.
#67: Sir George-Étienne Cartier (9.0 points)
The plot: They’re about to unveil a statue of George-Étienne Cartier. They talk about all the great things he did. He convinced Quebec that “diversity will be Canada’s strength”, told Manitoba it could be a province, and sold British Columbia on a railway. The statue is unveiled. Everyone cheers. Huzzah for George-Étienne Cartier.
The takeaway: George-Étienne Cartier did a lot of stuff.
Heritage Factor: 4. Can you tell I was bored? This is one of the new Heritage Minutes, and while they do a great job capturing the feel of the series, this is the worst of the lot — primarily because it tries to summarize a person’s life accomplishments instead of demonstrating character through a vignette. Show, don’t tell, etc. Still, there are tremendous beards.
Canadian Factor: 5. DID YOU KNOW CANADA’S #2 MAN IN ITS EARLY DAYS WAS UTTERLY REASONABLE WITH EVERYONE?
#66: Water Pump (9.1 points)
The plot: So we’re in Ontario’s Mennonite country. We’re in the past. You can tell we’re in the the past because it’s sepia.
Then we cut to 100 years later at the University of Waterloo. A Big Ideas Guy is talking about wells in The Third World, but Mennonite guy is distracted by a horse. Contrast!
Big Ideas Guy says today’s technology should make well-making easy. Mennonite guy responds.
Sure! Sparked by that
crazytalk breakthrough, they make a well that helps The Third World. There are parallels to Ontario in the 19th century…somehow. The African people thank the Canadians.
The takeaway: Canada had Mennonites, and made wells inspired by Mennonites.
Heritage Factor: 5.4. Is has a quicker pace and a different soundtrack than most Minutes, but that’s fine. There’s a good enough combination of wackiness and history here to carry the fun, and “What if Technology IS the problem?” is a pretty good burnt toast moment.
Canadian Factor: 3.7. DID YOU KNOW CANADA MAKES REALLY GOOD WELLS? The problem is there’s not really a clear connection to the Mennonites, so it’s not something that Canadians can brag about in particular way.
#65: Orphans (9.4 points)
The plot: Lots of Quebecers were adopting orphaned Irish children after their parents died while crossing the Atlantic. Three of them were going to be sent to a family and given the last named Bélanger—but then one of the children cried and begged to keep their Irish name, so the parents went “meh”.
And that’s why there are Irish names in Quebec.
The takeaway: Whining is very effective.
Heritage Factor: 5.1. This was certainly a nice little self-contained vignette, but there wasn’t a real spark or improbable leaps of logic within it.
Canadian Factor: 4.3. DID YOU KNOW CANADA ALLOWED IRISH ORPHANS TO KEEP SOME OF THEIR IDENTITY?
#64: Pauline Vanier (9.6 points)
The plot: It’s 1939 in Paris, and Pauline Vanier is trying to help a family enter Canada. But her husband George wants wants to talk to her. Says that the borders have to stay closed. Pauline is upset and says Canada is the only hope for refugees. We jump six years in the future. Pauline can now help the family. She asks where the mother is.
The takeaway: Canada was sort of awful to potential refugees in the Second World War.
Heritage Factor: 6.6. Jump cuts. Stilted conversations. A twist ending. There’s a lot to sardonically enjoy about this one. What isn’t so great is the gentle whitewashing of Canada’s refugee policy during the Second World War — aka, the “None is Too Many” policy. But really, Heritage Minutes were never a forum to bluntly show the “bad side” of Canadian history. This one showed the Vaniers as people fighting for reform, but they were blocked, and there were real consequences. It’s not a great representative of our immigration policy—but for a broad-based, introductory portrayal from the 90s, it’s not terrible either.
Canadian Factor: 3. DID YOU KNOW CANADA STRUGGLES WITH TALKING ABOUT ITS HISTORY WITH REFUGEES?
#63: Syrup (9.8 points)
The plot: White people see a family of Attikamek First Nations doing something to a tree. They are intrigued and watch. The First Nations people make syrup. We have a Meeting With First Nations Filled With Wisdom.
It’s made of Sugar. Which, evidently, is part of our heritage. The end.
The takeaway: The First Nations gave us syrup in the early 18th century, one of the many fair trades we had with them over a 400-year period.
Heritage Factor: 4.8. We’ve got awkward meetings of different cultures, somebody saying something in a different language, snow, a weird jump cut, but it’s all fairly rote. We’ve also got the declaration that sugar is Part of Our Heritage. And if sugar can get that designation, why not wheat? Or grass? Or air?
Canadian Factor: 4.7. DID YOU KNOW WE HAVE MAPLE SYRUP? It’s the only food-based Heritage Minute we have, which frankly is probably for the best. I don’t think we’re collectively ready for a poutine Minute.
#62: Andrew Mynarski (9.9 points)
The plot: We start with some delightful French banter and…oh, Historica Canada released only the French version on YouTube. Here’s a link to the English one. Anyway, there’s delightful banter in a RCAF Mass, until it quickly shifts to an air battle over France which, for Heritage Minutes, has pretty high production values.
Everyone in Mynarski’s plane agrees they need to jump off, but there’s one person named Brophy trapped in his turret. Mynarski sticks around to try and rescue him, but eventually catches on fire. Brophy pleads with him to leave so that he might survive, so Mynarski gives him one final salute and jumps. We end with the narrator:
“Brophy, trapped in his turret, miraculously survived the crash to tell of heroism of Andrew Mynarski, VC, who died of his burns.”
The takeaway: Andrew Mynarski is a hero.
Heritage Factor: 6.8. Not only did the Andrew Mynarski Minute tell an accurate, entertaining story, but was chock full of minor details AND had many of the touchstones of a great Heritage Minute. So why is it not higher in my arbitrary ranking? Well, part of the *problem* is that we, as a country, tend to like the upbeat Heritage Minutes that end with people applauding, or playing basketball, or deciding to write Winnie The Pooh, or ripping off a piece of paper to reveal the drawing of a penis.
(We’ll get there. Promise)
So when the twist ending is Mynarski dying, it’s hard for it to enter that Pantheon. Which is why you rarely see it brought up on best-of lists. But it’s still a really good short.
Canadian Factor: 3.1. DID YOU KNOW CANADA HAD HEROES IN WORLD WAR TWO?
#61: Vikings (10 points)
The plot: “980 A.D.”, the screen reads. “Native Attack on Viking Settlement”, it reads. And then, we go into a first-person spear-stabber (?!?).
And then the ghost vikings (?!?) head back on their ghost ship (?!?)
Then, centuries later…
I don’t know, random guy who just appeared. Viking ghost bones?
The takeaway: There needs to be a “Newfoundland 980 A.D.” level in GoldenEye.
Heritage Factor: 6.5. This is one of the more insane Minutes in the canon. From the massive leaps of logic to the strange ghost Vikings, there’s a lot of delight so long as you don’t think too hard.
Canadian Factor: 3.5. DID YOU KNOW CANADA ONCE HAD A VIKING SETTLEMENT? It seems weird that you would have one minute about the whole Vikings-in-Canada thing, and then really show them.