The return of the heritage minutes

This year, January 11 not only marked an important anniversary for our nation, but also the return of a much loved television vignette.

Historica Canada released the first two episodes in its new series of Heritage Minutes, fittingly, on the 199th birthday of Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald.

For anyone who grew up in the 90s, the return of the Heritage Minutes series is a heavy dose of nostalgia.

“I remember the brain surgery one,” says Andree Em Robinette, a museum studies student at Algonquin College.

“I smell burnt toast!”

Robinette’s friend, Michelle Sims, didn’t know Canadians invented basketball until she saw one of the Heritage Minutes years ago.

“You see the commercials before you learn about them in school,” she said.

In a press release coinciding with the arrival of the new minutes, Historica Canada cites a 2008 national survey that found 42 per cent of Canadians couldn’t identify MacDonald as the first Prime Minister.

In the same poll, 75 per cent couldn’t identify Sir Wilfred Laurier as the first francophone Prime Minister.

Peter Hodgins, a professor of Canadian Studies at Carleton University, wrote his doctoral thesis on the first series of Heritage Minutes released in 1995.

He sees the minutes as less historical fact and more popular folklore.

“Are they actually telling the history or are they making myths about the history?” asked Hodgins.

“Is their goal to educate or just make people love the country?”

The budget for the new minutes is paid in part by the current federal government, through a grant of $360,000.

The previous generation of Heritage Minutes became a footnote in the sponsorship scandal that ended the Martin government. Quebec journalist Normand Lester traced the mercurial funding for several of the Heritage Minutes back to the Liberal party.

Regardless of the political involvement, Sims looks back on the series with fondness and looks forward to seeing the new generation of Heritage Minutes.

“A lot of us don’t have cable, they should put them on YouTube so we can watch them,” she said.

Historica Canada will be releasing 75 new minutes to commemorate the Canadian Confederation.