Remembering the Greatest Canadian

It’s not easy capturing the title of “Greatest Canadian.” To start, if there’s any hope of the nation choosing you for the honour – as they did Tommy Douglas in CBC’s “Greatest Canadian vote in 2004 – you have to trust that those casting a ballot will distinguish the difference between “famous” and “greatest.”

A quick Internet search for “famous Canadians” yields a website devoted to the topic. By their count, Avril Lavigne tops the list, followed by Pamela Anderson. Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire places third.

Of course, when it comes to popularity, Lavigne is likely more famous than Dallaire. If anything, the bigger surprise is that Justin Bieber doesn’t appear anywhere on the list. In fact, aside from Don Cherry, who benefits from consistent exposure on Hockey Night in Canada (and the occasional City Hall tirade), and Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player in Canada’s favourite game, no one in the Top 10 of CBC’s “Greatest Canadian” finalists likely has a chance to breach the list of our country’s most famous person.

That’s where the distinction between “greatest” and “famous” comes into play. Both terms are, of course, subjective. However, in the national vote conceived and promoted by CBC, Tommy Douglas edged out Canucks such as Alexander Graham Bell, Pierre Trudeau, and Dr. Frederick Banting for the title of “Greatest Canadian.”

From Baptist minister to national icon, Douglas is known by many today as the father of universal heath care and the grandfather of actor Kiefer Sutherland. He won recognition as the “Greatest Canadian” for the former, though fans of the television show 24 are certainly appreciative of the latter.

Douglas passed away 26 years ago today at age 81, following a life that saw him become the first federal NDP leader and a crusader for the right of Canadians to have access to free healthcare. He wasn’t a rock star and he didn’t bare his midriff very often, as best we can tell.

He may not be the most famous Canadian, but he is, according to enough of us, the greatest. And while fame is fleeting and changes with the emergence of the next pop star du jour, greatness is earned throughout a lifetime and not so easily toppled.

-Mike Crisolago