Do you know any famous Canadians? You probably know some famous Americans, Britons, and even Australians, but Canadians…?
You might be surprised to learn about who, in the realms of popular entertainment, science, politics, and sports, are actually Canadian. Since they were raised so close to the United States, many Canadians move south to find their fame, but today many manage to do so on native soil.
Some recent superstars like singers Justin Bieber, Alanis Morissette, and Avril Lavigne, plus TV actress Sandra Oh, have brought attention to Canada’s international talent pool. There are a great number of other famous Canadians throughout many creative and professional areas, including:
Before they were the acclaimed backing band for singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, and then the group behind such hits as The Weight and Up On Cripple Creek, guitarist Jaime ‘Robbie’ Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, arranger Garth Hudson, and keyboardist Richard Manuel, along with Arkansan drummer Levon Helm were a Toronto based bar band called The Hawks. They’ve since gone on to find global acclaim and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Though he’s not a household name outside of Canada, many students, scholars, and journalists the world over are familiar with Pierre Berton’s work. Born in the northern Yukon Territory, Berton worked in Klondike mining camps, did reporting while studying at the University of British Columbia, served in World War II, then gained international acclaim as a writer, journalist, and broadcaster. Along the way he authored the acclaimed 1972 book The Last Spike: The Great Railway, 1881–1885 and performed one of the few live interviews with kung-fu star Bruce Lee before he died.
Raised in Scarborough and Hamilton, Ontario, comic Jim Carrey saw much family hardship before appearing on the stage of the Yuk-Yuk’s comedy club in Toronto. Since then, he’s become an acclaimed actor in such comedy hits as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Liar, Liar, while also succeeding in more dramatic roles such as Man in the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
A lover of all things science and visual art, James Cameron grew up near Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario before moving with his family to Southern California in the early 1970’s. After leaving his job as a machinist and truck driver, Cameron wrote and directed such blockbuster films as The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar.
On the subject of the film Titanic, it’s almost impossible to not be familiar with its hit soundtrack song ‘My Heart Will Go On’ sung by Grammy Award winner Céline Dion. Despite the song’s huge success and her now superstar status, Dion started out as one of 14 children born into a Charlemagne, Quebec family in a house with only one bathroom! While she initially found some success in the French language music market, Dion had to learn English, tour, and record relentlessly to gain the success she now has.
Only in his mid-thirties, London, Ontario-born Ryan Gosling’s career as an actor has expanded from beginner roles on TV's The Mickey Mouse Club to more intense dramatic roles in Blue Valentine, Drive, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Big Short, and his Oscar-nominated role in Half Nelson.
Often known as ‘The Great One’ to his fellow-countrymen, the Brantford, Ontario, born and raised hockey star was only seventeen years old when he signed with the Edmonton Oilers and helped score a win at the 1979 World Hockey Association All-Star Game. He has since gone on to play for the Los Angeles Kings and has even ventured into a successful wine business.
Even people that know little about Canada and even less about ballet, will know dancer Karen Kain. Born and raised near Hamilton, Ontario, Kain graduated from the National Ballet School of Canada in 1969 and immediately joined the National Ballet of Canada. She later performed in Vienna, London, and Paris whilst continuing to be a member of the National Ballet until 1996.
Growing up in London, Ontario, McAdams began appearing in theatrical productions before she left high school, she eventually went on to study drama at Toronto’s York University. McAdams’ break-out role came in 2004 when she was cast as the notorious high school queen bee, Regina George, in the widely successful comedy Mean Girls. She has received critical acclaim for her roles in films such as The Notebook, Wedding Crashers, Sherlock Holmes, and Midnight in Paris. She was recently nominated for an Academy Award for her role in 2015’s Spotlight.
The daughter of a mink farmer in Wingham, Ontario, Munro attended the University of Western Ontario before leaving to get married and support a family. By the mid-1970’s, her stories of small town life and inner human emotion began to gain international acclaim in magazines like The New Yorker, and draw comparison to the work of similar writers like Anton Chekhov and Raymond Carver. Thanks to her collections The Moons of Jupiter and Too Much Happiness, Munro was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Though he got famous playing for the US’s Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash was raised in both Regina, Saskatchewan and Victoria, British Colombia. He didn’t start playing basketball until his teenage years but became a champion by the time he graduated high school and received an athletic scholarship to Santa Clara University in 1992. In 2005, he was awarded the National Basketball Association’s Most Valuable Player award after leading the Suns to the Western Conference Finals. Upon retiring from professional basketball, he became a consultant to the Golden State Warriors.
A young actor adept at comedy, action, and dramatic roles, it’s hard to believe that Vancouver’s Ryan Reynolds failed high school drama. But after re-affirming his determination to be a successful actor and moving to Los Angeles, Reynolds eventually found success in films such as Buried, The Proposal and Deadpool.
Although he passed away in 2015, Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor is a hero to many, even without much name recognition. In 1979, Taylor helped mastermind the escape of six Americans during the Iranian uprising, with the assistance of the Canadian government and the Central Intelligence Agency. This operation became known as ‘The Canadian Caper’ and was the inspiration for the film Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, with Canadian actor Victor Garber starring as Taylor.
Many Quebec-born directors are only famous within that particular Canadian province. However, Denis Villeneuve has managed to leave his hometown of Gentilly to gain acclaim, first in Canadian cinema, with films like Maelström and Incendies, and now for his dark dramas in Hollywood, including Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, and the new science fiction film Arrival.
He may be a fictional character, but he’s one of the toughest ever created. Since his first appearance in Marvel comics’ The Incredible Hulk in the 1970’s, this aggressive, cigar-smoking mutant has left an indelible mark on the popular entertainment world. The character gained worldwide fame with his appearance in the X-Men and Wolverine films starring Hugh Jackman.
…and there are more: rock and roll stars Rush, Bryan Adams, and Neil Young; actors William Shatner, Donald Sutherland, and Michael J. Fox; film directors like Sarah Polley, David Cronenberg, and Norman Jewison; and musician Drake are from Canada. Canadians also enjoy pointing out that Nobel laureate in Literature Saul Bellow, actors Glenn Ford and Walter Huston, and TV star/investor Kevin O’Leary were all born in Canada!
If you have an interest in Canada and its culture, be sure to get into The Language Gallery Toronto’s Canadian Culture elective and study their general English course. You’ll be able to learn language and simultaneously experience Canada firsthand.