Heritage Minutes: A part of our heritage
Still from Wilder Penfield Heritage Minute

Still from Wilder Penfield Heritage Minute.

I have no distinct memory of the first time I saw a Heritage Minute. I watched a lot – like A LOT – of television as a child in the early nineties, probably more than I or my parents would like to admit. Much of it was CBC programming, if that may redeem me or them in any way. Because of this, I consumed countless Heritage Minutes growing up; the vignettes of the Paris CrewHalifax explosion, and arrival of Irish orphans in Quebec most permanently etched in my mind.

These stories, along with many others, are, of course, a part of our heritage. In their retelling of Canada’s history though, the Minutes have themselves become a part of Canadian history. The reaction from family, friends and now former colleagues to my new role as Heritage Minutes Coordinator has almost universally been an immediate recitation of their favourite lines – “Dr. Penfield, I can smell burnt toast!”– along with a general expression of warm feelings and nostalgia.

Still from Halifax Explosion Heritage Minute.

Still from Halifax Explosion Heritage Minute.

The release of two new War of 1812 Minutes – Richard Pierpoint and Queenston Heights – was followed by news that two new Heritage Minutes would be produced every year from now until 2017 (the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the subject of the next two Heritage Minutes). The response I’ve seen has been largely positive; numerous pitches already received indicate the public’s interest and appetite for new Minutes. There are criticisms, too, like those expressed in a thoughtful post on ActiveHistory. Kaitlin Wainwright writes about her concerns with commemorating historical anniversaries over the stories of ‘everyday Canadians,’ and of distilling complex and nuanced histories into 60 seconds.

It’s easy to understand her concerns about skirting the surface of a subject, though as Historica-Dominion Institute president Anthony Wilson-Smith points out in the post’s comments, the Minutes are accompanied by education kits for students – and anyone else – to explore those subjects more deeply. And it’s true that the original Minutes were more likely to focus on lesser known people and events than major events like the War of 1812 and Confederation. But those stories are worth telling too, particularly to a generation that can direct its attention anywhere it wants, in a way that was unimaginable to those of us growing up in front of a television tuned to CBC 20 years ago.

“Still from Queenston Heights Heritage Minute.”

Still from Queenston Heights Heritage Minute.

I have worked in the media on and off for six years, at various newspapers and a national television network. I know how hard it can be to get and keep people’s attention, even on something considered worthwhile and important. If the new Heritage Minutes can teach someone something, move someone in some way, or spark something inside them – a desire to learn more, ideally – that alone is worthwhile. I couldn’t be happier a new generation gets to grow up on Heritage Minutes the way I did, and I couldn’t be more excited about being a part of them myself.