From hokey nostalgia to hard-hitting history: The evolution of Canada's Heritage Minutes

Historica Canada's digital savvy plays well to nostalgic young adults, but the Heritage Minutes are every bit as educational as they were before – if not more so.

Historica Canada remains true to its educational mandate despite growth in the digital world

Historica Canada's robust digital presence for the Heritage Minutes series, which relaunched in 2012, includes a website containing a well-organized directory of videos as well as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts. (CBC News screen shot/

Canadians who grew up watching television in the 1990's are, by and large, more alarmed by the smell of burnt toast than almost anyone else on Earth.

"Do you guys smell that?" they've been known to ask, "or am I about to have a seizure?"

The phenomenon has been well-documented online over the years, prompting dozens of explanations about olfactory hallucinations (phantom smells) and their many, non-seizure-related causes.

And yet, the image of Dr. Wilder Penfield performing his revolutionary "Montréal Procedure" on an exposed brain as his patient proclaims "I can smell burnt toast!" endures in the hearts and minds of millennials across the country thanks to a Canadian Heritage Minute aired in 1991.

Like snow days, ketchup chips and French-speaking pineapples, Historica Canada's one-minute-long, history-themed video series are simply a part of our heritage – one that can, and often will, result in shouts of "Nice women don't want the vote!", "Take me to Fitzgibbon!" and "It'll never fly!" when mentioned around a group of thirtysomethings.

This generation's penchant for nostalgia has been cited as part of the reason Heritage Minutes relaunched in 2012 with the announcement of several new videos and a robust digital presence.

Historica Canada now boasts everything from a website containing a well-organized directory of its more than 80 Heritage Minutes to a YouTube playlist featuring parodies of the educational series – at least one of which that was produced by Historica itself. 

"The acclaimed Heritage Minutes inspire a lot of sentiment among Canadians: pride, nostalgia, and sometimes laughter!" reads the parodies section of Historica's website. "Don't worry about us, we can take it - after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!"

Judging by how the series is most-often referenced online by those who grew up with it, funny memories of more light-hearted Canadian history moments (like Superman and Winnie The Pooh) have been driving much of this love and loyalty. 

The hashtag #APartOfOurHeritage and the iconic "Canadian Heritage Moments" end screen have themselves served as internet memes based on Canadian culture for years.

Jokes aside, however, many have expressed how much the Heritage Minutes actually taught them about Canadian history during commercial breaks between cartoons – and while the organization's fun side has been hailed by its target demographic, so too have some of the more serious videos launched since 2012.

Here are just a few of the Heritage Minutes released in recent years that show how true Historica Canada has been to its educational mandate, despite any amount of digital growth:

Viola Desmond, the 'Rosa Parks of Canada' (Feb. 2016)

Terry Fox's cross-Canada run (Sept. 2015)

Nursing Sisters at the Canadian Stationary Hospital in France during WWI (May 2015)

Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald (Jan. 2014)

The Winnipeg Falcons (Nov. 2014)

Today, on National Aboriginal Day, Historica has launched what might be its most serious and painful-to-watch video yet.

Unlike many of those before it, this Heritage Minute does not celebrate the history of our country of the achievements of great Canadians.

Instead, it explores the history of Indian residential schools and their lasting effects on Indigenous people.

"This is something we need to talk about, and we need to recognize as Canadians, that our history is not always good," said novelist Joseph Boyden, who wrote the script for the video, to CBC News.

Learn more about the new Heritage Minute and the process behind it now at CBC Aboriginal, and share your own thoughts on the evolution of the series with us at @CBCNews.