Ranking every Canadian Heritage Minute: #40-26

We’ve passed the halfway point in our exploration of every Heritage Minute in Canadian history, and we’ve weeded out pretty much everyone that hasn’t contributed to our sense of national identity along with those I just don’t care for. Going forward, pretty much every Minute will be great in some ironic or misplaced patriotic way.

But enough generalizations. It’s time to be proud of war, being better than Americans, and famous people from Ontario.

(A reminder of the scoring system: Each Minute is ranked out of 10 on the Heritage Factor—silly facial hair, contrived conversations, abrupt transitions, “Burnt Toast Moments”, and everything else unique about the medium’s form—and out of 10 on the Canadian Factor—which is to say, whether the thing it’s discussing/celebrating is something that only Canadians would be really proud of)

#40: Maple Leaf Gardens (12.5 points)

The plot: The plot: Toronto, 1927. A bunch of fellas are talking about this newfangled arena Conn Smythe wants to build. They laugh about how awful the Maple Leafs’ name is, making it the only time in history the Leafs are mocked.

Cut to A Powerful White Man Being Skeptical about Smythe’s plan.

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But Smythe says the construction workers will get part of their pay in shares, which the Powerful White Man repeats for the audience’s benefit.

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Cut to construction. A worker with a ludicrous Italian accent explains why they’re going so fast:

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Then we literally get 15 seconds of random clips from Maple Leaf Gardens, the greatest Canadian arena ever that wasn’t The Forum. Until it closed.

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The takeaway: Toronto’s sport place is the most important sport place ever, because Toronto.

Heritage Factor: 8.5. We get three different scenes, with completely different characters, with completely different tones, in the first 40 seconds, all with old-timey hats, over-the-top accents. And then it’s like they just got lazy and decided to go for archival footage to pad it out.

Canadian Factor: 4. DID YOU KNOW TORONTO HAD AN ARENA THAT HOSTED LOTS OF WORLD-CLASS THINGS?!? Seriously, Centre of the Universe. Everyone city has an arena. Every city negotiations to build their arena. Every city saw famous people come through their arena. And every city has had an arena close. If anything, this Minute shows off Toronto’s insecurities, which is the only reason it gets this high a mark.

#39: Osborn of Hong Kong (12.5 points)

The plot: Hong Kong, 1941. A command centre is under attack. Some people go outside. A guy called Osborn takes command. The guys outside die. Osborn tells everyone they’ll leave ASAP. Then:

Osborn

Ruh-roh. What follows is the most epic action shot in the Heritage Minute canon.

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We’re told Osborn was given Canada’s first Victoria Cross of the war. Posthumously.

The takeaway: Sigh. War, man.

Heritage Factor: 8.3. This doesn’t really follow the standard Heritage Minute script—it’s just a really solid piece of filmmaking. Like, the type that a high school History teacher could play in class, without any of the kids snickering about later.

Canadian Factor: 4.2 DID YOU KNOW CANADIANS WERE BRAVE IN THE PACIFIC THEATRE OF WW2 TOO?!? Yes, this is one of the 11 different Minutes where we learn Canadians Showed Bravery in Wars. And in isolation, each are fine. Many are stirring. When you’re the insane fool watching all of them, repeatedly, over the course of a week, they tend to descend into a mush of sameness.

#38: Jacques Plante (12.7 points)

The plot: Jacques Plante is a goaltender for the Habs. He gets hit in the face with a puck.

Plante

Plante is back in the locker room being tended to. Coach Toe Blake tells Plante “You can’t do this Jacques! It’s never been done before!” (spoiler alert: he does it)

A pack of old-timey reporters wants to know what’s up. The Habs won’t say. Plante comes out. He gets hit in the face again. But this time…

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The takeaway: Part of our heritage is creating things that allow us to get hit in the face with a puck more efficiently.

Heritage Factor: 6.5. Sport-based Minutes are sort of predictable (moreso than the rest!), but you’ve got lots of old-timey stuff, some imaginary scenes to heighten the drama…and addition of a nurse who inexplicably shrugs when Toe Blake tells his toady to hold off reporters.

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Tremendous.

Canadian Factor: 6.2 DID YOU KNOW GOALIES DIDN’T ALWAYS WEAR MASKS?!? The moment when a goalie realized that there was another option to getting smacked in the skull dozens of times a day was a big innovation for us.

#37: Stratford (12.8 points)

The plot: There’s a rehearsal for a play in Stratford. You can this is early days, because everyone is annoyed by the sound of a train like they’re in some podunk place.

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Then it’s opening night. You can tell it’s good theatre because the audience applauds when it finishes.

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We’re then told that “they started a love affair with festivals that goes on. The Montreal Jazz, the Toronto International Film Festival” and Canada’s general love of festivals which…okay. We’ll pretend there’s a straight line there.

The takeaway: Canada has culture.

Heritage Factor: 7. This follows the standard You Can’t Do Something/Just Watch Me/Oh The Thing Is Good/Years Later It’s Famous structure which we all know and love with these Minutes.

Having said that, I really love the ending. It’s like they were worried people would shit on the Ontario arts scene getting its own Heritage Minute, so they had to pretend that every festival in Canadian history wouldn’t have happened if not for Stratford.

Canadian Factor: 5.8. DID YOU KNOW CANADA HAS FESTIVALS?!? Gee, I bet nowhere else in the world has such things.

#36: Vimy Ridge (12.9 points)

The plot: Arthur Currie is telling the French and British his plans for Canada to take Vimy Ridge. A Powerful White Man is Skeptical.

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Currie is all stoic and stuff.

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The French ask how we’ll take Vimy Ridge. We then transition to a montage of film from the battle, interspersing Currie’s plans with letters from the front. We’re told that “By 5 o’clock, Vimy Ridge was ours.”

“And mother, I thought, ‘we our a nation! This is us’.”

The takeaway: Vimy Ridge made Canada.

Heritage Factor: 4. It’s not really a traditional Heritage Minute, most of the footage is original archived stuff, and it’s edited much more like a Ed Burns documentary than anything else.

Canadian Factor: 8.5. DID YOU KNOW CANADA WON A BIG BATTLE IN WORLD WAR ONE ALL BY OURSELVES?!? And yet, there’s a reason Vimy Ridge had so much resonance at the time and still is a point of pride today—it’s a tremendously compelling story. This minute tells it well.

#35: Nat Taylor (13.1 points)

The plot: Ottawa, 1957. Two young ladies want to watch Bridge on the River Kwai. Nat Taylor still wants to play a movie getting 50% attendance. He has an idea—what if he uses the theatre across the street, which is half as big, thereby allowing him to play both films?

Riveting stuff, I know. Anyways, spring forward 15 years. Taylor is bragging about this wondrous accomplishment of economics, but he has plans for something bigger. Much bigger.

Taylor

People can’t fathom the idea of 15 screens, so Taylor freaks out the squares even more.

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GOOD GOD HE’S A MONSTER. “Oh Nat!” someone moans off-screen. End scene.

The takeaway: Big-box theatre chains, those beacons of Canadian culture, can be considered worthy of Heritage Minutes.

Heritage Factor: 6.3. It takes a while to get going, but the way Taylor introduces plans for 21 screens is pretty much the archetype for Hertiage moments where Things Are Created…which makes it all the funnier that it’s about giant movie theatres.

Canadian Factor: 6.8. DID YOU KNOW A CANADIAN OPENED THE BIGGEST MOVIE THEATRE EVER?!? If someone can suggest to me another country that would celebrate such a thing, I’d be all ears. In case, I can’t decide whether this ranking is 20 spots too low or too high, so this is probably a good place.

#34: Sitting Bull (13.3 points)

The plot: We’re on the U.S. border. The RCMP and American forces are talking. The RCMP chides the Americans for having so many troops in the area, but the Americans say it’s needed—the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull did a war dance recently. RCMP says Sitting Bull has been fine in Canada—and the all three of them will meet that night.

Cut to the meeting. The American guy starts to talk when Sitting Bull dramatically turns around, shutting him up with a stern finger.

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Hey, it’s Graham Greene! In any event, Sitting Bull says he’s in Canada, and the Americans should GTFO.

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“Damn,” thinks the RCMP guy. Sitting Bull goes onto say that the RCMP members were “the first white men who never lied to us”.

There’s a postscript twist by one of the RCMP guys in narration—Sitting Bull would be “starved out of Canada” and murdered.

So yeah.

The takeaway: We might have been nicer to First Nations than the Americans, but they still got the shaft.

Heritage Factor: 7.5. Special Guest Star Graham Greene brings the ACTING, letting the viewer know that Canada=good and America=bad. The out of nowhere denouement also gets points, despite being misleading—the Sioux were “starved out” because buffalo stock were declining, and Sitting Bull was murdered a full 13 years later. Are they suggesting that he would never have been murdered if he stayed in Canada?

(Thinks.)

Yep, probably. Which gets them bonus points.

Canadian Factor: 5.8. DID YOU KNOW CANADA WAS NICER TO FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE THAN THE AMERICANS?!? Would be higher if not for the reality, presented admirably, that it was sort of lose-lose for tribes that straddled both sides of the border.

#33: Queenston Heights (13.3 points)

The plot: There’s a guy running to the sound of war drums. “General Brock is dead,” he tells the audience Grand River warriors. “Americans hold the heights.”

The warriors say they must still battle.

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They get ready to shoot people.

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Then they start shooting.

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The takeaway: In the War of 1812, ALL proto-Canadians hated the Americans. Not just the British.

Heritage Factor: 6.5. This is one of the new Heritage Minutes, and they all combine sort a nice HD, cinematic sheen with a commitment to the format of the Minute. In this case: the conflict is introduced, we’re told unambiguously who is right and who is wrong, now let’s go kill Yankees.

Canadian Factor: 6.8 DID YOU KNOW THE FIRST NATIONS HELPED WIN THE WAR OF 1812?!?

#32: John McCrae (13.5 points)

The plot: It’s nighttime in Flanders, Belgium during WW1. There’s foreboding string music. John McCrae (played by Colm Feore) notices a bunch of poppies. He begins writing “In Flanders Fields”. He mutters some of the words, then hands over a piece of paper to another soldier.

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We then hear children recite the poem. Fade to black.

The takeaway: Poems have backstories.

Heritage Factor: 6. As a piece of edutainment filmmaking, it’s blunt, stark and effective. As a Heritage Minute? Well, we’ve got McCrae looking at a bunch of Poppies, saying “Poppies!” and then getting out his pen. That’s a pretty trite screenwriting device! But it’s certainly not top-tier Heritage goodness.

Canadian Factor: 7.5. DID YOU KNOW A CANADIAN WROTE THE POEM EVERYONE SAYS ON REMEMBRANCE DAY?!? Not only is it an excellent example of Canadians Being Proud of Creating Something, it showcases that weird mix you get in introductory history, where an overarching sense of Canadian culture and spirit is celebrated through listing singular achievements.

#31: Marion Orr (13.5 points)

The plot: Britain, 1943. At some air base, they’ve gotten word that a Spitfire delivery is coming in. Everyone is amazed such a thing could happen in the fog weather. We know this because three different people mention it in the first 20 seconds:

  • At 06: “Nobody could fly in this soup”
  • At 12: “He’s right! It is a spitfire”
  • A 20: “Land? In this?”

Finally the plane lands. A bunch of Powerful White Men come out to greet the plane. “Some landing sir!” says one of them. Who is this piloting wizard?

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Oh snap! It’s not a Sir at all!

Yes, Orr is a woman, AND a pilot, and just in case the rareness of that wasn’t clear, we get this exchange.

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Hahahaha men are so confused when gender norms are eliminated. Orr tells them all she wants to open a flying school. The narrator says that’s exactly what she did—the first woman in Canada to do so.

The takeaway: Ladies can fly planes too.

Heritage Factor: 9. Clearly the most Heritagey Heritage Minute we’ve come across so far. Constant repetition of a point, men being flummoxed a woman could do something, clear uses of soundstages…everything is wonderfully contrived—including the event itself. I looked for evidence that Orr was ever celebrated for flying on a particularly dangerous foggy night, and couldn’t find any. It’s as though history is sometimes manufactured to create heightened narratives, or something.

Canadian Factor: 4.5. DID YOU KNOW CANADA HAD A LADY PILOT DURING WORLD WAR TWO THAT DID IMPORTANT STUFF OUTSIDE OF COMBAT?!? Hey look, it’s another Ontario person! Canadians told Ipsos-Reid this was the Minute they “Learned the Most” in. Given that the only thing you learn is Marion Orr flew planes and then opened a flying school…well, you do the math.

#30: Maurice Ruddick (13.7 points)

The plot: Maurice Ruddick is in a coal mine. He’s doing a monologue about the 1958 Springhill Mine explosion. He delivers the Cole’s Notes (do people still use that term?) of being stuck in the mine for eight days. Including the fact they drank urine.

Ruddick

Ruddick quickly describes how they were offered a trip to Georgia when they got out, but that he would separated in a segregated hotels, but he still encouraged his fellow miners to go, and…you know what? Just read about it. It’s worth your time.

It ends with Ruddick looking at the camera, saying “together” in a really creepy way.

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The takeaway: More people should know about Maurice Ruddick.

Heritage Factor: 8.2. Ardon Bess, the actor playing Ruddick, does a great job, and the writing summarizes his entire story without making it too expository. Throw in the weird ending and the miner’s hat, and you’ve got what a Heritage Minute is supposed to do—educate and entertain, on both intentional and unintentional levels.

Canadian Factor: 5.5. DID YOU KNOW WE HAD A AFRO-CANADIAN HERO THE AMERICANS WERE RACIST TOWARDS?!? And he was so polite about it, thinking about his friends before himself! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good story. It’s a type of story we like telling for a reason.

#29: Jean Nicollet (13.9 points)

The plot: We start off with a crazy guy.

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Wait, is Champlain there? Who are you talking to? Why does it matter what you’re wearing?

We never know, because we quickly transition to a canoe. Jean Nicollet is looking for an inland route for China, which always went well for everyone.

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Other side of the world, Jean. Thankfully, we get to see exactly how he fails. An aboriginal on a hill says “Mississippi”, which Nicollet is told means “great water”. He runs up the hill, and we get the first and only combination of these words in history:

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Those are different things, Jean.

The narrator explains that it was Lake Michigan (“not the Pacific”, he says, oh so helpfully), but others would follow his dream…and also fail.

The takeaway: Jean Nicollet was a silly person. There’s literally nothing redeeming about him in this minute.

Heritage Factor: 7.4. Misinterpreting What First Nations Tell people is a good trope (and will be used to maximum effect later on in this series), but the highlight it just how unhinged Nicollet is from the very get go.

Canadian Factor: 6.5 DID YOU KNOW PEOPLE THOUGHT CANADA COULD BE A GATEWAY TO CHINA, BUT IT WASN’T?!? Nicollet failed, but his failure led to other people failing, which marginally helped things overall. Canada!

#28: Responsible Government (13.9 points)

The plot: A Powerful White Man (Lord Melbourne) Is Skeptical of Canada having democracy. Unfortunately, the person he’s talking to is the most powerful woman in the world.

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Yep, that’s what Queen Victoria is saying. Victoria and Lord Melbourne then talk about this strange “Responsible Government” idea like they’re in an Aaron Sorkin show (except the gender roles are reversed), doing a walk-and-talk as they repeat the phrase “Responsible Government” three times before finally explaining it.

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The scene ends with some charming music that straight out of Masterpiece Theatre.

The takeaway: Canada has Responsible Government, even if we aren’t 100% sure what that is.

Heritage Factor: 8. I can’t tell whether the incredibly stilted dialogue is laziness or an attempt to mimic monarchy speaking patterns in the Victorian era. Either way, I’m a fan. Add in the period costumes and outstanding beard on Melbourne, and we have a winner.

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Canadian Factor: 5.9. DID YOU KNOW CANADA WAS FOUNDED SUPER-RESPONSIBLY OVER A 40-YEAR PERIOD OF INCREMENTAL REFORMS?!?

#27: Grey Owl (14.1 points)

The plot: We’re joined right away by the Narrator, who talks about Grey Owl. He said he was an aboriginal from Canada, but really was just an Englishman named Archie. We’re told he’s to be “a reluctant guest at a gathering a First Nations”. So there’s your dramatic device to talk about identity and ethics for the rest of the Heritage Minute.

But that’s not important. You know what is? Grey Owl is played by Pierce Brosnan.

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And this was made in 1999! What is James Bond doing in a Heritage Minute?

Well, there was a biopic of Grew Owl out that year, directed by Richard Attenborough. You’ve never heard about it because it grossed under a million dollars. But it happened, and I presume this Minute was a marketing tie-in or something, and that’s how an A-List celebrity got into a Heritage Minute.

Anyways, the First Nations head sizes Bond ups, and looks momentarily pissed. And then…

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Pranked. “Men become what they dream. You have dreamed well,” Sean Connery is told.

Then they dance.

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The takeaway: All things considered, Daniel Craig is probably the best Bond.

Heritage Factor: 8. Contrived staredown scenes and a Hollywood cameo certainly help this score. It’s also unique in that a morally ambiguous subject is presented, and no declaration is made one way or the other.

Canadian Factor: 6.1 DID YOU KNOW CANADA HAD A HERITAGE MOMENT WITH A FAMOUS PERSON?!? Media stories about Heritage Minutes still mention Brosnan’s involvement.

#26: Expo ’67 (14.3 points)

The plot: Montreal, 1963. Early rock n’ roll is playing on an imaginary radio. Some guy makes a bold statement.

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Apparently we’re talking about the Expo. So how are we going to build whatever “this” is, asks the other guy?

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Go on…

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Ah. We’re then informed that Expo was the greatest thing ever, which sure, whatever you say, boomers.

The takeaway: All billion-dollar nation building exercises begin with two men talking down by the river.

Heritage Factor: 6.2. Great work in turning the decision to build islands into a Burnt Toast “eureka” moment, and some incredibly jaunty music kicks in at the end. This is a distinctive Minute, but it’s not especially memorable.

Canadian Factor: 8.1. DID YOU KNOW CANADA HOSTED THE BEST WORLD’S FAIR?!? Seriously, Expo ’67 gets mentioned time and time again as this great nation-defining thing, and everyone my age bracket and below just sort has to smile and nod. I understand why we use massive festivals as a lens to view modernization—people in Vancouver have been lionizing Expo ’86 as a before and after point for the city since…well, 1986—but I wonder if other countries define themselves by big parties that end with piles of debt and a few fancy trinkets left over. Ah well. I suppose you had to be there.

Now, the 2010 Olympics. You want to talk about a party…

Part 5: It’s the final countdown

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