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Greatest Canadian

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The CBC, the Canadian national television network, completed its search for the greatest Canadian tonight. The concept, borrowed from a BBC series is flawed but it made for an entertaining serial. The last 10 choices are here. The top five in ascending order were geneticist, science writer and broadcaster David Suzuki, medical researcher Frederick Banting, lawyer, intellectual and politician Pierre Trudeau, cancer victim Terry Fox, and minister and politician Tommy Douglas.

Terry Fox and Tommy Douglas both had good campaigns, with good young media- savvy spokespersons presenting their cases to an audience that is largely too young to have remembered either. The fact that they were at the top of the list say something about Canada’s love of the underdog. Fox was a cancer victim. He lost a leg to cancer and embarked on a cross-country run in 1980 to raise awareness and to raise funds for cancer research. He ran half way across Canada,on one leg, before his cancer recurred and metastasized. His determination and courage captured the imagination of a nation.

Tommy Douglas was Baptist minister in Weyburn who became involved in politics in the 1920’s and was one of the signatories to the Regina Manifesto, a social democratic document that was associated with a new political party during the Great Depression. He was regarded as a radical socialist, but his values came from the Bible through the social gospel. His party won a majority in the Saskatchewan Legislature in 1944 and his government introduced public universal automobile accident insurance and medical insurance. The latter outraged the AMA which supported a strike by Saskatchewan doctors with Cold War rhetoric and and cold cash. He is less well known for his determination to release mentally ill adults from Victorian style asylums into community based care – which is not a perfect solution, but which worked reasonably well in Saskatchewan. He went to federal politics in 1960 to lead the NDP, a minor federal party which exercised great influence on national affairs in the minority governments of 1963-68. (He endured adversity when his daughter, the actress Shirley Douglas, (mother of Kiefer Sutherland, was charged with criminal offences when she was mixed up with the Panthers when she lived in California). He was an inspiring speaker. He frequently drew on the metaphor of Blake’s hymn “Jerusalem” and some of his memorable speeches equal and surpass the beauty and power of Dr. King’s speech “I have a dream”.

At times the decency and vision of the Canadian public is very moving.

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About Brave Kelso

  • I voted for Terry Fox because greatness must involve doing something for a goal greater than oneself. Terry Fox got no reward, had no ambition, didn’t have an agenda.

    A bad haircut, constant pain, polyester clothes, running a marathon every day for 144 days for no reward, that’s greatness.

  • Eric Olsen

    what does it indicate that the only one I had heard of is Trudeau? I mean his wife.

  • and here I was expecting to read something about the McKenzie brothers!

  • Pierre Trudeau is the only one in the top ten who I’d actually met, at a movie theatre in Montreal one afternoon at a screening of “Withnail and I”.

    It was interesting that Melissa Auf de Maur, who was advocating for David Suzuki, gave her vote over to Trudeau, even though, as she said, he had her father thrown into jail without charge. Her father, Nick Auf de Maur was a real gent and a great presence in Montreal.

  • Eric Olsen

    my personal favorite would be the amply-chinned avatar of northwestern rectitude, Dudley Do-right

  • Most Canadians, if you gave them the clues of ample chin and rectum, would say “Who is Brian Mulroney” Alex?

  • Brave Kelso

    Fox did well in this project because he had a good spokesperson and because he was a an ordinary Canadian who did one great thing. There are no right answers.

    I don’t know if the great chin made the top hundred. He had a great relationship with Reagan. Ronny used to love his visits to Canada. The sentimental sing-songs, and so much chapstick he didn’t need to use Preparation H for the next month.

    I didn’t realize that Nick Auf de Maur was rounded up under the WMO. PET never apologized but within a decade he introduced Constitutional reform that probably made the WMO unconstitutional. And he was right about the FLQ – the FLQ were the wild fundamentalists of Quebec nationalism, operating on some kind of weird faith that they could bring Quebec into a new age of francophone beauty through blood. How do you deal with that?

  • That was one of the key things which made Trudeau great – that he could suspend civil rights and then go on to repatriate the Constitution and ensure civil rights couldn’t be easily overidden.

    Eloquent, intellectual, worldly, and a daddy in his 70s.

    And look what we have in politics now. None of them worth aspiring to.

  • Brave Kelso

    The great chin was there in top hundred at number 64. I guess his team went to work to repatriate his legacy.

    Noted your post about Pierre Berton, Jim. He was on the list too at number 31. Colourful writer. He had a great system going, a team of historical researchers and writers. He put his stamp on every book. Not a profound historian, but a wonderful storyteller and a great nationalist.

    The top 100 had some interesting choices. International War Crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour. UN Peacekeeper Romeo Dallaire. Curler Sandra Schmirler (who, like Fox inspired in her venue while dying of cancer and trying to leave her family whole). Saint in the making Jean Vanier. Mixed in with hockey and pop stars. Mixed in with politicians I admire and at least one I don’t.