In 2004, CBC ran a poll to reveal who the greatest Canadians of all time were. The public vote led to a top three of Tommy Douglas (founder of the Canadian healthcare system), Terry Fox (cancer activist) and Pierre Trudeau (Liberal Prime Minister in the 1970s and 80s). However, it's interesting to look beyond 'greatness' to consider who the most famous Canadians are?
A mark of Wayne Gretzky's fame is that his name is known even in countries where ice hockey isn't a big box office draw. Effectively, he is the name most associated with ice hockey, which places him in a similar position as Pele (soccer), Muhammad Ali (boxing) and perhaps now Usain Bolt (athletics). His fame is based on an incredible career, which lasted from 1979 to 1999 and saw him break just about every NHL record. His nickname of "The Great One" probably says all that you need to know about how he was perceived in the hockey world.
Carrey, who was born in Ontario, is one of Hollywood's biggest box office names, having starred in films such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, Batman Forever, The Truman Show, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Indeed, Box Office Mojo has listed him as the 21st biggest grossing Hollywood star.
Michael J. Fox
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Michael J. Fox will probably forever be remembered for his role of Marty McFly in the Back to the Future films but he also starred in many other big movies, including Teen Wolf, Doc Hollywood, Stuart Little, as well as having the leading role in a very successful TV series, Spin City. Fox suffers from Parkinson's disease and has set up The Michael J. Fox Foundation to raise money to help find a cure.
Leonard Cohen is an iconic figure in the music world. His albums have been loved by countless millions of music fans and his unique style and revered songwriting ability have been a huge influence of future generations of musicians. Cohen is from Montreal and was already a successful poet and novelist before emerging on the musical scene. Perhaps his most famous song is Hallelujah, which alone has been covered by the likes of Jeff Buckley, Alexandra Burke and k.d. lang. Other famous acts who have covered Cohen songs include Johnny Cash, Tori Amos, R.E.M, Beck and Nick Cave.
It might be better to say that Ben Johnson is an infamous Canadian rather than a famous Canadian but he's certainly one of the names that people would most frequently quote if asked to name noteworthy Canadians. Johnson overtook Carl Lewis as the dominant sprinter in the mid to late 1980s and won gold in the 1988 Seoul Olympics-or so it seemed. In winning the race, Johnson had lowered his own world record to an incredible 9.79 seconds in the process. However, he subsequently failed a drug test and was disqualified and banned from athletics. Suddenly Johnson was a pariah in the athletics world.