Banknotables: a holiday conversation starter

If the Famous Five don’t belong on the $50 bill, who does?

by Colby Cosh

Hilarity! Both of the metropolitan broadsheets in Alberta are throwing a tantrum about the Mint’s plans to dump the Famous Five feminists of the 1920s from the $50 bill and replace them with a picture of an icebreaker. Like most pundits who take a thwack at the occasional issue of personages and emblems on our currency, the authors of these editorials act like they have never been east of Flin Flon.

I ask you to sincerely disregard the epic loathsomeness of the Famous Five—that quintet of unsmiling prohibitionists, pacifists, and white supremacists, at least three of whom bear direct personal responsibility for a four-decade regime of sexual sterilization of the “unfit” in Alberta. Leave aside, too, the fact that women would obviously have been admitted to the Senate soon enough if there had never been a Persons Case. No, I ask you merely to look at the people other countries put on their paper currency. With the exception of Australia, which shares our fetish for early female politicians utterly unknown elsewhere, you’ll find they mostly like to put world-historical figures on there. Japan honours Noguchi, who discovered the syphilis spirochete. England honours Darwin and Adam Smith. Sweden remembers Linnaeus and Jenny Lind. New Zealand commemorates Edmund Hillary and Ernest Rutherford.

In short, they tend to favour the kind of hero whose name has some enduring significance for all mankind. As an answer to this resounding dialogue of peoples, the Edmonton Journal asks “Why not honour an Inuk such as Natkusiak, the man who was the principal guide for two major Canadian Arctic expeditions in 1908-12 and 1913-18?” The author of that sentence has managed to embarrass his newspaper, condescend to the Inuit, and satirize his country, all with a mere flourish of 25 words. Maybe we should put him on a banknote!

The problem Canada may have, though I hesitate to mention it, is a lack of deserving international notables of the first rank. Almost a decade ago I asked my small blog audience “Who are the Canadians whose names will still be part of the history of civilization 250 years from now?” This is a very rigorous standard, and while one can’t insist on the 250-year figure, it does concentrate the mind: we ought to search for names that transcend fashions, even very long-running ones like sports and games, and particular media. I think it would be humiliating for us to demand a quarter-share of the fame of Rutherford or Alexander Graham Bell or John Grierson, or perhaps even James Naismith.

I proposed Glenn Gould and Marshall McLuhan as the strongest really Canadian candidates, and in ten years I haven’t heard a name I am quite willing to put at the same level. The two are not household names anywhere, but their standing is permanent and globally recognized. Emphasis on the “and”. McLuhan founded an academic discipline and modelled an unique way of thinking; his silliness, indecipherability, and contradictoriness were part of his method. (He is much like Edmund Hillary; a “first” who was much followed to a new place, and who can never be dislodged from that distinction.) Gould was not just a once-a-century interpreter of art that has unquestioned millennial significance, but was a pretty profound media theorist and philosopher in his own right. The best outside suggestion I got was Lucy Maud Montgomery, who is close to the right level; literary fame is mysterious and transient, but she has 100 years of uninterrupted international stardom. Readers are invited to suggest other answers to the question.




Browse

Banknotables: a holiday conversation starter

  1. Frederick Banting and Charles Best.

    • Who had “19 minutes” in the pool for the first mention of insulin? Credit for that discovery is divided awkwardly among four people and one of them isn’t Canadian. Which is why insulin is represented on our *existing* currency by, um, a bottle with “INSULIN” written on it. Pass.

      • Northrop Frye.

        • Not sure you’re feeling this “250 years” concept. Frye’s rep is already in decline.

          • My only other locked and loaded suggestion is Leonard Cohen, but I’ll get back to you in around 2061 on whether his rep holds up in the medium term.

      • This can only make sense to someone who has no idea how science works.   Other people are _always_ involved in any given scientific discovery; it’s not like Banting and Best were working from birth on some deserted island and came up with insulin de novo.   So what?

        • Maybe you should have made this argument without elsewhere presenting your own list full of individual scientists? Oopsie.

    • Exactly, Robert. Overlooking those two makes nonsense of Cash’s whole column. He hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about.

        • “Credit for that discovery is divided awkwardly among four people and one of them isn’t Canadian.”

          Colby, let’s look at the facts:

          Insulin discovered by committee,

          Sharing the Nobel cash with a guy who didn’t win the actual prize

          -An ongoing polite disagreement about who did what, and an issue with foreign interference

           Quintessentially Canadian, no?

        • Don’t egg on Coyle, Cash.

    • I totally agree. At least their discouvery has saved millions unlike Marshall and Glenn who?

  2. Colby, please use Britain, not England. Sticky point with the Scots as Adam Smith is theirs and they are constantly trying to split off from England.

    • I beg your pardon, but I was referring to notes of the Bank of England. I’m well aware, as are the people who put Adam Smith on English pounds sterling, that he is Scots.

      • I’ll be picky here, cos it’s xmas and I’m like that.

        The notes issued by the Bank of England are legal tender in all of the
        UK. But they are the official notes of not just England, but England and
        Wale. Both these countries are also covered by English law.
        Scottish and N Irish notes are also legal tender in all of the UK but folk from Southern England have a hard time realising that there is a world north of Watford and sometimes refuse them.

        • If you’re going to be picky, start by being right.

          Bank of England notes are legal tender only in England and Wales; Scottish and Northern Irish notes aren’t legal tender anywhere, even in their home nations (they’re just treated as equivalent because for every Scots/NI note printed, the issuing bank has to hold an equal value of Bank of England notes in reserve to settle any debts).  If an English trading party wants to refuse your payment in Scottish pound notes and demand English ones they’re perfectly able to do so.

          • Right back at you.
            The Scottish banks are allowed to issue a relatively small amount of notes without backing, the rest being backed by holdings in Sterling.
            Also an English trading party can also refuse to accept payment in Sterling under the “Law of Contract” in England and Wales. However in reality, successive UK governments have continuously reinforced the legality of Scottish notes in English transactions and it’s equivalency with other forms of payment.
            It is tough being entirely correct given the vagaries of three different legal systems and the attempt to unify them while maintaining their distinctive characteristics. But this is fun.

          • Fun indeed; with each reply we get closer and closer to the finicky truth.

            Scottish banks, and NI ones, can indeed print a minority of their notes excluded from BoE backing. My issue was with your use of the magic words “legal tender”. This may not be vital in much everyday trading — which is so much closer to barter than most realise — but if some creditor wants to be a dick about your debt, it’s worth knowing when the law won’t back you up.  Merry Xmas.

    • No. No no no.  Only Bank of England notes feature Smith; the latest series of each of the three Scottish banks does not.  As to “constantly trying” to split off, is that why less than a third of Scots voted to create the most basic Scottish Assembly in 1978?  The potential Yes vote in a potential referendum half a world away from Canada is approximately zero reason for Colby to avoid your alleged “sticky point”.


  3.  I haven’t heard a name I am quite willing to put at the same level. ”

    Northrope Frye?  

    “Why not honour an Inuk such as Natkusiak, the man who blahblahblah”  

    I was hoping you were joking and that this was a made up funny ha-ha quote.  I really was.  But no, this is how ostensibly right wing papers in ostensibly right wing Alberta in ostensibly right wing Stephen Harper’s Canada actually talk these days.  

    Turnout Nerds take note:  when joining public discourse means acquiescing to Orwell-style “2+2″ shibboleths *designed* to humiliate, withdrawal in disgust is an understandable reaction.  Political correctness must account for a good half of disengaged citizens.

    The persons case was bogus, women were already serving in the house, voting, and working, they were quite obviously recognized as persons.  Compare the soft, left, devoid-of-life grey pap editorial above with this snappy editorial from the Ottawa Journal in 1930, 2 days after Cairine Wilson was named senator:  ’”Mrs. Wilson is the very antithesis of the short-haired female type which talks of Freud and complexes and the latest novel, and poses as being intellectual. She is of the more appealing and competent kind who make a success of their job of taking care of the home and rearing a family before meddling with and trying to make a success of everything else.”
    http://www.valerieknowles.com/capital_lives_excerpt.html Now that’s good writing!

    • No love for Nort?  OK, Lt. General Guy Simonds.

    • I wouldn’t say it was “bogus”.  While doing research on the Legislative Council of Nova Scotia, I found documents showing the Nova Scotia government wanted to appoint women to the Council, but didn’t because they feared it was illegal, for the same reasons raised in the Persons Case. Because the legality wasn’t established, they didn’t appoint any women, as doing so could have called into question the upcoming vote to abolish the Legislative Council.

  4. The best answer I could possibly come up with is Arthur Currie; he obviously won’t be remembered by anybody but the First World War nerds in 250 years but, then, if you can pick “Glenn Gould” even though he’s hardly remembered by non-nerds now I think Currie’s fair.

    Justin Bieber has a chance of getting there, as an early social media mogul of immense musical fame. That is not a joke.

    Given that Canada obviously has so few figures of international reputation I have no problem with just making our choices of money-men impenetrable for foreigners. The Famous in Canada Collection of 2012. Margaret Lawrence, the Group of Seven, Pierre Berton, and James Richardson. Why not?

  5. Terry Fox.

  6. I first realized Canada was nation of dullards after I graduated university and moved abroad where they have proper heroes. Canada is profoundly conservative – peace, order and good government – and it seems to stamp out individuality. For instance, we don’t celebrate kooks and eccentrics like other countries, we celebrate and encourage milquetoast types. Our Generals haven’t earned much credit during major world conflagrations, many of our best move to America to achieve fame and fortune while second rate stay in Canada and there is tall poppy syndrome. 

    When I was in Korea they knew who John Candy was – I would nominate John Candy, Jim Carrey and Mike Myers as famous Canadians because they were world class funny – but entertainment types don’t seem to have lasting power. 

    I just peered into my magic eight ball and it says Steve Pinker will be famous Canadian in future. 

    And I know these are fighting words for some but in no way, shape or form do any members of Rush belong on our currency. Gord Downie or Death!

    • Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes. Bertolt Brecht

    • Maybe they moved to get away from such moaning pessimism. That, and multiculturalism, which have for so long suppressed the true potential of this nation.

  7. Seriously, the one name that is always brought up in conversation down here is….wait for it…..Ben Johnson.

    Sigh.

    • Oh, I would LOVE a Ben Johnson 50. Just to stick it to those Americans who feel superior because Carl Lewis was better at covering up his career-long steroid usage.

      Actually, what I really want is a limited-edition Ben Johnson banknote worth $9.79.

  8. Wally’s brother, the Beaver.

  9. Wilder Penfield
     
    Norman Bethune
     
    Lester Pearson
     
    Sir Sanford Fleming
     
    James Naismith
     
    Marshall McLuhan
     
    James Hillier

  10. I love your suggestion for Gould, and your post on the national securities regulator.  Leopold Simoneau is still remembered worldwide as one of the, if not the, best Mozartian singer of the past century.   With the Met presenting Faust last week, I just had to hear it sung by the great one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH1f6FqHuCg

    Simply put, perfection. Why not celebrate it? I much prefer to celebrate art and artists than to celebrate political figures. Nerdy, these artists, maybe, but the world knows Canada through these artists.  This is how Norway remembers Kirsten Flagstad: 

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:KirstenFlagstad.jpg

  11. Wait a sec, you mean the currency isn’t going to be adorned with images of Stephen Harper in various heroic poses? Flying a CF-35 into battle… defeating the terrorists in hand-to-hand combat… scoring the gold-medal-winning goal at the Olympics…

    In that case, I vote for Terrance and Phillip. Those two Canadians started a friggin’ war.

    But I’m good with McLuhan or Gould, too.

    • Close.  As part of the next election cycle, all money will feature conflated Conservative party tropes.  The five dollar bill, for instance, will depict Jack Layton’s series of  meetings with Chairman Mao which helped create the (ominous music) National Energy Program.  

      • Oh yeah, I heard about that… and the $10 will have Michael Ignatieff blowing his nose with a Canadian flag while taking a long-gun away from a farmer and throwing him in jail (and releasing a pedophile in the process). On the $20, Pierre Trudeau holds a gun to a guy’s head and forces him to fill out the long-form census, surrounded by illegal Tamil migrants who are cheering him on.

    • Harper isn’t Putin.

      • So true, Putin’s in much better shape, and occasionally shows emotion..

  12. Donovan Bailey breaking the tape in 1996

  13. Cash – I am amazed fishwife brigade hasn’t arrived yet and defended Famous Five. I’ve said similar things as you and harridans respond with umbrage. Females must be out busy shopping to not notice your blog post.

    Write something about Ron Paul again – I enjoyed batsh*t crazy comments Paul supporters posted.

    • Tony does your “missus” read your posts?  “Fishwife brigade”?  pleeese!  Maybe we should beg Colby to write something on obesity so we can mock your outrage.

  14. “The problem Canada may have, though I hesitate to mention it, is a lack of deserving international notables of the first rank.”

    The key word here is “notables”, which is a highly subjective determination.  That arguably no Canadian has yet risen to the level of (for e.g.) a Ghandi or Lincoln or Shakespeare is wholly a function of being a very young nation of very few people, relatively speaking.

    That being said, the only name I can come up with is Gretzky, who is synonymous with the activity Canada is probably most associated with and whose international name recognition (at least in the northern hemisphere) is unmatched, IMO.

  15. This post is lazy from start to finish.   Yes, it’s the holidays, but geez. 

    When we celebrate people, we do it as shorthand for the good things they accomplished.   The “Famous Five” did accomplish great things, and we rightly celebrate that.  Only children and idiots require that their heros be great in all aspects of their lives.  Particularly as  you go back in time, it’s almost inevitable that they also held beliefs that we now realize are abhorrent.   That means it’s important to have frank discussions about what we are and aren’t proud of in those people; but if only people who were uniformly and uncontroversially good in all aspects of their lives were worth remembering, there’d be no “biography” section in the bookstores.

    As for the rest – how there’s  no one to replace them because Canadians are all un-notable by definition –  Yes, yes, we get it, Cosh.  You don’t like Canadians.  How edgy and excitingly contrarian.

    Bethune, Trudeau, Douglas, Scholes, Galbraith, Richler, Gould, Peterson, (only counting “fancy” entertainers), maybe Jewison & Egoyan, McLuhan, Fleming, Banting & Best (your reasons for excluding them don’t make any sense at all), in medicine there’s Osler, Callaghan, and Bigelow; Polanyi (why _aren’t_ there more scientists on bills?  You could do a whole series just on nobel prize winners), Fields, Atwood, Pearson, Fox is obviously a sentimental favourite, Fleming, Gehry, Lyle, Currie…  I’m not even trying here.

    And for present purposes, the 250 year thing is just some weird fetishization. Why should we, the people handling the paper currency of today – artifacts that will last in circulation no more than a few years – spend much time worrying what people 250 years hence will think of the decisions we made about who we put on that currency? Why _shouldn’t_ we also celebrate those people who are well thought of now, even (especially?) if that fame is more transitory?

    What a strange little post.

    • I did a massive spit-take reading eighteen of the names on your list. A nation with Atom Egoyan on its currency should just give up and ask the Americans to invade. They will be greeted as liberators.

      • Why? How is well-thought-of current artists of various sorts better or worse than long-dead economists (for instance)?

        In fact, I’ll go further — any country that’s been around for long enough has likely, if only by accident, sired some famous citizens which did something great, and that nation can longingly stare into its history to relive past glories.

        We’re newer and younger than that, and maybe we _should_ focus _more_ on contemporaries or recent people whose contributions we *hope* will live on for long periods of time.

        And why not? Why is it in some way superior to have long-dead people on paper artifacts representing wealth? Stamps (for instance), because of the frequency at which they’re re-issued, often have more contemporary people and accomplishments on them; why _shouldn’t_ paper money?

    • I hate to tell you this, but there is an obvious difference between someone who had bad qualities apart from the field in which they achieved (Babe Ruth was not very nice to women) and somebody who was awful IN that field (five female politicians who really, truly would have made pretty good Nazis). You have failed to understand this obvious difference. And this is not a case of a few beliefs “we now realize” were abhorrent, but many beliefs which were resisted by intelligent contemporaries. The members of the Five who supported eugenics supported it the MOST vigorously among the progressive politicians of the time. That is what is meant when someone who knows what he is talking about refers to “personal responsibility”.
      As for your observation that there are dozens of people we might put on currency, it is not helpful in choosing those we actually would. Instead of providing an alternate criterion, you have tried to show how clever you are by blurting out a long list of names. With, and stop me if you can see where this is going, the opposite effect.

      • Being able to come up with a long list _isn’t_ a badge of being “clever”; just the opposite, any schoolchild could come up with such a list, and in fact are made to do so in homeworks across the nation.   There’s lots of people and accomplishments one can easily think of that are good and worthwhile to hold up with pride on various national symbols like currency.  If you had been willing to spend 30 seconds to think of some rather than labouring 15 minutes to maintain your stance of being Constantly! Excitingly! Contrarian!  (Canadians are inherently non-notable!  Take that, you conventional thinkers!)  you would have been able to come up with as long or longer a list, likely with a very different set of names, which is great.

        And yes, the “Famous Five” were people who I would vigorously oppose today, and I suspect of all Macleans columnists, only Steyn would actually like them, which should already be a warning sign.  Fine.   The important positive things they _did_ get done are still worth celebrating, even while we despise much of the rest. People – maybe especially those who rise to prominence – are typically horrifically flawed.

        • Sure, I could come up with 200 famous names on the level you’re talking about, with no criterion at all. How would that be helpful? Even on the level of “having a fun discussion”, does that work? Hurf durf, let’s sit around mentioning famous Canadians all day!

          • This whole thing _does_ present an interesting idea for a post; contact a half-dozen canadian history departments and women’s study folks, and ask for some recommendations as to who would be better people to replace the “Famous Five” on the $50 – people who made real advances for Canadian women, without such horrendous baggage – and then present the case for them and against the pecuniary incumbants,

            It would be interesting, readers would learn something, and it would even allow the author to be interestingly contrarian!

            On the downside, it would take research, (slightly) longer than 15 minutes to write, and it would require mastery of a literary technique other than “disdain”.

          • It figures you would play the “Why didn’t you write some other totally different post I want to read?” card. Random Internet Guys are such terrific assignment editors.

          • Colby’s right, if you want a post about a specific topic you’ve chosen yourself, then write it yourself on your own blog somewhere.  Also, your list was rather underwhelming.

      • Tsk, Tsk, Colby.  You are conveniently picking on the famous five and leaving out other so-called brilliant minds of the 20th century who also took a big interest in eugenics including Alexander Graham Bell.  If I am not mistaken, however, you deigned to include him as a candidate for a spot on the currency.  What about Winston Churchill…he took an interest in eugenics and along with Graham Bell was on the first eugenic scientific board.  Would he have made a good Nazi too?

  16. This was supposed to be a reply…

  17. Who will we be celebrating 250 years in the future?  Who knows…the entire premise is crazy because we have no idea what the world will look like.  Canada might not be a country so we might not celebrate anyone that had anything to do with it becoming one.  Will be celebrate people who made discoveries for treatments for diseases…maybe there will be no disease.  Will be celebrate artists?  Maybe we all will be artists.  I think Colby Cash you are making a big mistake…you are judging the famous five by today’s standards and not immersing yourself in the place where they lived.  You are also not appreciating that people like Banting and Best accomplished what they did because they worked well with others.  Even Glenn Gould was shaped by those who came before him.

    • On the trendy, predictable rejoinder about “Today’s standards!!1!”, please see the reply to Jonathan Dursi, below.

      • Yay, I’m trendy.

        • I don’t think it was a compliment…but good for you for taking it as one.

      • Well I find your not disclosing that eugenics was a popular “science” during the beginning of the century disengenuous.  Why do you not admit that Francis Crick who found DNA, Winston Churchill and our own Alexander Graham Bell were highly interested in eugenics.  Yet somehow their interests do not take away from their accomplishments.  I would not say that the famous five were perfect but they lived in a very imperfect time in Canadian history.  If you were Chinese, your grandfather would have paid a head tax to get into this country.  To pretend that only the famous five were prejudice, is misleading and frankly, beneath you. 

  18. Congratulations, Colby.  You certainly know what buttons to push, going into a holiday weekend.

    Given the current arcs of international power, I have to support the proposal of Norman Bethune, the best known Canadian in China.

  19. Reginald Fessenden. Can’t think of a more deserving name. AM radio, SONAR, etc. The man pioneered the use of the radio for all sorts of communication.

    Also, David Brunton. He invented the modern compass.

  20. I nominate the Six Brown Brothers.

  21. I nominate William Shatner. In a century or so he’ll still be one of the only Canadians that civilization remembers.

    • Yup….Shatner  and James Doohan.

      • The Chinese who built the railroad.

        • Cosh asked for Canadians who were notable for their achievements at the world class level.

  22. All this nonsense supports the best argument, which is that individuals don’t belong on the goddamned banknotes at all. 

    • That argument can only stand up if (before the euro) you thought it was absurd to see Gauss on a German banknote or Democritus on a Greek one. Nobody is really going to let the Macleans.ca peanut gallery put William Shatner or David Suzuki on a piece of legal tender.

      • “Who are the Canadians whose names will still be part of the history of civilization 250 years from now?”

        In 250 years we won’t have banknotes to put any pictures on…..but yes, Star Trek will be remembered as part of the history of civilization.

        Dawn of the space age, and all that.

  23. Sandford Fleming? William Osler? Frank Gehry? Mordecai Richler? John Molson? Ken Thomson? James Gosling? George Klein? St. Marie D’Youville? Too many scientists to list? It’s really not that tough. I’m sure you’ll find something wrong with all the above because you seem convinced Canada is a nation of losers, but we punch above our weight as far as notables go.

    • Whoops posted this before reading Jonathan above. It is indeed quite difficult to come up with names of people that Cosh knows will be famous in 200 years.

      • Are you suggesting it’s not difficult to identify people who will be famous in 250 years? I guess it’s not difficult if you think people will still be running Java at that point.

        • People the world over have been listening to Bach for 250 years and I feel comfortable predicting that they will be listening to Bach 250 years from now. That’s why I really like your suggestion of Gould.  It passes the Loraine test of universal appeal : I checked on wiki and the Gould  entry is available in about thirty languages.  Gould’s recordings will be known the world over for generations to come.  

          Simoneau’s wiki entry is available in seven languages.  I feel comfortable predicting that the world will listen to Mozart’s music 250 years from now and that Simoneau’s will still be known as perfect interpretations of Mozart. Personally I would pick Simoneau over Gould because of my passion for the human voice – mediums, as you point, change, but not for the human voice -.and because when I listen to Simoneau I hear Mozart while I always hear Gould when I listen to Gould, not Bach through Gould. Simoneau in that sense is more accomplished in his art, though his appeal is not at the moment as universal as Gould’s. 

          But for the purpose of a banknote, it’s money!, I must agree with your suggestion of Gould.  

           I’ll pay myself a little treat:
           http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in7Nhn1H7Zs

  24. They only belong on the bill if you are not Chinese, black or possibly Roman Catholic. These women sought democratic rights for themselves but not for Chinese or black women. Really not the heroines their backers like to promote.

    • The famous five were not perfect but they did not live in a perfect world either.  How many people spoke out when Chinese Canadians were charged a head tax?

      • But they wanted to live in a perfect world via Eugenics

        • They lived in the Agricultural Age, so it probably seemed quite reasonable to them.

        • As did Alexander Graham Bell…big fan of eugenics…hasn’t affected his reputation as a Canadian hero.

  25. I’m going to go with Sir William Osler, called the “most influential physician in history”

    Seems to fit the “bill” – created a new way of doing things, adopted internationally - still used today, and he seems to have been one hellofa nice guy!

    “Osler created the first residency program for specialty training of physicians, and he was the first to bring medical students out of the lecture hall for bedside clinical training.

    He has been called the “Father of modern medicine.  Osler was a pathologist, physician, educator, bibliophile, historian, author, and renowned practical joker.”

    http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?BioId=41753

  26. Chief Crowfoot and Captain Kirk

  27. I’m sorry, I can’t resist. Captain Kirk and Scotty — 2 of Canada’s most famous space explorers.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and my personal best wishes to you all!

  28. John Ware – African-Canadian Cowboy ……started life as a slave in South Carolina.

  29. Easy.
    Tommy Douglas.
    Hands down.

    • People outside Canada would care about Tommy Douglas why?

      • That’s the problem with your premise, No one outside of Canada  is going to see any of the Canadian currency because it is not accepted anywhere and no one is going to be either cognizant that this notable people are Canadians or even who many of the them are.  If Tommy Douglas who has had probably the biggest impact in defining what a means to be a Canadian can’t make the cut, then you are trying to please the wrong people with your selections.

        • That is one ridiculous, infantile statement about Tommy Douglas right there.

          • I am sorry if you find it “infantile” to express that Tommy Douglas is the person who Canadians look up to the most.  You may not want to face this Colby, but Canadians are very proud of their universal healthcare and do feel it defines who they are.  I would love to see your sources that support your assertions that I am wrong.

  30. I believe that I would put John Charles Fields (of the “Fields Medal” in Mathematics), William Osler (the “father of modern medicine”), architect Frank Gehry, and Techumseh (given the, perhaps surprising, admiration with which he is held in the U.S.) on your list Mr. Cosh.

    I’m also not sure I like the idea that we should confine ourselves to figures of “international” significance. I mean, should we be leaving MacDonald and Laurier off our currency??? ‘Cause I’d be against taking the notion that far.

    • Fields is really only known for the Fields Medal, which is named for him because he scraped up the cash; he is not himself one of the leading figures in math in his time, except for that reason. As for Osler, I’ve studied the history of medicine pretty closely, and there’s never been a time when someone said “And now for an hour-long lecture/book chapter on the Father of Medicine”. It’s a case of Inflated Canadian Reputation, though a slight one; he obviously does have international standing.

      • Yeah, I know that about Fields, I’m saying he’s deserving just for that.

  31. Perhaps one should consider Sir Sanford Fleming.  He did after all help plan 3 railways in this country and give us the 24 hour clock.

  32. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Louis Riel

  33. Calvin`s mother.

  34. Frank Gehry. Architecture is a smart legacy investment. 

    • Left the country at 18, is a US citizen. Long-term reputation nowhere near solidified. Pretty much exactly the kind of faddish contemporary choice I was encouraging people to avoid. Personally regard him as preposterous, though I would not emphasize that part.

      • Faddishness nowhere near solidified. Coshian perception of preposterousness elevates his standing! (But, fair enough, I left James Cameron off the list for that reason.) Nationality problematic.

        Regarding your choices, McLuhan’s reputation will wane, as Frye’s has, and Frye’s reputation will recover.

        I’ll give you Gould, stipulating that piano music is pretty boutique stuff.

        • The music Gould is most famous for interpreting was written without the piano in mind at all.

          • Somehow, this well-known world-famous fact escaped my notice.

  35. A person’s popularity really has no bearing on the worth of their accomplishments. Part of our problem as Canadians is that we never really do celebrate our most deserving heroes, instead we limit ourselves to the boring and acceptable ones — which have usually become popular either because the government has invested a significant amount of money to promote them or they have been lionized in our media within our lifetime (e.g. Terry Fox or Tommy Douglas; both inspiring and deserving, but…).

    There are two figures that I haven’t seen mentioned either in the column or the comments that I think would be most deserving — and not because they are popular. In fact, both are unfortunately damned to obscurity despite their accomplishments. The first is David Thompson, an explorer and geographer who mapped one fifth of all the landmass of North America, including the entirety of the Columbia River. Wikipedia calls him the “greatest land geographer who ever lived,” for whatever that’s worth.

    The second is George Grant. Some might know him as the author of Lament For A Nation, but he was a trained academic philosopher who wrote on all sorts of subjects. What makes him notable is that he was one of Canada’s only true public intellectuals; Northrop Frye and Marshal McLuhan did some of that, but so did George Grant, and he do so by articulating a separate and distinction notion of — for lack of a better term — “Canadianness.” Since Grant’s death, there really hasn’t be anyone to fill the void. Most of our philosophers and academics end up going abroad for their graduate education, and if they do return the overwhelming majority have no interest in looking at Canada or Canadian topics as a distinct entity worthy of special consideration.

    Either would do nicely on our banknotes.

    • By recommending a thinker whose subject matter was “Canadianness”, are you rejecting the criterion I proposed? My issue is, “deservingness” alone is not very helpful. For all I know you might be deserving of appearing on a banknote. This just leaves us with a clamour of shouted names (see thread for obnoxious details).
      Anyway, I basically only ever see Grant mentioned nowadays in the context of how forgotten he is. You would want a philosopher candidate to be someone whose importance was conceded even by opponents, someone on the Wittgenstein level of immortality. Honestly, our top candidate in the realm of pure thought might be Donald Coxeter.

      • You make a fair point. I wasn’t particularly articulate in my defense of Grant. He did do a great deal of legitimate philosophy, especially his writings on Martin Buber. But you can be forgiven if you don’t recognize why having a Canadian philosopher write about Canadian topics — or at least not simply pass himself off as American or British — is so notable. In analytic philosophy, Canada is a great big blackhole. The vast majority of Canadian graduate students in philosophy have to go to a Leiter-ranked American university, the U of T (which, for all intents and purposes is a large American research university), or Oxbridge to be employable in any other Canadian university, from Dalhousie to UBC.

        As a result, philosophy departments in Canada are populated with a preponderance of American/British PhDs (many held by American or Brits, too). That has turned philosophy in Canada to a branch plant of what is going on in the United States or Britain. And while some might say that logic is the same anywhere (and sure it is; look at how great John Woods is — recently retired prof. at UBC; got his PhD from Michigan, I think), the influence of history and culture is utterly undeniable and pervasive in most areas of philosophy. Which is why you can end up with someone like John Rawls (working at Princeton, a top ranked school in philosophy) purporting to create a universal liberal theory of justice which turns out to be an elaborate defense of the United States.

        The other unintended consequence of this failure of philosophy in Canada is the complete dearth of public intellectuals. The U.S. has its own problems with hating intellectuals in the public discourse; ours is that we simply don’t have any intellectuals to hate. Germany provides a very useful example that which Canada ought to aspire. German philosophy and German philosophers have been driving much of what has gone on intellectually, at least since Kant (not to mention Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, et cetera…) and even today there is both a space for serious, ivory tower business as well as public engagement. Just look at Habermas; his theory of communicative rationality is serious stuff, but his presence in German public discourse is no less important or notable.

        Outside of Grant, I don’t really see Canada having anyone that can or has fulfilled that role. Charles Taylor has come close, and Will Kymlicka does avowedly work on issues highly relevant to the Canadian experience (diversity and multiculturalism)…but I don’t think I’ve ever come across Kymlicka doing anything that might get someone to accuse him of being a public intellectual.

  36. Most of the names mentioned here would make it into 90% of people’s lists. Gretzky, Dion, Suzuki, those are popular names that will be long lasting.

    • That would be Walter, Celine, and the Hatchback ?

  37. I say Monty Hall.

  38. So what’s wrong with promoting our Nobel Prize winners?

    • Nothing: but we have, what, close to 20 of them? We would obviously prefer a stronger filter for the inherently scarcer honour of appearing on currency.

  39. Has everyone forgotten about a certain Dr. Wilder Penfield? His map of the motor cortex (cortical homunculus) has and continues to make dramatic impacts on medicine and science! I think a person’s impact is far more important than their fame. Otherwise people like Justin Beiber become more relevant.

  40. Jenny Lind?  Noguchi?  Those are some non-welthistorisches names you got there.  Provincial, even.  Unless (wikipedia tells me) you’re an opera singer with syphilis.

    There are some pretty provincial figures on US currency.  Alexander Hamilton is not welthistorisches.  Neither Abraham Lincoln nor George Washington would be considered welthistorisches if we weren’t bombarded with American propaganda all the time.  

    But it’s very Canadian to think they are.

  41. billy bishop

  42. I vote Lester B Pearson. Not only a sound PM who brought us the flag, etc… but internationally known for negotiating peace in the Suez crisis.

  43. Alexander Graham Bell, Marshall McLuhan, or Thomas Chang (he invented the world’s first artificial blood cell). 

  44. Thomas Chang (invented the world’s first artificial blood cell). 

  45. I am from Europe, and I don’t think I ever heard the name of any Canadian famous for anything worldwide…

    • Where’s Europe?

  46. How about Tuzo Wilson, one of the fathers of the Theory of Plate Tectonics (being the first to describe transform faults, and the origin of the Hawaii volcano chain)? Or how about Joseph Tyrrell, one of the great geologists and explorers of Canada (discovering the first coal seams and dinosaurs in Alberta, for instance)?

  47. From the music world:  Oscar Peterson

    Literature: Mordecai Richler (but that would not be popular in Quebec), Robertson Davies

    Arts: Jean Paul Riopelle

    Charitable Works:  Paul Emile Cardinal Leger

    General all-around Canadianness:  Red Green (but his banknote should be the colour of duct tape)

  48. William Shatner.  I mean, seriously, if he can’t be the G.G.  In the background the Canada-arm and the Starship Enterprise, to which Bill is beaming up while talking on a cell phone, which only exists because we sort of invented the original which could replace the flip-up in the hologram when you wiggle the bill.  Any excuse to squeeze in Star Trek and show what a fun people we are and anyone who wants to imagine we invented all of that stuff is free to do so.  And Mordecai Richler, of course, in Duddy’s old neighbourhood in Montreal and Solomon G. with the Terror on the hologram.  Tim Horton sitting in a T. Horton’s drinking a Tim Horton’s – get it?  A la Hopper and so surreal people will be framing the notes and hanging them on the wall.  In the background the photo of centre ice at the conclusion of the only hockey game that’s really mattered in the last fifty odd years, the final of the 67 series, with the Leafs hoisting the Stanley Cup for the last time. 

  49. Yawn, this must be the slow-news season, yes??
    I think Albertans are correct to protest removing the Famous Five from the currency. Ms Cosh (I’m guessing at the gender) is hysterical in her attack on these historical women.
    I won’t dignify that attack by countering it with rational arguments. The attack is current course content, in Diversity Classes within the Faculty of Dogmatic Revisionism, in the faux-academy that passes for university today, and Ms Cosh must be a refugee from that. Not to belabor it, but
    a) the ladies were all proper Alberta ladies of the provincial elite. It’s the elite (with all its prejudices) that changes any society for the better, not the Class of Underlings. Nevertheless, Alberta was more open to female social participation and equality of sexes, at the time, than ANY region of Canada. THAT’s why it was Albertans who brought the case forward.
    b) it was accepted medical and social practice, in the era of the F5, to sterilize the seriously disabled. O wot a cruel fate. Worthy of a Plaque in the Holocaust Museum. To be able to eat a plate of gruel, in an institution, assisted by a paid attendant, but not to be able to screw the inmate in the next cell and raise “a family.” Ranks right up there with the Cambodian Genocide.
       I’m not sure where MacLeans finds the Miss Coshes for their ranks, but lose them, please.

  50. Anyhoo, to answer the [faux] question put to us by Ms Cosh:
    Best known Canadians:
    1) Robert Goulet (known in Europe as Goulash)
    2) Paul Anka (known in Russia as Polianka; in Italy, as Polenta)
    3) Ann Murray
    4) Celine Dion
    5) Michael Bubblé
    NOW do you understand why it’s best to not to touch this subject?

    anyway, i have a better idea:
    - Picture of the melting Arctic Ice Cap
    - Caption reading, “May it continue”

  51. Just put a jug of maple syrup on it and call it good.

    Perhaps inside of a tire, to symbolize the one thing Canada is known for world-wide – Canadian Tire.

    (I kid. A little.)

  52. I nominate the following:

    1. Lord Beaverbrook
    2. Sir Samuel Cunard
    3. Sir Sandford Fleming (The fact that he was Scottish born may be a sticking point)
    4. Dr. Norman Bethune (The fact that he was a communist may be a sticking point)
    5. Billy Bishop

  53. The Irish Orphans from that Heritage Minute.  Surely, the will be remembered.

    • They, rather.

  54. Alexander Graham Bell and Marshall McLuhan are very worthy candidates. 

  55. Alexander Graham Bell and Marshall McLuhan are very worthy candidates..also, Thomas Chang? (he invented the world’s first artificial blood cell). 

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *