Yes, yes, the usual perception is that Canadians are too nice. We’re always too nice.
People from outside Canada seem to forget our other attributes — and we’re not solely talking about our good looks, either, though we have that in spades. What’s often overlooked is our immense acting, singing and comedic talent; if you take a closer look at Tinseltown, the Billboard music charts or any other artistic gauge, you’ll see a bunch of Canadians. Sometimes we’re even in the majority, as was the case with the top music of 2016.
We’re a talented country, that’s for sure, and we’ve exported a number of our finest thespians, jokers and crooners to other lands to share the wealth. OK, so maybe they left by their own accord, but we’re still able to lay claim: we had them first.
Here, in no particular order, are some of our best Canadian entertainment exports. (Note: By no means is this list comprehensive. If we had to list every Canadian export, we’d be at retirement age by the time we finished it. These are a few notable folks who deserve recognition.)
Often overlooked, Mary Pickford was one of Canada’s earliest stars. Born in Toronto in 1892, she made her way to Hollywood and became known as “America’s Sweetheart” before Julia Roberts got the moniker, and yes, despite the fact that Pickford was Canadian.
She was one of the original founders — 1 of 36 — of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a.k.a. the body that presents the Oscars to us every year. In the time before “talkies” (movies with sound), Pickford was in her heyday, but once movies began to use sound on a more regular basis, she was slowly phased out of acting and moved into production. She finished her career with one Best Actress Academy Award, and an honorary Oscar bestowed upon her in 1976.
As she neared the end of her life, Pickford insisted that she wanted to “die as a Canadian.” The Department of Citizenship granted her wish and she passed away as a dual American-Canadian citizen in 1979 at the age of 87.
A comedic actor best-known in the ’80s and early ’90s (he died in 1994), John Candy is rightly considered one of the funniest guys to come out of Canada.
There was an uncanny likability to him, and despite his humble upbringings in Newmarket, Ont., Candy eventually made his way up through the ranks of Canadian comedy and landed a role on SCTV. He quickly became a fan favourite.
He went on to star in classic movies like Uncle Buck, The Great Outdoors and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Beloved by both kids and adults, he never had trouble finding an audience. In 1991, along with NHL great Wayne Gretzky, Candy became a part-owner of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, and they took home the Grey Cup that year.
There is a running campaign to get the name of the Canadian Screen Awards changed to “The Candys,” but so far it hasn’t officially taken hold.
The 6 God a.k.a. Aubrey Graham a.k.a. Drizzy a.k.a. Champagne Papi has come a long way since his days as Jimmy on beloved teen series Degrassi. In a few short years, Drake has gone from minor Canadian celebrity to one of the hottest music acts on the globe.
In 2016, Drake received the key to Toronto from Mayor John Tory and he was appointed coach of Canada’s team at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. In addition to debuting at No. 1 on Billboard and selling more than 600,000 copies on its first day, Views became the first album ever to achieve one billion streams on Apple Music. If that wasn’t enough, he was the most-streamed artist of 2016 on Spotify with a whopping 4.7-billion individual plays.
Breaking a Michael Jackson record should be regarded as the gold standard, and Drake did that with his 13 American Music Award nominations in 2016, two more than Jackson’s 11 nominations in 1984; Drake ultimately won four of those awards.
So far, 2017 is going swimmingly for the rapper: he just picked up 13 awards at the Billboard Music Awards, breaking the record for the most wins in a single awards show.
The actor was born in Ottawa on July 1 (Canada Day), 1952, to his father, an English-Canadian privy council officer for Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet, and his mother, a French-Canadian secretary; not to mention his grandfather, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police staff-sergeant, and his Royal Canadian Navy uncle — so to say the man was steeped in total Canadianness from the beginning is an understatement. (Did we mention he was the first child born at Ottawa General Hospital on Canada Day that year? Yeah.)
He’s starred in major movies like Ghostbusters and My Girl, and spent several years on Saturday Night Live. He will be narrating History series The World Without Canada, which examines what would have happened in history without our country’s existence — and Aykroyd insists that Earth would be a hellhole without Canadian impact and influence.
“The most impressive to me, about what we Canadians and what Canada as a culture and a nation has given the world, is the sense of tolerance for those who are different, tolerance for immigrants, tolerance for people who are disadvantaged,” he said.
Justin Bieber, the little guy who used to play on street corners in his native Stratford, Ont., has become a worldwide sensation in his scant 23 years on the planet. He is quite literally untouchable, and is setting music records left and right, not unlike his fellow Canadian, Drake.
Year after year packed with successes isn’t really anything new for Bieber, who virtually took over the world in 2016 with the release of his latest album, Purpose, in November of 2015. He was the first male artist in almost 10 years to have three #1 hits (Sorry, What Do You Mean?, Love Yourself) from one album — the last artist to achieve that goal was Justin Timberlake with 2005’s Future Sex/Love Sounds.
OK, so not all of the recent news has been good: his series of outbursts at concerts made headlines, but his Purpose tour continued across the world unabated, earning him millions of dollars and tons of attention.
From a very young age, Celine Dion has been singing. Born with an astounding voice to a gigantic family in Charlemagne, Que., she emerged in her teens after her manager (and future husband) René Angélil scouted her. He mortgaged his first home to help pay for her first record, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Dion’s star skyrocketed in the ’90s with a string of hits, including Titanic‘s monster ballad My Heart Will Go On, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, Because You Loved Me and The Power of Love, among many, many others. (The best part is that some of the time, Dion, whose first language is French, would be singing in English and not have any idea what she was saying. She just memorized how the words sounded and went from there.)
In 2003, Dion started up a Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace, and to date it is the most successful residency show of all time; it has racked up over US$385-million. She is widely regarded as one of the best female pop singers of all time.
Michael J. Fox
Beloved movie and TV star Michael J. Fox, born in Edmonton, Alta., has always had the hearts of Canadians. From his early days as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties to his later work as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies to his stint on Spin City, Fox is a fan favourite who can do no wrong.
Over the years, he’s amassed an impressive number of awards for his work (though we really think he missed out on an award for instant classic Teen Wolf): Fox has won four Golden Globes and has been nominated nine times, he’s been nominated for an Emmy 17 times and has won five trophies, and he won the SAG Award both times he was nominated. Pretty impressive stuff.
Of course, most people are aware that Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991, and unfortunately the impact of the illness impeded his presence onscreen. He persevered and acted as long as possible, and now currently does voiceovers and a lot of charity work. Recently, in 2016, his organization, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, raised US$6.75-million to help raise awareness. Again, Fox never ceases to impress.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Well-known for her hit Big Yellow Taxi and numerous other folk tunes, Joni Mitchell is one of the biggest musicians to ever come out of Canada.
The songstress began singing in small nightclubs in Saskatoon, Sask., before she moved to Toronto and started busking in the streets or playing the odd nightclub. On the ride there, she stopped by the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ont. so she could meet one of her heroes, Buffy Sainte-Marie. (A year later, Mitchell herself played the same festival.) Eventually, as many Canadian stars do, she moved south of the border and started to tour. There, she found her fame, and engaged in the political protests of the time.
Mitchell frequently returns to Canada, and divides her time between her home in Los Angeles and her property in Sechelt, B.C. She can rest easy, knowing she’ll forever be considered one of the greatest singers/songwriters of all time. She placed 42nd in Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Singers list, and was ranked 9th in The 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time list. Not bad for a down-home Canadian girl.
While Lorne Michaels wasn’t born in Canada, he moved here as an infant and spent the majority of his young life in Toronto. (He is now officially a Canadian-American citizen.)
He’s essentially the king of comedy, and is responsible for the beginnings of many illustrious comedy careers and the creation of Saturday Night Live. Originally a producer on the show, he eventually became a writer as well, and ultimately the executive producer. Michaels has been involved with the show nearly every season, with a short hiatus from 1980 to 1984 due to self-described “burnout.”
Michaels managed to bring our distinct Canadian humour to the entire world, helping launch the careers of fellow Canucks Mike Myers, Norm Macdonald, Dan Aykroyd and Martin Short.