On Monday night, the Historica-Dominion Institute screened the first new Canadian Heritage Minute in over seven years at the Royal Cinema. Arguably the country’s most popular pre-internet meme, the 60-second TV spots have, since 1991, delivered bite-sized tales of Canadian heroism, like the cancellation of revolutionary fighter jet the Avro Arrow and Dr. Wilder Penfield’s advances in neural stimulation, the minute that originated the catchphrase “I smell burnt toast.”
“It’s almost like they’re inside jokes that all Canadians share,” laughed the institute’s president, Anthony Wilson-Smith over the phone from their office, of the occasional Heritage Minute parodies that pop up. The latest official addition to our collective Canuck consciousness, on the other hand, will be available online and has already aired on some stations.
Thanks to a boost of federal funding, Monday’s new vignette spotlights the lesser-known story of 68-year-old black Loyalist soldier Richard Pierpoint. A former slave who fought with the British during the American Revolution and fled to Canada,he later petitioned to establish the first all-black regiment in the War of 1812, known as the “Coloured Corps.”
While the institute wasn’t making many new commercials during the past decade, it wasn’t lacking for possible stories, especially from people who want to share their own family history. “Sometimes you have to say, ‘We’ve only done 66 minutes on the entirety of Canadian history,’” says Wilson-Smith, “and I’m afraid this just isn’t one of them, you know?’”