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.
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.
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.
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.
Alanis Obomsawin, OC, GOQ, filmmaker, singer, artist, storyteller (born 31 August 1932 near Lebanon, New Hampshire). One of Canada’s most distinguished documentary filmmakers, Alanis Obomsawin began her career as a professional singer and storyteller before joining the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 1967. Her award-winning films address the struggles of Indigenous peoples in Canada from their perspective, giving prominence to voices that have long fallen on deaf ears. An Officer of the Order of Canada and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Québec, she has received the Prix Albert-Tessier and the Canadian Screen Awards’ Humanitarian Award, as well as multiple Governor General’s Awards, lifetime achievement awards and honorary degrees.
Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe, née Gwillim, author and illustrator (baptized 22 September 1762 in Northamptonshire, England; died 17 March 1850 in Devon, England). Elizabeth was the wife of John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. She was an author and illustrator, renowned for her detailed diary and pictures depicting life in early Upper Canada.