Who is The Greatest Canadian? CBC viewers respond
On April 5, 2004
the polls opened for Canadians to nominate their choice for the man or woman
they felt was the best Canadian in history. On October 17 of the same year,
CBC announced the results. The top 40 Canadians were counted down in order,
followed by a revealation of the top 10.
Unlike the other 40, the popular vote rankings of the top ten Canadians were not revealed on October 17th. The CBC wanted to string out the special by another month so they made us all vote a second time over the course of many weeks and many more specials.
Finally, on November
29 they held the 12th and final Greatest Canadian special to reveal the
rankings of the top then.
THE TOP TEN CANDIANS OF ALL TIME
|military figure||author||TV personality|
|rank||Name||Profession / reputation||Died|
|Tommy Douglas||NDP leader, "founder" of Canadian healthcare system||1986|
|Terry Fox||Cancer activist who died during an attempted cross-country marathon||1981|
|Pierre Trudeau||Liberal Prime Minister of the 70's and 80's||2000|
|Dr. Frederick Banting||inventor of Insulin||1941|
|David Suzuki||CBC nature show host, environmentalist|
|Lester Pearson||Prime Minister, "founder" of modern peacekeeping||1972|
|Don Cherry||CBC hockey commentator|
|Sir John A. MacDonald||Canada's first Prime Minister||1891|
|Alexander Graham Bell||purported inventor of the telephone||1922|
|Wayne Gretzky||hockey player|
Here's some interesting statistics for you on the top 10. Three of the top ten (MacDonald, Douglas, and Bell) were born in Scotland. Alexander Graham Bell's status as a Canadian is very debatable, as he only lived a brief portion of his life in Canada, never becoming a permanent resident. His face appears on the Scottish money and it says "citizen of the USA" on his tombstone. I strongly doubt he ever considered himself "Canadian."
Three of the ten are still living. Of the seven dead, four have died in the last 35 years, with three of the four dying in the last 18 years, which means half of the top ten have been alive within my lifetime. John A. is the only member of the list who died in the 19th Century.
The top ten seems to reaffirm the "conventional wisdom" regarding the three things Canadians supposedly love the most. Healthcare, peacekeeping, and the CBC are routinely listed as Canada's proudest accomplishments, and the top ten includes the leading representatives of all three.
Now for the top 50:
|rank||Name||Profession / reputation||Died|
|11||Louis Riel||executed Metis rebel leader and politician||1885|
|12||Jean Vanier||founder of international charity for mentally retarded children|
|13||"Stompin' Tom" Connors||country singer|
|15||Peter Gzowski||radio talk show host||2002|
|16||Gen. Roméo Dallaire||UN Commander of failed peacekeeping mission in Rwanda|
|17||Stephen Lewis||former Ontario NDP leader, poverty activist|
|19||Bobby Orr||hockey player|
|20||Mike Myers||comedic actor|
|21||"The Unknown Soldier"||symbolic dead World War I soldier|
|22||Harold A. Rogers||founder of Kin Canada, a secret men's society *.|
|23||Maurice Richard||hockey player||2000|
|24||Gen. Arthur Currie||WWI general, first to independently command Canadian troops||1933|
|25||Nellie McClung||feminist politician, fought for women's suffrage||1951|
|26||Dr. Norman Bethune||Communist surgeon who served in Mao's Red Army||1939|
|28||Sir Isaac Brock||British General in War of 1812||1812|
|29||Jim Carrey||comedic actor|
|30||Rick Hansen||parapalegic activist who did a global marathon in his wheelchair|
|31||Pierre Berton||author, historian, CBC host|
|32||Michael J. Fox||comedic actor|
|34||Hal Anderson||DJ from Winnipeg radio station *.|
|35||Laura Secord||British heronie from War of 1812, chocolate company founder||1868|
|36||"Mr. Dressup"||Children's TV show host on CBC||2001|
|37||Tecumseh||Native American leader who led Indian forces against the US in War of 1812||1813|
|38||Mario Lemieux||hockey player|
|39||Bret "The Hitman" Hart||WWF wrestler|
|41||John Candy||comedic actor||1994|
|42||Sir Sandford Fleming||inventor of universial time zones||1915|
|43||Wilfrid Laurier||First French-Canadian Prime Minister||1919|
|44||Mary Maxwell||Bahai' religious activist, wife of Bahai' leader*.|
|45||Jean Chrétien||recent Prime Minister|
|47||John Diefenbaker||Conservative Prime Minister from the 50's||1979|
|48||Billy Bishop||World War I fighter pilot||1956|
|49||Mackenzie King||War War II-era Prime Minister||1950|
|50||Rick Mercer||comedian, actor, CBC TV host|
* three of the above top 50 Canadians won their spots as the result of carefully orchestrated mass e-mailing campaigns amongst their followers. No one has ever heard of Harold Rogers, Hal Anderson, or Mary Maxwell before, and I don't consider them legitimate members of this list any more than I would consider "Principal McDurmon Sucks!" a legitimate candidate in a student council election. As a result, I'm excluding them from my tallies.
Some interesting observations:
48% of the top 50 Canadians are still alive.
There are only four women in the top 50, and three of them are pop stars. There are only three non-whites. Avril Lavigne is by far the youngest living member of the list.
"Stompin' Tom" Connors is considered to be in the elite top 15% of great Canadians, and is more popular than the unknown soldier and five prime ministers.
Almost all of the movie stars and singers listed no longer live in Canada. Many of them now have American citizenship, in fact. Many more of the above can similarly not be really be considered "Canadians," as they lived long before Canada ever became a nation, let alone before Canadian citizenship was created. As much as many Canadians would like to pretend otherwise, the 1812 war was not a Canadian war, and the leading players were not Canadians. Laura Secord and Sir Isaac Brock were both staunch British loyalists and would never have considered themselves as anything else. The Indian leader Tecumseh didn't even live on Canadian soil. Apparently simply opposing the US in a war makes you an instant Canadian in our minds. That says a lot about the Canadian identity.
Alright. So of the top 50, the totals are:
|inventors (3)||activists (4)||hockey players (3)|
|politicians (9)||actors / TV figures (8)||musicians (7)|
|military figures (7)||authors (1)||radio personalities (1)|
I counted Pierre Burton as an author, but considering he spent about as much time on CBC as he did writing books, it may be more fair to count him as TV personality. If that was the case then TV personalities and actors comprise the majority of popular Canadians, followed by politicians, with military figures and musicians tied for third place.
Seven of the nine politicians are Prime Ministers. Chretien was the only living PM chosen.
All of the actors are comedians, which I suppose is consistent with Canada's self-proclaimed status as the world's funniest nation.
Interestingly enough, five of the 50 are affiliated with the CBC in some way. The number expands if you count the actors who had brief roles on CBC programs of the past, ie: John Candy.
But how about the rest of the list, the people that CBC didn't include in the TV special? CBC revealed the next 50 greatest Canadians on their website the day after.
I needed to create some new categories for this one:
|athlete||astronaut||artist||geologist / surveyor|
|rank||Name||Profession / reputation||Died|
|52||Craig Kielburger||Teenage human-rights activist|
|53||Gordie Howe||hockey player|
|54||William "Intrepid" Stephenson||British spy during World War II||1989|
|57||Lucy Maud Montgomery||author of "Anne of Green Gables" series||1942|
|58||Paul Henderson||hocky player, scored winning goal against USSR in 1972|
|59||Tim Horton||hockey player, founder of donut shop chain||1974|
|60||Stan Rogers||folk singer||1983|
|61||William Edmond Logan||early Canadian geologist||1875|
|62||Marshall McLuhan||professor of media studies||1980|
|63||Roberta Bondar||first Canadian woman in space|
|64||Brian Mulroney||Conservative Prime Minister|
|65||Burton Cummings||Rock musician, lead singer of "The Guess Who"|
|66||Sheila Fraser||current Auditor General of Canada. In 2002, she blew the whistle on high-profile money laundering scandal within current Liberal government.|
|67||Patrick Roy||hockey player|
|68||Jean Béliveau||hockey player|
|69||René Lévesque||First separatist Premier of Quebec||1987|
|70||James Naismith||inventor of basketball||1939|
|71||Margaret Atwood||feminist author|
|72||Anne C. Cools||first black woman appointed to the Senate of Canada|
|73||David Thompson||map-maker, explorer||1857|
|74||Emily Murphy||judge, argued women had the right to be appointed as senators||1933|
|76||John McCrae||World War I military surgeon, wrote "In Flander's Fields"||1918|
|77||Dr. Charles Best||scientist, partner of Frederick Banting||1978|
|78||Robert Munsch||children's author|
|79||Ed Belfour||hockey player|
|70||"Chief" Dan George||Native American actor||1981|
|81||Sandra Schmirler||gold-medal winning curler|
|82||Dan Aykroyd||comedic actor|
|83||Elijah Harper||Native politician who defeated the Meech Lake accord through filibustering|
|84||Kurt Browning||figure skater|
|86||Mike Weir||PGA golfer|
|87||Dr. Henry Morgantaler||pro-abortion activist responsible for making the practice legal in Canada|
|88||Farley Mowat||author of stories about wolves|
|89||Donovan Bailey||gold-medal winning sprinter, "The World's Fastest Man"|
|91||Preston Manning||founder and leader of Reform Party|
|92||John Molson||founder of "Molson Canadian" beer company||1836|
|95||Lord Stanley||British Governor General, creator of the Stanley Cup||1908|
|96||Geddy Lee||rock musician from the Band "Rush"|
|97||Louise Arbour||Supreme Court Judge, current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights|
|99||Sam Steele||North West Mounted Police officer who quelled last Native uprisings||1919|
|100||J. S. Woodsworth||founder and leader of the CCF / NDP party||1942|
It doesn't appear that anyone in the bottom 50 got in as a result of a mass-mailing campaign. The only possible case for suspicion would be Shelia Fraser, who may have been chosen as the result of a "protest vote" by anti-Liberals.
I think if one clear message can be drawn from these results it's that French Canadians barely participated in the CBC's poll. When Canadian polling firms do national surveys on the "greatest Canadian" Rene Levesque is usually winds up in the top three. In this special, he only earned enough votes to place 69th, behind a bunch of Anglo generals and hated Prime Ministers. I've heard that the CBC didn't run this special on their French-language channel, which if true would obviously have been a key factor in the poor showing of Francophones.
Other notable Canadians
not on the list include
-William Lyon Mackenzie
So overall, whom do Canadians love the most?
"Stompin' Tom" Connors
|military figures (11)||
Gen. Roméo Dallaire
|hockey players (11)||
|TV personalities (3)||
I realize that some of my categories may be a little vague, and there is certainly more than a few cases in which one person may qualify for many categories. "Activist" for example is a very broad category, as is "TV personality."
It's clear however that Canadians love their politicians most of all. It makes sense in my opinion as I think Canada is a fundamentally political nation. Singers are the second most popular group, and if we were to combine them, along with actors and TV personalities into one "celebrities" category then it would be the most popular group of all, capturing 28% of the list. The famed Canadian love of hockey remains well reflected in the list, with hockey players more popular among Canadians than their artists, inventors, authors, and explorers.
Because I like politics, let's see who the most popular Prime Ministers are:
|overall rank||original rank|
|John A. MacDonald||8|
Do we confuse fame with greatness?