5 great Canadians in recent history

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A relentless healer, a peacemaker, a trailblazing academician, a young crusader against disease, and a legendary athlete. They are just some of the few most notable Canadians who have made their mark in the 20th century. These individuals epitomize great courage, skill, intellect, and the heart of a model Canadian. Read about their achievements and contributions to the world:

  1. Dr. Frederick G. Banting

    Dr. Banting was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1923 for his groundbreaking research on the metabolic disease, diabetes, which led to the discovery of insulin. He was born in 1891 in Alliston, Ontario and studied at the University of Toronto. After serving the Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War I (for which he was awarded the Military Cross for heroism under fire), Dr. Banting practiced medicine in Ontario. Early in his career, he had been interested in diabetes and had been studying about the production of insulin, a protein secreted by the pancreas (the lack of which caused diabetes). Together with Dr. Charles Best, then a medical student, their experimental work led to the successful production of insulin to help ailing patients. At 32, Dr. Banting was the youngest Nobel laureate in the area of Medicine. Prior to his Nobel Prize, he received the Reeve Prize from the University of Toronto in 1922. In 1923, the Canadian Parliament awarded him a Life Annuity of $7,500 for his achievements. He was also an appointed member of numerous medical academies and societies all over the world including the British and American Physiological Societies. Dr. Banting was knighted in 1934.

  2. Lester B. Pearson

    Hailed as the founder of “modern peacekeeping,” Pearson was Canada’s Prime Minister from 1963-1968. He was born in 1897 in Newtonbrook, Ontario. He was the country’s foremost diplomat in the 1950s and 1960s and was instrumental in facilitating Britain and France’s departure from Egypt during the Suez Crisis. His diplomatic efforts won for him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. The Pearson government is credited for having established the Canada Pension Plan, a universal medicare system, a unified armed force, and a new flag. He retired from public office in December 1967 and proceeded to work on his memoirs and on a study of international aid for the World Bank.

  3. Marshall McLuhan

    The guru of modern media communications was born in Edmonton, AB in 1911. He studied at the University of Manitoba and later Cambridge University, where he earned his Ph.D. in Literature. However, his work at Cambridge began to shift to media analysis. McLuhan became a media studies professor at various universities throughout his career. He became famous in the 1960s for his pioneering theories on media and its effects on society and culture. These are contained in his books “Understanding Media” (translated into more than 20 languages), “The Medium is the Massage” (typo intentional), “The Gutenberg Galaxy”, “War and Peace in the Global Village”, and many others. His theories, although often quoted, are still debated and studied until now.

    (Heritage Minutes: Marshall McLuhan, Historica Canada)

  4. Terry Fox

    This selfless Canadian had the makings of a hero from a young age. Terrance Stanley Fox was an athlete, humanitarian, and cancer research activist. He was born in Winnipeg and was raised in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. At age 18, he was diagnosed with bone cancer (osteogenic sarcoma) which forced him to have his right leg amputated above the knee. Despite his own affliction, he was so moved by the suffering of other cancer patients in the hospital that he decided to run across Canada to raise funds for cancer research. His “Marathon of Hope” began in St. John’s, Newfoundland on April 12, 1980. After 143 days, Terry reached Thunder Bay, Ontario and had to quit because the cancer had invaded his lungs. He died shortly at the age of 22, but not in vain. He had a left of legacy that has inspired millions of people around the world, many of whom participate in the annual Terry Fox Run. Over $650 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research from this event.

    Terry Fox is the youngest person to be made a Companion of the Order of Canada. He has also been named as a Person of National Significance by the Government of Canada and inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

    (Heritage Minutes: Terry Fox, Historica Canada)

  5. Wayne Gretzky

    Aptly nicknamed “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky is an exemplary hockey player hailed as a legend in the sport. Born in Brantford Ontario in 1961, Gretzky learned to skate at two and was playing the minor leagues at six. To this day, his record of 378 goals in the league has not been matched. His professional hockey career began at the age of 17 when he signed with the Indianapolis Racers and then with the Edmonton Oilers. At that time, Gretzky and his teammates would break every scoring record and redefine the sport. His personal accomplishments in the period would include seven straight scoring titles, nine Hart trophies, four 200-point seasons, National Hockey League (NHL) single-season records for goals, points and assists, plus other records and trophies. Gretzky was later traded to the Los Angeles Kings where he led the team and brought a period of success to the US hockey market. He retired in 1999 and became the ninth and final player to become a member of the Hall of Fame.

Sources: The Canadian Encyclopedia; The Terry Fox Foundation; Gretzky.com, Nobel Prize.org, Marshall McLuhan.com, Canadian Space Agency

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Community Resources

Can’t get enough of Canadian greatness? Read more examples in Great Canadians in history and 5 Great Canadians in history (part 2). Meanwhile, read the article 11 basic facts about Canada and learn more about the great country and its marvelous Canucks.

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5 Great Canadians in recent history

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