Men: Part of our Her­itage

His­tor­ica Canada short­listed a lo­cal film­maker’s Her­itage Minute pitch on Lucy Maud Montgomery, then gave the idea to some­one else.


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 rev­el­ing 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.


A screenshot from the pro­duced short on Montgomery.

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