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By Sean Graham
I’m fairly confident that everyone in my elementary school classes could recite the ‘Burnt Toast’ Heritage Minute by memory. It seemed to air multiple times each episode during re-runs of Degrassi on the CBC. While that one stood out the most for me and my classmates, other Heritage Minutes like Laura Second (“Take me to Fitzgibbon”), the Halifax Explosion (“Come on Vince, come on!”), and Orphans (“Johnson, sir, Molly Johnson”) are seared into the memories of millions of Canadians – whether we like it or not.
The Minutes are not perfect and their limitations have been well documented. Historica Canada’s 2012 decision to revive the minutes re-ignited the debate over their content and representation of Canadian history. The new Minutes have made an effort to be more inclusive and less celebratory (during the podcast it is revealed that Historica is currently producing a minute on residential schools), but overall their style is similar to those from the 1990s.
It is that format, however, that makes Heritage Minutes really accessible in today’s media environment. The idea of running one minute commercials doesn’t make nearly as much sense today as it did 20 years ago, particularly amid stories of people cutting off cable subscriptions in greater numbers, but so much internet content is consumed in short installments. Watching a one minute video on YouTube isn’t a significant investment and the ability to embed videos into web pages adds versatility. These clips are a terrific entry point into historical discussion for students used to on-demand content.
This is why Historica Canada is launching a contest for students to make their own Heritage Minute. Around the topic of Sir John A. Macdonald and Confederation – rather broadly defined – Historica is welcoming submissions from students across the country. The contest runs until November 30, 2015 and you can watch some of the minutes that have already been submitted here.
In this episode of the History Slam, I chat with Bronwyn Graves, Education Manager for Historica Canada. We chat about the Heritage Minutes contest, Historica Canada’s role in promoting history, and the challenges of getting students interested in history.
Sean Graham is a William Lyon Mackenzie King post-doctoral fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University where he studies the history of Canadian broadcasting and the CBC. He is an editor at Activehistory.ca and host/producer of the History Slam Podcast. Like any red-blooded Canadian his ultimate dream is to be a curling champion while living on a diet of beer and poutine.
Why is Sir John A. the only subject that students can do their Heritage Minute on? I find the contest too narrowly focused on an individual that is given far too much significance in Canadian history.
Thanks for your question Anne. Sir John A. is a recognizable figure that can serve as an entry point to a discussion on Confederation. From there, students can look at Confederation from any perspective they wish – one of the ones already submitted looks at Macdonald’s poor treatment of First Nations. The idea isn’t only to look at Sir John A., but to broadly explore Confederation. Calling it ‘Stories of Sir John A strikes me as more a marketing decision than an accurate reflection of the type of submissions they hope to get.