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Rukszuto, Katarzyna. “Minute by Minute: Canadian History Reimagined for Television Audiences.” Ph.D Diss., York University, 2003.


This dissertation explores the meaning of “Canadian heritage” by analyzing the Heritage Minutes, a series of 60-second dramatizations of important figures and events in the Canadian past sponsored by Charles Bronfman’s CRB Foundation and Canada Post. The series exhibits the centrality of race, the mythology of Canadian wilderness, and the unresolved difficulties with difference and plurality that organize discourses of national identity. The implications of the particular narratives of belonging embedded in the Minutes and the relationship between identity, culture and representation form the larger context of this discussion. The study attempts to answer such questions as: what kinds of ideas about Canadian national identity are provided in the Minutes and do they contain counter-dominant perspectives and different notions of belonging?

In order to answer these questions, this analysis is informed by two interconnected theoretical developments: the “narrative turn” in social history and other social sciences, and the study of cultural forms as developed by cultural studies. The focus of this study is The Heritage Minutes; associated learning materials for schools and community-based and electronic initiatives serve as secondary data. The Heritage Minutes aired on all major television networks, at Cineplex-Odeon movie theatres, and in some home videos.

This study demonstrates that the Heritage Minutes promote a “grand narrative” of Canadian national unity that is couched in the primacy of European settlement and in the assimilationist maxim of “unity out of difference.” While heritage lesson plans show some degree of flexibility in the kinds of interpretive frameworks utilized in the classroom, the predominance of lesson plans stressing personal histories, and the omission of controversial issues, suggest that the Heritage Project is not the best resource for teachers wishing to do critical work in the classroom. Moreover, this study finds that corporate involvement has replaced history with heritage. The heritage version of history rearticulates contradictions, conflicts, and regional, ethnic, class and other cleavages within the narrative of national belonging. An immediate result of the heritage curriculum, coupled with other education “reforms,” is that students are likely becoming less learned. A more general effect of the corporate agenda on history teaching, both in schools and mass media, is that Canadians are in danger of becoming citizen-consumers, devouring commercial versions of national unity cause instead of historical understanding.

This study includes a discussion of key developments in theories of cultural characteristics of “the nation” and nation-building processes, and shifting conceptions of Canadian national identity and social difference. Also presented here is a critical assessment of the literature concerning the “heritage industry” and what it means to “inherit.” Other discussion topics include the political and representational difficulties of representing heritage, the “history wars” in Canada, the implications of Heritage Minutes lesson plans and resources in the classroom, and the implications of increasing corporate interest and involvement in history teaching.

This study raises some interesting implications concerning the role of corporate funding in history education. Two questions that are particularly pertinent in the face of this increasing new historical consciousness among Canadian business leaders are: a) what interests are supported by these enterprises? and b) what are some implications of the corporate sell of Canadian history? The ability of corporate organizations to make a mark on the classroom goes beyond the excellence of the material programs they create, and must be seen in the context of the cutbacks and restructuring of the education sector. Considering the combination of larger classes, less preparation time, and, in some provinces, the legislative shift of control of the curriculum from the school boards to a business-friendly government, what are the larger implications of corporate involvement in the classroom?

Mary Chaktsiris