I was recently eating in a restaurant in Halifax when I clearly heard the timid voice of a young Irish girl explaining the importance of her surname to a sympathetic French magistrate and quickly recognized the origin: Someone was playing heritage minutes on their phone. I overheard the culprit explain the same to the waitress, only to see her smile back approvingly, as if they were sharing some kind of private joke between strangers.
If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, Heritage Minutes are likely the source of 50%-75% of all your Canadian historical knowledge. One minute snippets have somehow accomplished what 12 years of social sciences couldn’t – not to admonish the work of so many tireless teachers. Of all Canadian cultural programs, there’s no doubt this has been the most consequential in instilling a collective memory and even a sense of pride for a whole generation of Canadians.
At the risk of succumbing to criticism for my partisan leanings, I would like to see Heritage minutes about the Winnipeg General Strike and one celebrating the adoption of Medicare. Neither is likely to happen under a Tory government, but even they cannot deny that both events were critical to Canada’s development – whether it was progress they wanted to see or not. Perhaps more in line with their preferences, I think a heritage minute about the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during the Second World War would help capture the undoubted importance of the Monarchy during that challenging time.
Finally, it would be great to see heritage minutes continue about themes Canadians are less proud of, as these are arguably the most important lessons to remember. For this reason, I would like to see one about the S.S. Louis St. Laurent and the broader atrocious handling of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, as well as one about the Chinese Head Tax which the Canadian government has only recently taken responsibility for.
Heritage minutes aren’t necessarily about celebrating our history, they’re simply about knowing it.
At any rate, you know you’ve made it into popular culture when you’ve been incorporated into a drinking game: If you can’t finish a heritage minute someone else has started, you’re obliged to drink. Here’s to our Heritage Minutes.