A look at Canada Day through Heritage Minutes

Edana Robitaille
Published: July 1, 2022

Canada Day celebrations are back this year after being curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a day to celebrate the nation’s shared history and achievements. People can expect big events, fireworks and get-togethers with family and friends.

Historica Canada, a national charitable organization that works to educate people about Canadian history, has been producing and broadcasting one-minute-long dramatizations of important moments in Canadian history for over 30 years.

These dramatizations are known as Heritage Minutes. Their goal is to help viewers understand the origins of Canada's entrenched values, and why we celebrate them. They are well-known by Canadians and a common cultural reference.

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Heritage Minutes span the spectrum of Canadian contributions to science, women's rights, pop culture and sports. There are also several that highlight how immigrants and refugees have shaped our country and made it what it is today.

Without immigration, Canada could not maintain its labour force and the economy would falter. Some Heritage Minutes attempt to capture the significant impacts of immigration in Canada’s history.

Immigrants helped settle the prairies

Up until the late 19th century, the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba were sparsely populated. At that time, a wave of immigrants from Ukraine arrived in these provinces and established farms and settlements. Much like the current influx of Ukrainians, they were escaping Russian rule.


Canada’s history as a haven for refugees

The Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024 highlights a goal of welcoming over 60,000 refugees each year into 2024. Canada is frequently the end destination for those fleeing dangerous situations in their home countries and Canada works to ensure that refugees and their families can establish themselves and live peacefully. For example, Canada was one of the few countries that would accept refugees at the end Vietnam war.


Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people

Canada may have a reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants but not all Canadian history is positive. Canada Day began to take on a somber note in 2021 as the bodies of thousands of Indigenous children who died in residential schools began to be discovered around the country. With that in mind, there is growing backlash against celebrating Canada Day at all.


A Canadian classic

This Heritage Minute is not directly related to immigration but according to Historica Canada, it is the most popular and considered a quotable classic. It is one of the older Heritage Minutes and baby boomers, generation X and millennials frequently saw it on television before streaming services were the norm. For inexplicable reasons, it has become a cultural reference and is synonymous with being confused and overwhelmed.

It features Dr Wilder Penfield, a brain surgeon who immigrated to Montreal from the United States. He spent his career helping people with seizure disorders.


Things to think about

Canada Day exists to celebrate Canada’s achievements, history, global contributions, and high standard of living. It is a day to relax, enjoy the summer and take pride in how Canada has progressed as a nation. It is also an opportunity to reflect on how much work still needs to be done to ensure that all Canadians and newcomers are treated equally.

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