New Heritage Minute tells story of LGBT couple's fight for legal recognition

Historica Canada and the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity will unveil the first Heritage Minute about the struggle for LGBT rights, at the Glad Day bookstore this evening.

1-minute film honouring LGBT pioneer Jim Egan to be unveiled tonight at Toronto bookstore

Actor Theodore Saunders portrays activist Jim Egan in this still frame from the first Heritage Minute on Canada's LGBTQ community, which is set to debut online Wednesday. (Historica Canada/Canadian Press)

Historica Canada is releasing a long-awaited video that depicts one part of the LGBT community's struggle in Canada, and one community activist who has seen it says it does an "incredible job" of telling the story.

As part of the popular Heritage Minute series, the organization focused on the country's history, produced a one-minute story about Jim Egan.

Historica Canada's website describes Egan, who was born in 1921, as an activist, an openly gay politician and the first to write "from a gay point of view in Canada."

Egan may be best remembered for a May 1995 case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada. He and his partner, Jack Nesbit, sued Ottawa for the right to claim a spousal pension under the Old Age Security Act.

This timeline of same-sex rights in Canada notes the court ruled against Egan and his partner but the case paved the way for legislating same-sex marriage, as the judges unanimously agreed sexual orientation is a protected ground and that protection extends to partnerships of lesbians and gay men.

Jack Nesbit, left, and Jim Egan in1949. Historica Canada's website describes Egan, who was born in 1921, as an activist, an openly gay politician and the first to write 'from a gay point of view in Canada.' (Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

The minute-long film will debut at the Glad Day Bookshop at 499 Church St. where a reception is planned from 5-7 p.m.

Jeremy Dias, executive director for the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, got a sneak peek at the Heritage Minute.

"We have very few moments in time that were turning points in our movements," he said.

Instead, there were long "battles" in court, on the streets that "are about changing people's hearts and minds. This minute does an incredible job at capturing those moments in time."

He said the video spans three decades of Egan's advocacy for LGBT rights.

Egan peeling potatoes in the merchant navy in 1943. (Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives)

Dias remembered seeing heritage minutes like this one about Agnes Macphail, Canada's first female MP or this one about a Norse settlement in Newfoundland.

"Those heritage minutes are critical to understanding us as Canadians," Dias said, which is why, he said, it's so critical that the LGBT stories be a part of the Historica Canada's collection and Egan's journey is a good place to start.

Dias says the Heritage Minute not only educates Canadians about LGBT rights but sends a message to the community.

"If Jim can do it then you can do it too," he said, adding that it's a reminder that "if others are fighting for queer and trans human rights well then you have a place in that story."

About the Author

Stephanie Matteis

Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: stephanie.matteis@cbc.ca and @CBCsteph on Twitter.