By Joan Eyolfson Cadham

List of inspirational Canadians should be more diverse

As a lead-up to Canada’s 150th birthday, the federal government established a website where people could nominate “inspirational” Canadians and the accomplishments that most make them proud. More than 12,000 people voted online. Cabinet ministers held round-table discussions asking participants the same two questions.

Most Inspirational Canadians, top 10: Pierre Trudeau (1919 - 2000); Terry Fox (1958 - 1981); Tommy Douglas (1904 - 1986); Lester B. Pearson (1898 - 1972); Chris Hadfield (born 1959); David Suzuki (born 1936); Jack Layton (1950 - 2011); Sir John A. Macdonald (1815 - 1891); Wayne Gretzky (born 1961); Romeo Dallaire (born 1946).

Canada’s Greatest Accomplishments, top 10: medicare; peacekeeping; the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms; contribution to the Second World War; the Canadarm; multiculturalism; contribution to the First World War; bilingualism; space exploration; and the Constitution Act of 1982.

Both are noble lists. Nice cross-section of Canadians. Until, perhaps, a closer look at the inspirational list shows that it’s made up of nine white guys and one male of Japanese parentage. Except for John A. Macdonald, nobody born until the cusp of the 20th century. No women, no First Nations, nobody, except for David Sazuki, who isn’t white. And, yet, one item on the list of Canada’s greatest accomplishments is multiculturalism.

So, here are a few more candidates for inspirational Canadian, in no particular order.

E. Pauline Johnson (1961 - 1913), poet, a Mohawk from Ontario who wrote the iconic Saskatchewan poem The Legend of Qu’Appelle as well as The Song My Paddle Sings, one that many of us learned to recite: “August is laughing across the sky,/Laughing while paddle, canoe and I/,Drift, drift. . . ”

A statue of Oscar Peterson (1925 - 2007) can be seen in downtown Ottawa. Regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time, Peterson should surely be on any list of the most inspirational Canadians. (M. Weber photo)

Oscar Peterson (1925 - 2007), Canadian pianist, regarded, during his lifetime, as the greatest jazz pianist in the world.

Donovan Bailey (born 1967), sprinter, Olympic gold medalist, the first Canadian to legally break the 10-second barrier in the 100 metres, who gave us back our pride after the Ben Johnson scandal.

Tom Jackson (born 1948), singer, actor, humanitarian. He was born on the One Arrow reserve in Saskatchewan, left school at 15, spent seven years on the back streets of Winnipeg, credits someone who rescued him, and has devoted his life to returning the favour through the Huron Carol Concert Series followed by Singing For Supper tours staged in churches and school gyms, all in support of Food Banks. After a cast member of North of 60 committed suicide, he initiated the suicide-prevention Dreamcatcher Tour. He has been honoured more times than can be listed, for his artistry and his dedication to the less fortunate.

Mary Ann Shadd (1823 - 1893), the first woman publisher in North America, she established the Provincial Freeman, an anti-slavery newspaper, in part for slaves who had escaped to Canada from the USA, in Ontario in 1853.

Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874 - 1942), author, whose stories of orphaned Anne Shirley have not only endured but have touched the hearts of thousands of Japanese tourists who come to Canada just to visit to Green Gables.

Tom Longboat (1887 - 1949), athlete from Six Nations reserve in Ontario, who ran the 1907 Boston Marathon 4:59 seconds faster than any one of the previous winners.
Nancy Greene (born 1943), skier, who won gold and silver at the 1968 Olympics, and was named Canada’s female athlete of the 20th century.

Louis Riel (1844 - 1885), hanged as a traitor and now recognized as a Founding Father of Manitoba.

Roberta Lynn Bondar (born 1945), from Ontario, Canada’s first female astronaut and the first neurologist in space, with many honours including the Order of Canada, the NASA Space Medal, and induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

Jordin John Kudluk Tootoo (born 1983), a Canadian professional hockey player, of Inuit and Ukrainian descent, the first Inuk player and the first player to grow up in Nunavut to participate in an NHL game.

Kateri Tekakwitha (1656 - 1680), a Mohawk who lived in the mission village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, in 2012 became the first native North American woman to be canonized.

OK. I know. That’s a dozen, not 10. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg, as far as my list goes.

But back to the original list. Do we not know our history beyond a few dozen years? Do we not know the names of any Canadians except for current politicians, the people we see on TV news, and our special hero, Terry Fox? At a time when we claim to live on the Information Highway, is that highway both short and very narrow? It’s enough to make a person wonder.

Eyolfson Cadham is an award-winning columnist and freelance journalist who moved from Montreal to Foam Lake in 1992. She is a member of Saskatchewan Writers Guild and is an oral storyteller who has professional status with Storytellers of Canada.

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