The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not-so-distantly — related. Along the way, we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
Robert Markle, painter, writer, musician, educator (born 1936 in Hamilton, ON; died 1990 in Mount Forest, ON). Markle was Mohawk, but his relationship to his ancestry was not straightforward. It was only later in life that Markle actively incorporated aspects of his Indigenous identity into his art. Most well known for his female nudes, Markle usually depicted his wife, Marlene, or burlesque dancers. Following a Toronto police raid of a gallery exhibiting his work in 1965, some of Markle’s drawings were identified as obscene by a judge. Markle remains known for his sensual and passionate artwork.
Phil Comeau, CM, ONB, film director, screenwriter and producer (born 1956 in Saulnierville, Nova Scotia). This Acadian director’s films have received over 55 awards in Canada and abroad. They address subjects such as youth, human relationships, art, history and Acadian identity. His film Le secret de Jérôme (1994) garnered some 15 awards and is regarded as the first independent Acadian feature film produced in Canada. Comeau’s 2016 documentary feature Zachary Richard, toujours batailleur/Zachary Richard, Cajun Heart received the La Vague Léonard-Forest Award and the Audience Choice Award at the FICFA international francophone film festival in Moncton, New Brunswick and the Director’s Choice Award - Documentary Feature at the Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Richard Pierpoint (also Pawpine, Parepoint; Captain Pierpoint, Captain Dick; Black Dick), loyalist, soldier, community leader, storyteller (born c. 1744 in Bondu [now Senegal]; died c. 1838, near present-day Fergus, ON). Pierpoint was an early leader in Canada’s Black community. Taken from West Africa as a teenager and sold into slavery, Pierpoint regained his freedom during the American Revolution. He settled in Niagara, Upper Canada, and attempted to live communally with other Black Canadians. In the War of 1812, he petitioned for an all-Black unit to fight for the British and fought with the Coloured Corps.
Aboriginal electronic group A Tribe Called Red (ATCR) has garnered international acclaim for its politically charged, powwow drum-driven dance music. Featuring DJ NDN (Ian Campeau), Bear Witness (Thomas Ehren Ramon) and 2oolman (Tim Hill), the group emerged from an Ottawa club party called Electric Pow Wow, which began in 2007.
Louis B. Mayer, born Eliezer Mayer, studio executive (born at Minsk, Russia ca 1885; died at Los Angeles, Ca 29 Oct 1957). Louis B. Mayer's working-class family immigrated to New York when he was a small child, and in 1890 moved to Saint John, NB, where his father became a junk dealer.
Tomson Highway, CM, playwright, novelist, pianist and songwriter (born 6 December 1951 in northwestern Manitoba). A Member of the Order of Canada and named in Maclean's magazine as one of the 100 most important people in Canadian history, Tomson Highway has proved himself one of Canada’s most prominent and influential writers.
Boris Vladimirovich Volkoff, dancer, choreographer, ballet master and director (b Boris Vladimirovich Baskakoff at Schepotievo, Russia 24 Apr 1900; d at Toronto 11 Mar 1974). Although he often felt under-appreciated, Volkoff is now considered by many to be the godfather of Canadian ballet.
Leonard Norman Cohen, poet, novelist, singer, songwriter (born 21 September 1934 in Montréal, QC; died 7 November 2016 in Los Angeles, California). Leonard Cohen was one of the most iconic Canadian artists of the 20th century. A sage, mystic, bohemian and romantic, he built an acclaimed body of literary work and a revered career in pop music. In his poetry, novels and music, he constantly probed the human condition, exploring themes of love, loss, death and his commitment to his art. As a poetic and unlikely pop star, his narrow-ranged, gruff voice, which deepened and darkened with age, and his reliance on simple, singsong melodies were complimented by the intense imagery and depth of his lyrics. A Companion of the Order of Canada, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the US Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Folk Music Walk of Fame. He also received the Glenn Gould Prize, eight Juno Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and numerous other honours.
Walter Seymour Allward, sculptor (born 18 November 1876 in Toronto; died 24 April 1955 in Toronto). Walter Allward cemented his reputation as one of Canada’s greatest monumental sculptors with the mammoth Canadian National Vimy Memorial in Vimy, France (1922–36), which commemorated the important Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 1917) and the more than 11,000 Canadians listed as missing in action during the First World War.
Julien Hébert, visual artist and designer (born 19 August 1917 in Rigaud, Québec; died 24 May 1994 in Montréal). Hébert is considered the father of modern design in Québec. Inspired by the Scandinavian modernism movement, which unites design, industry and craft (see Industrial Design), he dedicated his career to creating objects and environments that were organic, simple and functional, to encouraging local industry, and to developing industrial design teaching in his home province.