Canadians of our century

By Еvan Osentоn

Emily Carr, Victoria, British Columbia (1871-1945)

Among Canadian painters, Emily Carr stands alone. Indeed, while the Group of Seven and Tom Thompson may be considered more influential than Carr, they fed off each other while working together in Ontario where benefactors weren’t scarce.

Carr, on the other hand, lived and worked alone in underpopulated British Columbia, only drawing inspiration from other artists in the form of encouragement, and even then, only later in her career.

Carr’s style was similar to the Group of Seven’s in that it not only represented the Canadian landscape, it found inspiration there as well–unrefined, non-homogenous, vast, but not sparse. Carr’s representations of the West Coast have survived, not merely on canvas, but in reality as well.

More than just an artist, Carr was an activist, albeit a pacifist. By painting the disappearing ecology and native cultures of British Columbia, Carr garnered attention and helped encourage their preservation. She gained respect from cultured white Canadians later in life, but she was long respected by the natives with whom she was closest. It is impossible to think of Carr now without thinking of her nickname, Klee Wyck, the Laughing One.

Few know that Carr also captured a Governor General’s Award for her writing.

Carr’s artistic ability, early ecological pursuits, cultural awareness, and renowned eccentricity make her one of Canada’s most influential people, particularly in art, but also in many other fields.
Runners up: The Group of Seven, Tom Thompson, John Hall

Neil Young, Toronto, Ontario (1945- )

"It’s better to burn out than fade away." My My, Hey Hey (out of the Blue) – Neil Young

From his days in Buffalo Springfield to his collaboration with Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth in the early ’90s, Neil Young experienced and influenced the world of rock music like few musicians, Canadian or otherwise. Young is a living legend, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, known for his song-writing, guitar mastery and lyrical depth. He has released 32 albums, the best selling of which, Harvest Moon, sold over 4 million copies. However, Young is known nearly as much for his music as his eccentricity and unpredictability.

Each of Young’s releases rejects the musical directions suggested by its predecessor; he has embraced folk, electric R&B , electro-techno-pop, rockabilly, country, hard rock, and R&B yet his reluctance to court commercial popularity and strong ties to his native homeland set him apart from more internationally renowned Canadian musicians. Called the "grandfather of grunge," Young’s roots lie in the folk movement of the ’60s and his music is appreciated by listeners young and old around the world; Young was described as, "the greatest chameleon… he transcends generations and stays hip and in touch with laconic ease, indifference and incredible style."

Runners up: Glenn Gould, The Guess Who, The Tragically Hip, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen

Stephen Leacock, Swanmore, England (1869-1944)

While a renowned essayist, professor, political economist, and historian, Stephen Leacock is known best for his sense of humour; an ability he used in large part to help call into question the very definition of Canadian identity.

Raised on a remote farm near Simcoe, Ontario, Leacock rose to such prominence as to be called "the English-speaking world’s best-known humourist." Leacock received numerous awards and accolades for his fiction, literary essays and articles on social issues, politics, economics, science and history–most notably the Leacock Medal for Humour established in his honour. He was particularly renowned for attacking rampant materialism and the worship of technology. Leacock’s satirical methods, while at the time occasionally thought of as cantankerous, are now called "a unique alchemy of compassion and caustic wit."

Worldwide, Leacock is still considered a foremost expert on the theoretical and technical aspects of humour. While some critics have labeled him racist and chauvinist, the majority of scholars appear to consider him essential to the literary makeup of Canada; he has been called everything from "a Canadian Mark Twain" to a man whose writings achieved a timelessness "few writers anywhere have achieved."

Runners up: Mordecai Richler, Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Margaret Laurence, Thompson Highway

Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Montréal, Québec (1919- )

Equally likely to flip the bird to striking miners as he was to quote Greek poetry, Trudeau captivated the population of a country struggling to make its way to the centre of the world stage.

Becoming Liberal leader (and as a result, Prime Minister) in 1967, Trudeau was an atypical politician at a time when what it meant to be Canadian was changing.

Canadians were invigorated after celebrating the 1967 centennial and ’67 Montréal world’s fair. A basic redefinition of Canadian society was occurring. In Québec, nationalists were becoming restless, wishing to turn up the volume upon their Quiet Revolution.

On the eve of the national election, 1968, the young continental who had yet to win an election as prime minister attended a parade in Québec.

When protesters became violent, Trudeau refused to leave, against police wishes . That night, CBC cameras showed him sitting admist the hail of Coke bottles. Westerners ate it up and the Liberals returned with a landslide. The love affair would not last over the next 16 years of his reign.

Trudeau brought philosphy to government and had the determination to see it through, something sadly missed in today’s anything-for-a-contradictory-stance parliament.

Love him or hate him, the one thing you could not do was ignore him.
Runners up: William Lyon Mackenzie King, Joey Smallwood, Don Cherry

Thomas (Tommy) Douglas, Falkirk, Scotland (1904-1986)

Tommy Douglas was the enigmatic leader of the first socialist government elected in North America. He emigrated to Canada at the age of six, eventually becoming a Baptist minister in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. After he was exposed to the Social Gospel and witnessed firsthand the Great Depression, Douglas became convinced the then unpopular socialist cause was valid, that the underprivileged should no longer be exploited and that civil liberties must be upheld above all else. He was elected a CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) Member of Parliament in 1935, soon earning repute as an eloquent speaker and moral man, capable of inspiring others through humour and his preaching that democracy should be defined on moral, ethical and religious terms. He moved to provincial politics in 1944, leading the CCF to its first election victory the same year, beginning a 17-year stint as Saskatchewan Premier.

During this tenure he implemented programs and policies such as Medicare, pension plans and bargaining rights for civil servants; ideas that are now firmly accepted and vigorously protected across Canada. Douglas went on to become the first leader of the Federal NDP Party and will always be remembered as a humane man whose keen sense of moral vision allowed him to establish democratic socialism in the mainstream of Canadian politics.

Runners Up: Pierre Trudeau, René Lévesque, Lester B. Pearson, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Brian Mulroney

Mark Messier, Sherwood Park, Alberta (1961- )

Mark Messier is one of the most complete hockey players ever. He has quietly put up the fourth-highest regular season points total in NHL history–and highest among active players–even though he’s usually noted for his ruggedness and leadership. That combination makes Messier one of only two players to be elected to an all-star at two positions, and a man who has become the blueprint for today’s ideal NHLer: the power forward. While Wayne Gretzky was named Canada’s Athlete of the Century, his game is more difficult to emulate than Messier’s, thus Messier has been more influential than his former teammate and best friend.

In a 21-year career, Messier has six Stanley Cup rings, one of the highest totals of the modern era. He captained two of those teams and was regarded as a leader in the other four wins, even in Gretzky’s presence. Those six cups have also helped him score the second highest playoff points total in history. Perhaps the most notable point for Messier’s influence is his decision to return to Canada, knowing Vancouver would probably be his last NHL team, despite the fact he could have made more money with an American team.

He never discussed why he came back to Canada, but it made him more of a hero nonetheless. Oddly enough, this most hyperbolic of Canadian players–tough and respected, with a scoring touch–was left off the roster of Canada’s first all-professional Olympic team in 1998, touching off an uproar among the public and the media. Had the team been a little tougher, it will forever be argued, they might have had a shot at a medal.

It has been suggested that Messier could break Gordie Howe’s career record of 1767 games. Howe did it in 26 seasons. Messier is in his 21st season and, as of Dec. 8, had played in 1429 games. While he has already assured himself of a spot in the Hall of Fame with his scoring totals, individual awards and Stanley Cups, breaking that last mark would confirm an infinite influence on Canada’s game.
Runners up: Wayne Gretzky, Marilyn Bell, Tom Longboat, Gordie Howe

Conrad Black, Montréal, Québec (1944- )

"Journalism–a wretched occupation taken up by lazy, opinionated, alcoholic hacks." – Conrad Black

Love him or fear him, Conrad Black is the most influential man in Canada today. He owns 60 of the 105 daily newspapers in Canada, a collection he began to accumulate in 1969 when he and a few partners began buying English language papers in the Montréal area. By 1978 Black had taken control of Argus Corp. through a series of intricate corporate and financial manoeuvres, a group that gave him control of a large number of Canadian corporations and allowed him the national pedestal from which to disseminate his views.

Since 1978, Black is an example to media barons everywhere, envious of his near-monopoly on Canadian news and the resulting influence his not-so-well hidden agenda can carry. He is known for starving out the competition–witness the National Post’s current death match with the Globe and Mail. Ironically, among Black’s many achievements, the Post is one of the greatest. The first national paper of any significance to emerge in decades, it has sparked unprecedented interest in the newspaper medium among middle-class Canadians.

Perhaps more than any other Canadian, Black has the power to shape public consciousness, and the question of the morality of such power has placed the Canadian media in a scrutinous light never before witnessed in our short history.

Runners up: Bud McDougald, David Suzuki, Marshall McLuhan, Foster Hewitt, George Brown

Terry Fox, Winnipeg, Manitoba (1958-1981)

After losing his right leg to cancer in 1977, a young BC kinesiology student named Terry Fox decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. His "Marathon of Hope" began April 1980 in Newfoundland, running an average of 42 kilometers every day for 143 days.

Upon the discovery of cancer in his lungs in September, Fox was forced to abandon his run near Thunder Bay, Ontario. He died 10 months later at 22 years of age. Before his death in June 1981, Fox’s ‘Marathon of Hope’ raised over $24 million for cancer research. Fox would go on to become a national hero and a symbol of hope for people everywhere. A nation desperately in need of a role model found one, and a cause desperately in need of support found a man willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Proof alone of Terry Fox’s enormous contribution to our national psyche is the annual "Marathon of Hope", now averaging 1.2 million participants and raising over $17.5 million a year for cancer research. Terry Fox Runs are not just a Canadian phenomenon–they have spread across the United States and to diverse places such as the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Australia, Bangladesh, and Brazil.

Runners up: Norman Bethune, Rick Hansen, Grey Owl, Bruce Cockburn

John Candy, Toronto, Ontario (1950-1994)

Not only one of Canada’s most loved comedians, John Candy was revered around the world. His sudden death during the prime of his life on a movie set in Mexico served to immortalize him as one of the greatest comedians of all time.

Candy starred in, directed, or produced over 50 movies, starring in such memorable comedies as Uncle Buck, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Who is Harry Crumb? and The Blues Brothers. His sense of humour, alternatively ascerbic and compassionate, made him a favourite of young and old viewers.

Fiercely proud of his heritage, Candy was one of only a few of his Canadian comic peers to constantly remind interviewers that he wasn’t American–in fact, Candy’s last movie released before he died was Canadian Bacon, a low-budget homage to all that makes Canada different from her neighbour to the south.

Long before Candy made it big in Hollywood, he was instrumental in the success of Second City TV with Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy; SCTV was perhaps the only Canadian comedy series to make it big outside of our own country. From 1976-78 and 1981-83 he played such memorable characters as Johnny LaRue, Mayor Tommy Shanks, and, of course, Yosh Schmenge.

Candy was multidimensional–he was part of the group Northern Lights who sang "Tears Are Not Enough", he was a part owner of the Toronto Argonauts, and his voice was featured in countless animated movies.

On top of everything else, Candy was reportedly one of the nicest guys in show business–a delightful interview and a man who never let fame obscure the fact that he was really just a lucky guy from Toronto who got paid to be very, very funny.

Runners up: William Shatner, The Kids in the Hall, Bruno Gerussi, Mike Myers

Sir Frederick Banting, Alliston, Ontario (1891-1941)
Charles Best, West Pembroke, Maine (1899-1978)

Banting and Best, as they will forever be known, were the codiscoverers of insulin, a spectacularly successful therapy for controlling diabetes. While Banting is known as the principal discoverer of insulin because his idea launched their research, Best was invaluable to Banting in the research, so much so that while the reportedly egotistical Banting launched a campaign to discredit his senior collaborators, he shared his 1923 Nobel Prize (and the lucrative prize money) with Best.

Banting was reputed to be a poor scientist; his experiments were crudely constructed and he was poorly trained. However, Best was a renowned academic (who only got to work with Banting because he won a coin toss with a peer) and is credited with being the real brains behind their discovery.

The two are legends in the Canadian scientific community; however, fame would prove to be the insecure Banting’s undoing. He was known as the most famous Canadian of his time, a fact largely responsible for the development of his turbulent personal life. He turned to painting later in life and disappeared from the public eye until his death in an airplane crash. Best became a professor of physiology at the University of Toronto and became an important researcher of chlorine and carbohydrate metabolisms. Their other accomplishments and idiosyncrasies aside, millions of diabetics around the world will remember these two Canadians for their discovery of insulin, a discovery which has no doubt saved innumerable lives.

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