50 Greatest Canadians

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Controversy in Canada? Is it possible?

CBC recently ran a special, asking their audience to name the Greatest Canadians of all time. It produced some interesting television, although I admit to watching only a bit of it, and some controversy. The results were determined by viewers votes on the website, and possibly through 1-800 numbers?
Let's start withe the CBC results.
Here are brief profiles of their  Top 10
Here are the final rankings;
There is no obvious number one choice. It is very interesting though that the man who was chosen was never Prime Minister, but still came from politics. Douglas' two biggest achievements were that he was the father of medicare, the free medical system that has been the brunt of American derision for ever, and is at the top of the heated argument debate these days with some calls to go to a two-tier medical system. Douglas was also the founder of the CCF party, which would later morph into Canada's perennial 3rd party the left wing, union backed, New Democratic Party. While they have never ruled the roost Federally they have been elected as the ruling party in many Provinces. Lesser known, outside of Canada, is that Douglas was also the father of well known actor Donald Sutherland, and the grandfather of Keifer Sutherland. I wonder how much of Douglas's vote came because of the timeliness of medicare? But at the same time I expected the voters to be a younger block of people, especially when I see high placements for people like Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, and Shania Twain. I wouldn't expect younger Canadians to know about Douglas or be moved by the cause of medicare. The older vote must have been out in full force for TC Douglas. It looks good on him, and it looks good on Canada. Can you imagine telling an American that the man voted as greatest Canadian is Tommy Douglas!! Who?? Oh, he was a left wing politician who gave us universal healthcare covered by higher taxes, and also founded the labour sponsored party. A communist!!??!! It makes me smile.
However, he didn't make it as #1 for me, so read on.

Here is a link to the 100 greatest Canadians as picked by Canadians as part of the special.

Women; There was a lot of feeling that Women were shortchanged on the list. Their is or was a saying that behind every great man there is a great woman. So, at the risk of sounding too chauvanistic, there may have been great women behind the likes of TC Douglas, John MacDonald, Terry Fox, etc, but they don't make the list because they were not the famous ones. Until recently women were kept behidn the scenes, so throughout the years when the country was born and forged, they were not always in a position to make the big splash. A woman has never been elected Prime Minister, and the likes of Shiela Fraser, Kim Campbell, and Shiela Copps have no business on this list. Women were and are a huge part of the success of Canada, but an objective list does not lend itself to placing women in the top 10, just to have a woman on the list. I have also heard a lot of complaining on this but few legitimate names to add to the list.
Native Canadians;
It is sad that so few Natives have made the CBC list, and fewer yet made my list. Louis Riel was a metis, not a true Native. Tecumseh was the lone native to make my list, and he was a figure of war, not peace or just a leader of his people. Elijah Harper, the Member of Parliament, made the CBC list, as did actor Chief Dan George. Neither one of them were in the top 50 though and didn't make my top 50. There was a great opportunity for leaders of Blackfoot and Cree Nations to have made this list if the country had allowed them the opportunity to bridge the gap between what the governemnt wanted in the late 1800's and what the native people were able to give. Instead the government took away their roles as leaders, forcing on them a system of capitalism and proprietership that was alien to them. It is the fault of Canada's forging fathers that a man like Poundmaker was unable to make this list.
Greatest or Most Famous;
Yes the likes of Jim Carrey, Shania Twain, etc make the list, prompting the question of fame versus great. To me a Great Canadian can be a Canadian who is great in what he/she does, or can be someone who has done great things for Canada. They can be internationally famous, or they can have done their greatest work overseas like Stephen Lewis and Norman Bethune without having the name recognition of a famous actor. They can have typical Canadian personality traits like a Stompin' Tom Connors or a TC Douglas, or they can be what we often wish we were more like as a country, like Pierre Trudeau, or Shania Twain. I do not believe that you had to do great things for Canadians to make this list.
Write-In votes;
Certain people make a mockery of the democratic process, or do so without malice but still have no business on this list. There are at least 4 people in the top 100 who have no business on the CBC top 100. Again this is not to say that others do belong, but at least their support while perhaps misguided was genuine and distributed throughout the country.
#22 Harold Rodgers; the founder of the Kinsmen Club. A fine communty organization indeed, but obviously voted here by his Kin.
#34 Hal Anderson; A Winnipeg DJ and an all-around pig. Openly campaigned for votes on-air as a stunt.
#44 Mary Maxwell; Best known member of the Bahai community. My only real surprise is that this list of 100 was not flooded with more special interest groups' and ethnic group leaders.
#66 Sheila Fraser; I guess in the grand scheme of things she is more deserving then say Pamela Anderson, but the fact is she is either on this list because of short term timing of the Liberal Ad-Scam, or as an outright protest vote by the Conservatives. Five years from now she wouldn't even register on the radar screen.

Finally, here it is my Top 50 Canadians as of today.
  1. Wayne Gretzky; of course he was the greatest player in our favorite past time. Why did he finish #10 on the CBC list when Don Cherry finished number 7? Cherry is seen as very pro-Canadian, while many still see Gretzky as a sell-out for playing in LA, STL, and then NY. But he did not option out, or sign as a free agent. Pocklington traded him to LA because frankly he didn't have the money. Gretzky was heart broken but still saw an opportunity to expand the scope and prestige of our great game by taking it to LA. He succeeded somewhat, but his work was destroyed to a large degree by the dealings of Bruce McNall who would later go to jail. When the Candian Football League most needed a boost, who was there? Gretzky, along with McNall, and John Candy bought the flagship franchise Toronto, and put some glamour, some money, and some players, like Rocket Ismail into the CFL. Gretzky also played a huge part as the architect of both our Gold Medal win at the Olympics in Salt Lake, as well as our recent World Cup win. When Canada needed him most he made an incredible speach during the Olympics that took the pressure off the players, the controversy onto himself, and led to the team turning it around to victory. Walter Gretzky raised a perfect gentleman, and the Greatest Canadian ever.
  2. Terry Fox - Any Canadian growing up in the 80's revered in Fox's courage. He was a pioneer in the cross country run for a cause, and the tragic figure that didn't make it. His run, and the marathon of hope that still goes on every year, has raised a lot of money for cancer research. Fox was born in Winnipeg by the way.
  3. Tommy Douglas - well I have already talked about TC Douglas, and have no problem that he was elected #1 by Canadians.
  4. Frederick Banting - discovered insulin, was Knighted, won Canada's first ever Nobel Peace Prize in medicine.
  5. Lester B. Pearson - a leader, a Prime Minister, who's greatest achievements lay in his work for peace, the UN, multiculturism, bilinguilism, Canadian Pension Plan, and Medicare. Most leaders, especially in America are often revered for what they did in times of war. Canadians are better known for what they have done in times of peace.
  6. Alexander Graham Bell - invented the telephone, we all know that. Drawback was that he isn't really seen as a true "Canadian", but more of a British subject who was living here.
  7. Pierre Elliot Trudeau - Prime Minister for over 16 years, an international personality, and a true believer in one Canada united.
  8. John A MacDonald - our first Prime Minister, an alcoholic. His greatest accomplishment was his belief that a railway was needed to unite all of Canada, and accomplishing that feat.
  9. David Suzuki - Canada's environmental conscience. Our #1 tree hugger, and host of "The Nature of Things".
  10. Billy Bishop - Canada's greatest flying Ace.
  11. Nellie McClung - Fought for Women's rights, including the right to vote.
  12. Mary Pickford - I must be missing something as I can't understand how this world famous actress was left off the list of top 100 by CBC voters. She was arguably the greatest actress of her time. Neither Jim Carrey nor Mike Myers are the greatest of their time, not even close, yet they make the list?
  13. Tecumseh - Native leader who helped Canada win the war of 1812 against the Americans.
  14. Stephen Lewis - UN Special envoy has spearheaded work on HIV/AIDS, as well as the face behind famine relief that spawned "Tears are Not Enough" in the 80's. Again, a symbol of peace, not war.
  15. Norman Bethune - often called the father of modern medicine for advances made to the field. Not just advances, but quantom leaps in practices. Still loved and revered in China for work done there.
  16. Timothy Eaton - Again, another name left off the list. The highest placed business man in the CBC was John Molson, way down the list. Eaton's was a symbol of unity for all Canadians, through their retail stores and cross Canada catalogue business.
  17. Maurice Richard - higher on the list then his hockey alone would warrant. He may be the biggest hockey piece of folklore, in all of Canada. The Richard Riot was a symbol of what he meant to French Canadians.
  18. Lionel Conacher - whoohoo...we are 18 spots into my list and this is the 3rd person not in CBC's top 100. Conacher was a very successful pro hockey player in the NHL, football player in the CFL, professional Boxer, and then went into poltics becoming elected as a Member of Parliament.
  19. Rick Hansen - wheelchaired the equivalent distance of a trip around the world. Inspired the hit song "Man in Motion" by John Parr, and raised money and awareness around the globe for spinal chord research.
  20. Ned Hanlan - talk about a figure in Canada's folklore. This very famous rower whose accomplishments and style were known around the globe.
  21. Neil Young - his music may not be typically "Canadian" but he is an international star who can always be counted on for telling it like it is, is an excellent song writer and musician, and has that Canadian outlook on social issues.
  22. Anne Murray - I've bumped her way up on the list from her CBC position. The voice of Canada, of Sunday evenings in front of the TV. To have Celine Dion finish higher then her because of international success is a travesty.
  23. Louis Riel - man I have a tough time with this. Was he truly a great? Was he a great "Canadian"? I'm going to wimp out on this one and put the man hanged as a "traitor" in the middle of my list, much lower then the CBC final of #11.
  24. Gordon Lightfoot - much like Neil Young, and an upgrade from Stompin' Tom as far as I'm concerned. Less successful then Young but more "Canadian". His songs are pop anthems about Canada. He is the male to Anne Murray's female voice of Canada.
  25. Michael J. Fox - successful, exhibits himself as Canadian but not its greatest advocate. Fighting a new battle against Parkinson's disease.
  26. John Kenneth Galbraith - my 4th person left off the list by Canadians. JKG is a world leader and best known Canadian source for Economic thinking. His books pionnered an approach of bringing economics to the general poulation.
  27. Jean Vanier - former Naval officer who made it his life's work to help people with disabilities.
  28. Stompin’ Tom Connors - Canada's most unique recording artist, more Canadian then Canada itself.
  29. General Romeo Dallaire - leader of the UN forces in Rwanda, inspired the lead role in the movie "Hotel Rwanda". Another symbol of peace.
  30. General Arthur Currie - a symbol of war. Leader of the Candian corps in World War I.
  31. Bobby Orr - the only player that one could even possibly argue was better then Gretzky. Changed the face of the game forever with his rushing style of defense.
  32. Unknown Soldier - Although his origins are not known, he is a symbol and a reminder of the 116,000 soldiers who gave their lives in pursuit of peace.
  33. John Candy - Candian born, trained, early fame on Canadian TV show SCTV, turned into international movie star. Candy never forgot his Canadian roots, often finding ways to express them, including supporting the CFL. Known around Winnipeg because of his fondness for Alycia's Perogies, having them flown to him from Winnipeg to his Hollywood home.
  34. Mordecai Richler - young Canadians love him for JAcob Two-Two, while teenagers loathed him for having to read Dudey Kravitz, and other high school staples.
  35. Peter Gzowski - the voice of Canada in the mornings on CBC.
  36. Gordie Howe - when he retired he was the greatest hockey player ever.
  37. Pierre Berton - through televison, radio, newsprint, and books, he reached us as Canada's historian, as well as current social commentator. Berton was a true Canadian indeed.
  38. Shania Twain - the best at what she does, an international star, who has not put her Canadian roots behind her.
  39. Sir William Stephenson - the world's most famous spy, code name Intrepid, and Winston Churchill's top spy during WWII.
  40. Farley Mowat - Canadian author, taught us of the perils of the Canadian wilderness and those who inhabit what is the bulk of Canada.
  41. Glenn Gould - world famous recording artist, also famous for his erratic behaviour.
  42. Margaret Atwood - arguably our greatest female author.
  43. Isaac Brock - leader of the Canadian forces during the war of 1812 against the US. Normally finishes higher then this in lists, but I don't really consider him a Canadian, as he was a British officer, protecting the interest of Britain. However, his actions helped secure our future.
  44. Laura Secord - tough to leave this heroine off the list but I was tempted. Her heroics were without question a turning point in the war of 1812, but it is for this sole act that she is known (and of course the resulting candy stores in her name).
  45. Joni Mitchell - Canada's greatest folk performer and writer.
  46. Silken Laumann - Rower, heroine. not on the CBC list (my 5th newcomer). Recovered from severe injuries to capture the  Olympic silver medal. Courage.
  47. Bret Hart - Canada actually has a history of great professional wrestlers, from Gene Kiniski to current stars like Chris Benoit. Hart was a true Canadian, wearing his allegiances on his sleeve. Hart was the champion of the WWF and its number one star at the time.
  48. Robert Munsch - imaginative author of children's books.
  49. Conn Smythe - when compiling my list I realized that although several hockey players made the list on CBC, there were no builders. I nominate Conn Smythe (my 6th person not on the CBC list) not only for his part in building the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the NHL, but also for his part in the war effort. Not satisfied in sitting back Smythe went overseas during WWII leaving his post as GM of the Leafs to serve as an officer in the Canadian Armed forces. He also encouraged many of his players to enlist, despite it obviously hurting his team, while the Montreal Canadiens seemed to take the opposite approach.
  50. Wilfred Laurier - the best of the rest of the Prime Ministers.

IF you would like to add comments, your own list, or suggest a better nominee then shoot me off an e-mail