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.
Zacharias Kunuk, OC, filmmaker, carver, sculptor, visual artist (born 27 November 1957 in Kapuivik, Nunavut). An internationally acclaimed media maker, Zacharias Kunuk has played a crucial role in the redefinition of ethnographic filmmaking in Canada and has been at the forefront of the Inuit’s innovative use of broadcast technology. He is perhaps best known for his debut feature film, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), which won six Genie Awards (including Best Screenplay, Best Direction and Best Motion Picture) and was ranked the No. 1 Canadian film of all time in a 2015 poll conducted by the Toronto International Film Festival.
Charles Vincent Massey, PC, CC, governor general 1952-59, historian, business executive, politician, diplomat, royal commissioner, patron of the arts (born 20 February 1887 in Toronto; died 30 December 1967 in London, England). Massey was the country’s first Canadian-born governor general. He helped create the Order of Canada in 1967, and as a champion of the arts in Canada laid the groundwork for the Canada Council, the National Library of Canada and the National Arts Centre.
Angela Jean Elisabeth Watt, lyric soprano (born 13 November 1915 in Brandon, MB; died 4 June 2017 in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, England). West Coast lyric soprano Ann Watt enjoyed a high profile singing career in Vancouver in the 1940s. She was perhaps best known for her starring roles with Vancouver’s Theatre Under the Stars and for singing on CBC Radio’s wartime broadcasts. She drew praise for her vivacious and charming performances, her rich and lovely lyric soprano voice and her versatile range. She was inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame as a pioneer in 2013.
Os-Ke-Non-Ton (also written Oskenonton, meaning deer in the Mohawk language, also known as “Running Deer”), baritone, actor, spiritual leader (né Louie Deer c. 1888 in Caughnawaga [now Kahnawá:ke], QC; died c. 1955 in Lily Dale, NY). Os-Ke-Non-Ton was a celebrated singer and performer who showcased his culture across the globe. He also worked as a healer at a spiritual centre in Lily Dale until his death.
Electronic group A Tribe Called Red (ATCR) has garnered international acclaim for its politically charged, powwow drum-driven dance music. Featuring the DJs 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. Former members include DJ Shub (Dan General), and founding members DJ NDN (Ian Campeau) and Dee Jay Frame (Jon Limoges). The group has described its “powwow step” music as “the soundtrack to a contemporary evolution of the powwow.” ATCR is part of what broadcaster and educator Wab Kinew has called the “Indigenous Music Renaissance,” an innovative new generation of Indigenous artists in Canada. The group was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize in 2013 and 2017, and has won two Juno Awards, including Breakthrough Group of the Year in 2014.
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.
Susan Agnes Point, OC, RCA, artist (born 5 April 1952 in Alert Bay, BC). Susan Point is one of the first female Coast Salish artists to have achieved wide recognition, and is an influential figure among Northwest Coast artists. Her work is influenced by traditional Coast Salish art production, but she translates these traditions into contemporary modes of expression. Perhaps best known for her monumental public commissions for institutions such as the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology and the Vancouver International Airport, she also specializes in limited edition prints and artworks inspired by the Coast Salish spindle whorl. An Officer of the Order of Canada, she has been appointed to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and received numerous honorary degrees and lifetime achievement awards.
Joseph Mimran, entrepreneur, consultant, fashion designer, retailer (born 2 December 1952 in Casablanca, Morocco). Mimran is best-known for launching the Alfred Sung, Club Monaco and Joe Fresh fashion brands, as well as his involvement with Pink Tartan, a fashion line designed by Kimberley Newport-Mimran, his second wife. Mimran is a partner at Gibraltar Ventures, a Toronto-based firm that invests in technology-driven companies. He also appears as a Dragon on the CBC series Dragons’ Den.
Anik Bissonnette, OC, CQ, ballerina, arts administrator (born at Montréal 9 Feb 1962). Québec's best-known ballerina, Anik Bissonnette is renowned for her exceptional musicality, purity of line and extraordinary balances, and for using her technical assurance to plumb exciting emotional depths. After garnering wide acclaim in many performances with Louis Robitaille, she was a principal dancer at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens (LGBC) from 1989 to 2007 and made annual appearances at Montréal's Gala des Étoiles from 1983 until 2006. She was artistic director of the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur from 2004 to 2014, and has been artistic director of the École supérière de ballet contemporain de Montréal since 2010. An Officer of the Order of Canada and a Chevalière of the National Order of Québec, she has received the Prix Denis Pelletier and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In an era when most contemporary ballet companies presented mixed programs, Gradimir Pankov added a new dimension to Les Grands' programs by commissioning evening-length story ballets. reshaped Les Grands into a starless troupe of young and versatile dancers chosen for their personalities as much as their technique.
James Nathaniel Simpkins, cartoonist (born 26 November 1910 in Winnipeg, MB; died 1 February 2004 in Dundas, ON). Simpkins was the creator of "Jasper The Bear," a regular cartoon feature of Maclean's magazine for 24 years and the mascot of the national park community of the same name in Alberta.
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.
Norval Morrisseau, artist (born 14 March 1932 in Sand Point Reserve, near Beardmore, ON; died 4 December 2007 in Toronto, ON). Morrisseau was a self-taught artist of Ojibwa ancestry (his Ojibwa name, which appears in syllabics on his paintings, means "Copper Thunderbird") who originated the pictographic style.
Winner of the Sobey Art Award in 2006 and included in prestigious international exhibitions such as Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and in collections like that of the National Gallery of Canada, Annie Pootoogook was born into a family of accomplished Inuit artists. She is the daughter of graphic artist Napachie Pootoogook and printmaker and carver Eegyvudluk Pootoogook, and is the granddaughter of Pitseolak Ashoona. Her uncle was Kananginak Pootoogook.
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.