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To date, not one Heritage Minute video, highlights Canada’s vibrant mining history. – Stan Sudol, Owner/Editor RepublicOfMining.com.
In the beginning, there was Valour Road, Jacques Plante and the Underground Railroad. Then Nellie McClung, Superman and the Halifax Explosion. Soon, dozens more. By 1995, four years after their launch, Heritage Minutes were a Canadian institution: 60-second snapshots of cultural history thrust into TV screens from coast to coast to coast, injecting education into entertainment.
But then they fizzled, trickling out in fewer numbers. For a long time, there were no new vignettes at all. Then, in 2012, the staff at Historica Canada, the Minutes’ chief steward, had an idea as simple as cutting a hole in basketball’s first baskets – their bite-size history lessons were a perfect fit for the high-speed, high-nostalgia digital age.
So Historica made the first new pair in seven years. Then another pair. And another. They launched them in public, to more and more people each time – at an art deco theatre, the Hockey Hall of Fame, a Winnipeg Jets game. Then, in March, they dropped a mashup of 53 Heritage Minutes to recreate Drake’s Started from the Bottom. It got more than 100,000 YouTube views in 48 hours.
Nearly 25 years since they were first broadcast across Canada, Heritage Minutes have got their swagger back. Their original target audience – young, impressionable Canadians – is now a huge, digitally savvy slice of the country’s makeup, and there’s little they crave more than nostalgia and parody. As Historica launches its 80th Heritage Minute on Wednesday, it’s proving that the Minutes can be both those things.
“We get that there’s a lot of nostalgia there,” says Davida Aronovitch, who oversees the Minutes program at Historica. “While we take the Minutes very seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We can be in on that joke.”
Responsibility for Heritage Minutes has changed hands a few times over the decades, so their origin story is a bit murky. But at Historica’s current headquarters, the lore goes that they were first conceived in the late 1980s during a conversation between liquor magnate-turned-philanthropist Charles Bronfman and broadcaster Patrick Watson.
Mr. Bronfman was concerned that young Canadians didn’t care enough about history, and, after seeing a particularly convincing commercial, he realized that he could use TV to sell Canadian enthusiasm. They tapped a crew of prominent executives to raise money to form an organization focused on Canadian history and citizenship.
“This was a decade after the first referendum in Quebec,” says Anthony Wilson-Smith, Historica’s president and a former Maclean’s editor. On top of worries that Canadians “didn’t have significant appreciation” for their heritage, he says, it aligned with Mr. Bronfman’s contemporary concerns: He was worried for Quebec’s future in Canada.
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