August 1998
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Canadian Content- Part II: Tidbits of History

by John Hansen

In his continuing attempt to explain Canadian culture to the world, this month John Hansen tackles the subject of Canadian history as presented in bite-sized chunks.

When we Canadians sit down to a night of "Must See T.V.", imported fresh from the USA, we are often treated to a lesson in history. As local television stations here run their own commercials, rather than those from the states, space is often given to public service announcements. Lately, these PSAs have been in the form of Heritage Moments: 30 second moments from the pantheon of Canadian history.

The moments themselves are nothing if not well-filmed. Presented in letter- box format, the Heritage Moments have a vaguely cinematic quality to them. You get the idea that you're watching scenes from a biographical movie that was never filmed. The goal of the ads is to give Canadians a sense of who we are and where we come from by showing us brief moments in our history.

While seeking to use television as an educational tool is always an admirable act, there is a small problem in the whole concept. Canadian history is admittedly quite dull. We had no revolutions, no civil wars fought on our soil. Heck, we didn't even have an Elvis Presley.

Not having much to draw on, the makers of the Heritage Moments give us other ways to instill national pride. We are treated to the stirring story of Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens, inventor of the goalie mask. We get the story of the Irish orphans adopted by Quebecois families, but chose to keep their family names, which explains people who can't speak English but have the last name of Johnson. We have the story of the Canadian solidier's bear named Winnie (for his home town, Winnipeg) who inspired that guy to write the Winnie the Pooh stories. We get the story of Norman Bethune, the communist field doctor who worked for Mao Zedong during his revolution and who was one of the chief architects of our national health care system. And we are treated to Torontonian Joe Shuster's crazy idea to write about a new comic book character named Superman.

Oh, yeah, and the guy who came up with the idea to put a maple leaf on our flag.

Oddly missing are Vancouverites Douglas Coupland, inventor of the term "Generation X," and Douglas Gibson, inventor of the term "cyberspace."

Not exactly stirring stuff, but with no Oliver Cromwells, T.E. Lawrences, Julius Cesars, or General Pattons in our history, we take what we can get. While the ads themselves are pretty sombre and serious, they have already inspired a series of parodies. Molson Canadian beer is now presenting Sacrilege Moments, which treats us to the story of Jacques Strappe of the Montreal Acadians, inventor of the jock strap. Another shows us rejected designs for the flag, such as the one portraying a mountie with Uncle Sam in a headlock.

While commercials of both varieties are good for a laugh (even unintentional ones), what they both fail to realise is that despite their efforts, they forget that there is one national trait that all Canadians share: the ability, nay need, to laugh at our ourselves.

Despite hailing from Canada, John Hansen claims not to know neither Terrence nor Phillip.

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