On this day in 1867, three of England’s North American colonies fused into a proud, new nation–one predicated on the people’s fundamental right to unlimited hockey, Tim Hortons donuts, and universal healthcare for all. That’s right: It’s Canada Day! And in honor of it, we thought we’d highlight some of the greatest contributions made by Canada to the annals of TV. Since every other series is shot in Canada these days, our criteria were more exacting: For a show to be considered, it had to be a Canadian production, and not just a studio taking advantage of Vancouver’s tax breaks. That really narrows things down, but we managed to come up with five classics.
Degrassi Junior High (1987-1989)
The Canadian teen soap that begat countless spinoffs (one of which launched 90210 star Shenae Grimes’ career), this game-changer of a series from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was eons ahead of its time. It followed the complicated high school lives of a group of some very unknown young actors, many of whom had never performed before, and tackled taboo subjects like teen pregnancy, homosexuality and racism head-on.
This sketch comedy series revolved around the premise that you were watching an independent TV station, and starred a cast of up-and-coming actors from Toronto’s Second City comedy troupe. But boy oh boy, would they be globally known soon enough: John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas would all go on to bigger successes when Hollywood came calling.
Road to Avonlea (1990 to 1996)
A spinoff of the CBC’s excellent miniseries adaptation of L.M. Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables, it starred Sarah Polley as an 11-year-old heiress sent to live with her two old maid aunts in Prince Edward Island. The show aired on the Disney Channel in the U.S., and won four Emmy Awards, including acting nods for Christopher Lloyd and Dianne Wiest.
Due South (1994-1999)
The only Canadian cop dramedy to have the honor of airing simultaneously on American network TV, this series about a Mountie solving crimes on the mean streets of Chicago was created by Paul Haggis, who’d go on to become an Oscar-winning screenwriter and director for movies like Crash and Million-Dollar Baby. The show starred Paul Gross, and had fun playing with stereotypes of Canadian politeness–even though the recent hockey riots in Vancouver have shown us how that’s not always the case.
The Kids in the Hall (1988-1994)
There’s something about Canadians and sketch comedy–they just do it better than the rest of us. This quintet of absurdly gifted comedians came to TV with the help of SNL creator Lorne Michaels; he saw them perform as a troupe and immediately built a show around their dark brand of comedy, much of it aimed at mocking the banalities of white, middle-class society. They regularly played women, but drag was never the joke itself–rather it gave them an opportunity to broaden their palettes. Flaming monologist Buddy Cole, the Chicken Lady, Cabbage Head, the Sizzler Sisters–the list of classic characters goes on and on. They’ve not been equalled since.