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Toronto teens win Heritage Minute contest with epic trek story

Categories: Canada, Community




 Eamonn O'Keeffe. Eamonn O'Keeffe is a 15-year-old high school student and history buff from Toronto. He has partnered with peer and filmmaker Patrick Y. Lee to create a fresh new Heritage Minute - those dramatized snippets of history familiar to and beloved by many Canadians.

The resulting video caught the attention of a panel of judges, including CBC's own funny-man Shaun Majumder, and was ultimately crowned the best submission to The Historica-Dominion Institute's 'Got a Minute?' contest.

O'Keeffe takes CBC News behind the scenes to share the making of the winning minute, and explains why this part of our heritage should not be forgotten.


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Two centuries ago today, on April 12th, 1813, Lieutenant John Le Couteur was "marching up a gentle ascent" when he first laid eyes on Kingston Harbour.

According to the eighteen year old's journal, the astonished soldiers of the 104th New Brunswick Regiment called out: "The sea, the sea - the ships, the ships!" as they scrambled up the hillock towards their final destination.

Nearly six weeks had passed since they had departed Fredericton, New Brunswick to the bugle tune of The Girl I Left Behind Me. (Tune below.)



These six hundred men of the 104th Regiment -- including many French- and English-speaking Canadians -- had marched more than 1100 kilometres over fifty days in order to reinforce the thinly-spread British forces in Upper Canada (now Ontario).

An epic but overlooked voyage

Long considered a great feat in military history, this epic trek has largely been overlooked in the annals of our past. Passionate about history, I have long admired the achievement of the 104th Regiment.

Upon hearing of the Historica-Dominion Institute's War of 1812 Make Your Own Heritage Minute Contest, I was determined to commemorate this grueling journey through film.

'[S]ummer co-workers and several high school friends volunteered their time to honour a little-known event in Canadian history.'

-- Eamonn O'Keeffe
Using Le Couteur's journal, as edited in Merry Hearts Make Light Days by Donald Graves, I crafted a one-minute script with narration and dialogue based upon the words of the young Lieutenant.

I contacted my high school friend and talented student filmmaker Patrick Y. Lee to direct the minute. (A Grade 10 student, his work has previously been shown at the Hollywood Student Film Festival and at the Toronto International Film Festival.)

Patrick, drawing upon his own interest in history, enthusiastically jumped onboard as co-producer. His filmmaking prowess and artistic vision lead to a stunning end result.

Our very own minute

Filmed on February 15th, one day prior to the bicentennial of the start of the march, the shoot lasted over seven hours.

All filming occurred at Fort York, Canada's most complete War of 1812 fort located in downtown Toronto.

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Patrick and I were fortunate to receive a great deal of support.

As a member of the Fort York Summer Guard and Fife and Drum Corps, I was allowed access to reproduction muskets and uniforms in order to accurately portray the 104th Regiment.

Many of my summer co-workers and several high school friends volunteered their time to honour a little-known event in Canadian history. And Historical Interpreter Ewan Wardle served as an expert advisor for this project.

'At a time when just 27 per cent of our youth, aged 18-24, can recall the year of Confederation, I hope that this Heritage Minute will cause us to remember our rich heritage.'

-- Eamonn O'Keeffe
In order to enhance the cinematography of the surrounding scenes, Patrick used large LED panels to manipulate lighting and cast the appropriate shadows.

All shutters were closed for indoor scenes so as to eliminate natural light. Large tripods and metres of electrical wire allowed Patrick to shoot all over the site, from the bottom of the dry moat to the top of the fort's ramparts.

After the exhausting film shoot, the editing process began in earnest.

Patrick spent hours in front of a screen transforming our extensive footage into a cohesive sixty second story.

He used music and sound to great effect, especially in the film's final climax during the assault on the American ramparts.

A win for the history books

Our student-produced film won the Historica-Dominion Institute's War of 1812 Heritage Minute contest. Since then, it has been posted on Twitter by the National Film Board of Canada and the History Channel in recognition of the bicentennial of the 104th Regiment's march and was commended by Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore!

At a time when just 27 per cent of our youth, aged 18-24, can recall the year of Confederation, I hope that this Heritage Minute will cause us to remember our rich heritage.

With luck, this minute-long film might remind Canadians of an important episode n the War of 1812.


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