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There have been homages to the beloved Heritage Minutes since they first aired more than two decades ago: there are fan-made posters, lists ranking every single minute from best to worst, carefully crafted musical tributes, even PhDs penned about them.
But an Ottawa couple who are superfans of the 60-second vignettes are hoping to top all that — Rebecca Bartlett and Jim Ellwood are on a coast-to-coast quest to visit a location related to each of the 87 Heritage Minutes.
They started in Quebec City in March and have already whizzed through 32 stops; from birthplaces and tombstones to museums and statues.
The minute about inventor Guglielmo Marconi and the first transatlantic radio message took them to Signal Hill in St. John’s, where that message was received. For the Avro Arrow minute, the couple visited the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, where bits of the scrapped plane are stored.
For the more abstract Minutes — like the ones about midwives or orphans — it was a lot harder to pin down a location.
“There aren’t any plaques or any specific people we could visit or places we could visit that have any sort of important significance,” said Ellwood, a software designer. “Some of them were pretty contentious in the grand scheme. So we had to do some research for some of them.”
They’ve plotted out a daunting Newfoundland to British Columbia itinerary, which they hope to finish by the end of 2018; their rules are the spots can only be in Canada and have to be road trippable from Ottawa.
They could do it faster, but it’s expensive (they are self-financing) and they travel on their vacation time.
“We realize that this is very nerdy. We spent a lot of time on this and you don’t spend a lot of time doing something like this. And the research took hours,” said Bartlett, whose job as a GIS (geographic information system) librarian has come in handy.
“Going through 87 minutes takes time and we did it on our free time and then planned these trips, so yes, this is nerdy.”
They are a tad worried Historica Canada — the group who makes the Minutes — will roll out a new one based in a far-flung place they’ve already visited.
“We almost have to just sort of race to finish so we don’t get caught with a Minute,” Ellwood said.
The staff at Historica Canada have been tracking the couple’s travels and have a few nicknames to refer to them around the office — “day trippers,” “road trippers,” “our people on the road.”
“We’ve kind of adopted them in spirit because of course they are undertaking something so close to our hearts,” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, the group’s president and CEO.
He thinks they are the first people to do a full-out road trip with the Minutes as their guide. The couple dropped by the Historica office when they were in Toronto and reached out for some advice while planning.
“It’s a desire to learn about the country, to explore, to find out about Minutes from different eras and … to expand their knowledge in doing that,” Wilson-Smith said.
“I think it’s the ultimate cool thing.”
The next stop for the couple is Montreal, where they will be able to scratch another 10 Heritage Minutes off their list. After that, Ellwood’s itching to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., for Laura Secord’s house, who happens to be his “great great great great great aunt.”
While the trip may sound intense to some, Ellwood and Bartlett said it doesn’t come as a surprise to their family and friends. Ellwood once swam all five Great Lakes in a day.
“My parents are sort of like ‘aw, not again,'” he jokes.
They both grew up watching the Minutes on television and have a certain nostalgia for them. Historica Canada said they still show on TV about 115,000 times a year but the audience has largely shifted online.
“Fifteen years ago, I bought a DVD of the ones that then existed and I’ve put it on a parties,” Ellwood said. “Everyone sits there and watches. It’s amazing and they quote them.” The couple figures they have watched every single minute five or 10 times, and they believe they will never tire of them.
“No one has questioned our sanity,” Bartlett said.