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The Greatest Canadian

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The Greatest Canadian
The Greatest Canadian logo
Developed byCanadian Broadcasting Corporation
Written byGary Pearson
Directed byGuy O'Sullivan
Country of originCanada
No. of episodes13
Original release
Release17 October 2004 (2004-10-17)

The Greatest Canadian is a 2004 television series consisting of 13 episodes produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to identify one greatest Canadian of all time, according to those who watched and participated in the program.[1]

The series two-hour debut on 17 October 2004 garnered more than one million viewers, with approximately 500,000 to 700,000 viewers per episode thereafter. The initial nomination phase received more than 10,000 names submitted for consideration.[2] The second phase of the process concluded on 28 November at midnight and the following evening the winner from more than 1.2 million votes was revealed to be Tommy Douglas.[3][4]

The series was inspired by the BBC production the Great Britons and has a spiritual sequel, The Greatest Canadian Invention.

The Greatest Canadian experienced strong initial ratings, some fall-off during its run, and a partial rebound for the finale. The series was credited with bringing the CBC public "buzz" and a younger demographic. Conversely the series was critiqued, by University of Calgary communication professors Bart Beaty and Rebecca Sullivan in their book Canadian Television Today, as middlebrow "nationalist pandering."[5]

Selection process[edit]

The "Greatest Canadian" was chosen through a two-step voting process. The first phase beginning on 5 April 2004, involved the collection of data (nominees for consideration) through polls conducted by mail, phone and the internet.[4] Of these nominees the bottom 40 of 50 individuals, in order of popularity, were revealed during the first episode in October.

The eligibility criteria as outlined by the CBC was broad:[2]

Born in what is now Canada, or born elsewhere but lived here and made a significant contribution to this country - real (no fictional characters or animals) - an individual (no pairs, or groups).

To prevent bias during the second round of voting; the top ten nominees, also revealed during the first episode, were presented alphabetically rather than by order of first round popularity.[4] This phase was accompanied by a series of hour-long feature documentaries, where 10 Canadian celebrities acting as advocates each presented their case for The Greatest Canadian.[1] Viewers then submitted votes over the next six weeks supporting their favourite finalists. Importantly, there was no overall limit on the number of times any listener could call in and cast a vote, nor was voting restricted to Canadians.

Top 10[edit]

On 17 October 2004 the top 10 nominees were revealed at the end of the first episode in alphabetical order.[6] The winner and all finalists were announced by popularity on 28 November and 29 in a three-hour two part series conclusion.[7][6]

Rank[8] Image Name Date of Birth Date of Death Notability Birthplace Advocate[9] Aired[6]
10 Wayne Gretzky 1961 Hockey player, holder of numerous NHL records Brantford, Ontario Deborah Grey 20 October
9 Alexander Graham Bell 1847 1922 Scientist, inventor,
founder of the Bell Telephone Company
Edinburgh, Scotland Evan Solomon 15 November
8 Sir John A. Macdonald 1815 1891 First Prime Minister of Canada Glasgow, Scotland Charlotte Gray 27 October
7 Don Cherry 1934 Hockey Commentator Kingston, Ontario Bret Hart 25 October
6 Lester B. Pearson 1897 1972 Fourteenth Prime Minister of Canada,
United Nations General Assembly President,
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Toronto, Ontario Paul Gross 10 November
5 David Suzuki 1936 Environmentalist Vancouver, British Columbia Melissa Auf der Maur 17 November
4 Sir Frederick Banting 1891 1941 Medical scientist, co-discoverer of insulin,
winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Alliston, Ontario Mary Walsh 8 November
3 Pierre Trudeau 1919 2000 Fifteenth Prime Minister of Canada Montreal, Quebec Rex Murphy 22 November
2 Terry Fox 1958 1981 Athlete, activist, humanitarian Winnipeg, Manitoba Sook-Yin Lee 3 November
1 Tommy Douglas 1904 1986 Father of Medicare, Premier of Saskatchewan Falkirk, Scotland George Stroumboulopoulos 18 October

Top 50[edit]

More than 10,000 names were submitted for consideration with the top 100 individuals being revealed online accompanied with a short biography.[10] Of the 100 only the top 50 nominees were featured during the televised broadcast.

At least three* members of the nominees as the direct result of an active mass-mailing campaign among that individual's loyal and well-organized followers. Kin Canada founder Harold A. Rogers, DJ Hal Anderson, and Bahá'í activist Mary Maxwell all benefitted from a grassroots campaign to get their names included in the nominees list.[11] CBC openly admitted this during the broadcast, recognizing that these three esoteric individuals are probably quite unknown to the general public.

Critics have complained there were only four women and three nonwhites in the top 50, that French Canadian participation was very low and that a large number of modern pop culture celebrities made the list like; Bret Hart, Mike Myers, John Candy, Jim Carrey and Avril Lavigne. A recency bias in favour of contemporary icons may be reflective of a youthful voting demographic, as the production was family oriented, or there was unwillingness or confusion distinguishing modern popularity with national historic significance among the participants of all ages. In particular, Don Cherry's inclusion in the top 10 upset many Canadians, especially considering it forced out figures they believe more worthy like Louis Riel and Jean Vanier.

Rank[10] Name Notability
11 Louis Riel Métis leader
12 Jean Vanier humanitarian, founder of L'Arche, author
13 Stompin' Tom Connors singer, songwriter
14 Neil Young singer, guitarist, organist
15 Peter Gzowski broadcaster, writer, reporter
16 Roméo Dallaire general, humanitarian, author
17 Stephen Lewis politician, broadcaster, diplomat
18 Shania Twain singer, songwriter
19 Bobby Orr ice hockey player
20 Mike Myers actor, comedian, writer, producer
21 Unknown Soldier soldiers
22 Harold A. Rogers * founder of Kin Canada
23 Maurice Richard ice hockey player
24 Sir Arthur Currie commander, general
25 Nellie McClung feminist, social activist
26 Dr. Norman Bethune physician, medical innovator, humanitarian
27 Céline Dion vocalist, entertainer
28 Sir Isaac Brock major-general
29 Jim Carrey film actor, comedian, writer, producer
30 Rick Hansen parapalegic athlete, humanitarian
31 Pierre Berton author, television personality
32 Michael J. Fox actor, activist
33 Gordon Lightfoot folk singer, composer, lyricist
34 Hal Anderson broadcaster
35 Laura Secord national heroine
36 Ernie Coombs children's entertainer
37 Tecumseh indigenous leader
38 Mario Lemieux ice hockey player
39 Bret Hart professional wrestler
40 Avril Lavigne singer, songwriter
41 John Candy comedian, actor
42 Sir Sandford Fleming engineer, inventor
43 Sir Wilfrid Laurier prime minister
44 Mary Maxwell * Baha'i follower
45 Jean Chrétien prime minister
46 Leonard Cohen poet, novelist, folk singer, songwriter
47 John Diefenbaker prime minister
48 Billy Bishop WW1 flying ace
49 William Lyon Mackenzie King prime minister
50 Rick Mercer comedian, broadcasting personality

Other editions[edit]

Other countries have produced similar shows based on the format originated by the BBC. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Alexander Graham Bell were also featured on the 100 Greatest Britons list. A two-hour spin-off series called The Greatest Canadian Invention aired in 2007 with Insulin as the winner.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "And the Greatest Canadian of all time is…". CBC Archives. 2005.
  2. ^ a b The Greatest Canadian criteria CBC 2010
  3. ^ Sheila A Sorrentino; Leighann Remmert, MS RN; Mary J Wilk (2016). Mosby's Canadian Textbook for the Support Worker - E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-77172-107-3.
  4. ^ a b c "Tommy Douglas crowned 'Greatest Canadian". CBC/Radio-Canada. 2004.
  5. ^ Beaty, Bart; Sullivan, Rebecca (2006). Canadian Television Today. University of Calgary Press. pp. 24, 86. ISBN 978-1-55238-674-3. Retrieved 31 August 2023.
  6. ^ a b c The Greatest Canadian schedule CBC 2010
  7. ^ "Who is The Greatest Canadian? CBC viewers respond". The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2010. Retrieved 21 June 2010.
  8. ^ The Greatest Canadian top 100 CBC 2010
  9. ^ The Greatest Canadian advocate CBC 2010
  10. ^ a b The Greatest Canadian top 100 CBC 2010 - PDF list
  11. ^ Dixon, Guy (30 November 2004). "The greatest Canadian". The Globe and Mail.
  12. ^ "The Greatest Canadian Invention". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007. Archived from the original on 17 February 2007.