Presenting: the return of the Heritage Minutes

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The Historica-Dominion Institute is releasing two new 60-second episodes on the War of 1812

by Scaachi Koul on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Maclean’s is partnering with the Historica-Dominion Institute to celebrate the return of the Heritage Minutes on the bicentennial of the War of 1812. Over the next few weeks we’ll be featuring the most memorable Minutes, along with a few illustrious parodies, and a sneak peek of the brand new Minute set to be released on Oct. 15. 

The Heritage Minutes are back. Remember those 60-second spots in movie theatres and on TV that re-enact a moment in Canadian history? Of course you do. They taught generations of kids about how basketball traces its origins to Canada’s Dr. James Naismith, how Winnie the Pooh was named after Winnipeg, and that Laura Secord was about more than just ice cream.

Sixty-six Heritage Minutes were first made by the CRB Foundation and later by the Historica-Dominion Institute (which was then the Historica Foundation of Canada). It’s been seven years since the last ones were filmed, but the Institute is producing two new Minutes to celebrate the War of 1812 bicentennial.

The first one, to be released on Oct. 15, is about Richard Pierpoint, a 68-year-old former slave and Loyalist, who persuaded black men to enlist and fight in the War. The second one, coming up in the spring, is about Mohawk Chief John Norton who, with 80 Grand River warriors, surprised advancing American soldiers at the Battle of Queenston Heights. They held them off for hours until reinforcements came, and won the battle.

Shooting two new Minutes, though, was also a bit of an homage to the Minutes themselves. As Jeremy Diamond, director of the Historica-Dominion Institute, put it: “They have become their own nostalgia.”

The challenge was to play off people’s fond memories while differentiating the new Minutes somewhat from the classics. “They can be in danger of being a pastiche themselves,” said Ryan Noth of Fifth Town Films, which produced the two new 60-second episodes. “We wanted to look at alternative characters who had a huge impact [on history] but aren’t well-known.”

The hope is that the new Minutes will capture the imagination of today’s kids just as they did with previous generations. What was once seen only in theatres or on TV will be available on smartphones, tablets and online. “It’s a great opportunity to engage with [the audience] much more effectively than we could have even a decade ago,” Diamond said. What won’t change is that the Minutes will still be a minute. Call it foresight or a curious historical accident, that bite-size format seems tailor-made for the tech generation.

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