Heritage Minutes: If you lived in Canada in the ’90s and had a TV, you’re probably familiar with them. Closing with the tagline “a part of our heritage,” the Minutes’ subjects include the invention of basketball, the origin of the word ‘Canada,’ the Halifax Explosion, the Underground Railroad and many more.
Historica Canada began to create a new generation of Heritage Minutes in 2012, and with this new round, there’s been a greater commitment to telling the stories of women, Indigenous people, refugees and people of colour who have shaped our country—including Viola Desmond, Kenojuak Ashevak, Chanie Wenjack and Richard Pierpont.
Last spring, Historica put out a call for proposals for new Heritage Minutes. Together with a Halifax-based production company, I wrote a proposal for a Minute on Lucy Maud Montgomery. After review by Historica, we were pleased to be informed that our proposal had been shortlisted—one of only 10 teams selected from 120 proposals from filmmakers across Canada.
The proposal focused on embracing all facets of Montgomery’s life—contrasting her struggles with depression, rejection and sexism, with the joyful aspects of herself she saw in her best-known character, Anne of Green Gables. The proposal pitched filming on Prince Edward Island in Montgomery’s study (with an actor portraying the author at work) and the countryside (with an actor playing Anne revelling in nature) and included specific shots like, “Close-up on a woman’s hand. She writes feverishly, by candlelight,” and, “A skinny red-headed girl runs through a meadow. Her outstretched fingers graze the tops of the tall grass and Queen Anne’s lace.”
A few weeks after our first phone meeting, Historica “regretted to inform [us] that it was not ultimately chosen.” We were disappointed, but that happens all the time in this business, and you move on.
But then Historica made a Lucy Maud Montgomery Heritage Minute. The organization approached a Toronto-based filmmaker to direct it, and it was released earlier this month on International Women’s Day. When I saw it, I found the similarities shocking—the final piece embodied the spirit of my proposal, including several specific shots I described.
I contacted Anthony Wilson-Smith, the head of Historica Canada, to discuss.
“Sure there are similarities, but it’s absolutely inevitable,” he said. “It’s unavoidable...we were really drawn on the same path that you were.”
He added that in the initial batch of 120 proposals they reviewed, five others had pitched Lucy Maud Montgomery. “You can’t presume in suggesting Lucy Maud Montgomery that you have exclusive purview, therefore, over Lucy Maud Montgomery.”
He has a point—it’s not like I created the character of Lucy Maud Montgomery or made up facts about her life or work. It is history after all, and the information is out there. But the fact that Historica produced such a similar product, so soon after reviewing my proposal, shortlisting it and discussing it in greater detail with me on the phone was surprising.
This got me wondering: Who gets to make Heritage Minutes, if not the people who pitch the ideas in the first place? So I did some research.
Since Historica starting making new Heritage Minutes in 2012 (with funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage), the organization has produced 16 new Minutes. They’ve all been directed by men, with one female co-director.
The overwhelming majority of the directors are white, and based in Toronto. The production companies hired to produce the Minutes are predominantly Toronto-based.
Hiring white men in Toronto to tell our stories: A part of our heritage.
The Minutes are beautiful, and it’s great that Historica is starting to tell more diverse stories, but true diversity includes the people who are hired to bring these stories to life.
Let’s start making that a part of our heritage.