It’s where countless ’90s kids throughout the country learned the way second baseman Jackie Robinson broke racial barriers while power-hitting his way through Montreal, what it meant when Jennie Kidd Trout upended everything to become Canada’s first female licensed medical doctor, and how Winnie-the-Pooh and the city of Winnipeg are intrinsically linked.
And now, a new short from the popular series released during what’s been a very long year is commemorating the 100th anniversary of a Canadian medical discovery that would go on to save millions of lives worldwide.
The Discovery of Insulin, touted as the 97th episode of the series in 30 years, was released last week through Historica Canada, an organization dedicated to enhancing awareness of the country’s history and citizenship.
Beginning on May 17, 1921, Frederick Banting and Charles Best, under the direction of J. J. R. Macleod, started to isolate insulin in a lab at the University of Toronto. In the early stages of the 20th century, a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes was a death sentence for many – and this was shortly after the 1918 influenza pandemic had already claimed millions of lives around the world.
While it’s hard to imagine now, starvation diets were often employed to delay the life-threatening symptoms of diabetes.
The Heritage Minute follows the Toronto scientists as they race against the clock to further develop their insulin drug after initial tests proved unsuccessful. The clip ends with 13-year-old Leonard Thompson receiving a successful insulin injection and his diabetic symptoms all but disappearing.
“It is quite literally impossible to overstate the ongoing importance of the discovery of insulin, which has saved millions of people from near-certain death and allowed them instead to live fulfilling lives,” stated Anthony Wilson-Smith, president and CEO of Historica Canada, in a news release.
Although the short takes place in Toronto, it was filmed in the now vacant Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, which is often used as a filming location for the film industry, according to producer and North Vancouver resident Erica Landrock.
“The Heritage Minute in general is always a bucket-list item. I think it’s one of those things growing up watching them as a kid, for somebody to say do you want to work on a Heritage Minute, it’s pretty hard to say no,” said Landrock.
Filming was done this past February, with a tight turnaround in production set to coincide with the 100th anniversary, she added.
Asked what it meant to help put together this important Heritage Minute while Canada and the rest of the world wrestles with its own public health crisis today, Landrock said it was something she and the rest of the crew took very seriously during production.
“It definitely wasn’t lost on us,” she said.
The majority of Heritage Minutes were released during that initial run in the ’90s. In the lead up to Canada 150 in 2017, Historica Canada was commissioned to start making the shorts again with an emphasis on different themes in Canadian history, such as the residential school system.