Famous Canadians

Not all symbols of patriotism come in the form of flags, flowers, or anthems. Some are living, breathing human beings.

From a young age, Canadians are taught to appreciate that some of the country’s proudest symbols are their fellow countrymen who have achieved great success or fame for their various good deeds and positive contributions to their country and planet.

The following is the generally-understood pantheon of individuals who have truly crossed the line into “Canadian icon” status:

Terry Fox Terry Fox (1958-1981)
Easily the most beloved Canadian of the last 100 years, Terry Fox is something of a secular saint in modern Canada. As a young student, Terry contracted bone cancer, forcing the amputation of his right leg. Inspired to raise money for cancer research, he organized a one-man marathon across the country, but tragically quit less than halfway through, after his cancer spread to his lungs. He died a martyr for his cause.

Dr. David Suzuki Dr. David Suzuki (b. 1936)
A scientist, activist, and media star, David Suzuki has spent years in the public spotlight raising public awareness of environmental issues. Since 1979, he has hosted a popular nature TV show called The Nature of Things, and writes a weekly column on environmental issues published in papers across Canada. A passionate progressive, he’s known for his strong opinions on issues like global warming and inequality.

Don Cherry Don Cherry (b. 1934)
Loud, brash, and politically incorrect, Don Cherry has been the leading voice of hockey commentary on Canadian television for almost three decades. A former coach and player himself, Cherry’s insights are often overshadowed by his multitude of flamboyant eccentricities, particularly his wild outfits.

Wayne Gretzky Wayne Gretzky (b. 1961)
Indisputably one of the greatest hockey players of all time, Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky broke countless goal-scoring records during his time playing centre for the Edmonton Oilers (1978-1988) and later several American teams as well. Since retiring, he’s stayed active in the sport, coaching the Canadian Olympic hockey team and serving as a philanthropist for youth leagues, among other things.

Rick Hansen Rick Hansen (b. 1957)
Like Terry Fox before him, Rick Hansen is a disabled athlete who captured the imagination of Canadians with a brave (and media-friendly) fundraising marathon. But while Terry only sought to cross Canada, Hansen wheeled himself across 34 countries in two years, raising millions in the process. Today, he’s a leading philanthropist for spinal cord research and Canadians with disabilities.

Marc Garneau Marc Garneau (b. 1949)
A navy man by training, Marc Garneau joined Canada’s fledgling space program in 1983, and in 1984 became the first Canadian in outer space when he served as crew on U.S. Shuttle Mission 41-G. After venturing to space a few more times, he would go on to serve as head of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2005. In 2008 he was elected to Parliament as a Liberal representing Quebec.

Pierre Berton Pierre Berton (1920-2004)
The most famous non-fiction author in Canadian history, Pierre Berton authored dozens of books, columns and magazine articles on all things Canada. To this day, his numerous volumes on Canadian history remain among the most definitive and readable studies of some of the most famous episodes of Canada’s past. Witty and charming, Berton was also a popular TV commentator until his death.

Peter Gzowski Peter Gzowski (1934-2002)
Routinely celebrated as an icon of Canadian journalism, Peter Gzowski ran a popular television, and later radio interview program, in which he spoke to everyone from rock stars to prime ministers. Known for his unpretentious, mellow style, Gzowski was the face of Canadian media for several decades, and few newsmakers missed making an appearance on his shows.

Marshall McLuhan Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)
A quirky, eccentric academic, Marshall McLuhan was a media studies professor best known for pioneering a number of theories regarding how modern society is influenced by television and the news. Though his writings were often both convoluted and vague, and are still debated to this day, his famous claim that “the medium is the message,” or that form is more powerful than content, was among the most widely quoted ideas of the 20th century.

Dr. Frederick Banting Dr. Frederick Banting (1891-1941)
Banting literally improved the lives of millions.  Fascinated by the metabolic disorder known as diabetes, his medical research in the 1920s led to the invention of synthetic insulin, a drug which helped sufferers of the disease lead longer, happier lives. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine — and became the first Canadian to ever win one.

Dr. Norman Bethune Dr. Norman Bethune (1890-1939)
Bethune was a brave humanitarian and idealistic communist, at a time when that wasn’t considered quite as distasteful as we might view it today. A gifted surgeon, Bethune travelled the globe to help injured Communist partisans, first in the Spanish Civil War and later in the Chinese battle against Japan. For his service to the nation, he remains a hero in China to this day.

Alexander Graham Bell Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)
Scottish-born and American-dead, A.G. Bell lived portions of the middle of his life in Canada, which is enough for many Canadians to claim him as their own. A brilliant scientist and inventor, Bell invented and patented the telephone in the 1870s, and founded the Bell Telephone Company that still provides phone service to many Canadians today.

Laura Secord Laura Secord (1775-1868)
An anti-American heroine in the War of 1812, Laura Secord remains one of the oldest “official heroes” of Canada. Sitting in her father’s pub in the midst of the war, Secord overheard some American officers planning their next attack. Walking 23km to the nearest army base, she successfully managed to warn the British in time, and the Americans were defeated. Today, she is perhaps best known for a chocolate company named in her honour.

General Sir Isaac Brock General Sir Isaac Brock (1769-1812)
Another long-lasting figure of the 1812 War, General Brock was the British commander for much of the North American forces during the conflict. His strategic alliances with many aboriginal leaders were seen as key to helping secure early British victories over the United States, and his defeat on the battlefield during the Battle of Queenston Heights was a major setback.

Links About Famous Canadians:

Quick Facts:

  • Canadians who have achieved greatness through their deeds or occupation are often venerated as symbols of national pride.
  • Though Canadian politicians, athletes, and celebrities may achieve greatness, it's usually those who have achieved fame in arts, science, literature or charity who are the most universally respected and uncontroversial.
  • Certain famous Canadians have become so iconic that their names are almost always cited as examples of "great Canadians" of history.