Because of their exploits in establishing and developing early Canada, then known as New France, a number of eminent Frenchmen are prominent in Canadian history, among them the explorers Jacques Cartier (1491–1557), Samuel de Champlain (1567?–1635), Étienne Brulé (1592?–1633), Jacques Marquette (1637–75), Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle (1643–87), and Louis Jolliet (1645–1700); François Xavier de Laval de Montigny (1623–1708), first and greatest bishop of Québec; Jean Baptiste Talon (1625?–94), first and greatest intendant, who re-created the colony on a sound economic basis; and Louis de Buade, Comte de Palluau et de Frontenac (c.1622–98), greatest of the French royal governors. Great explorers of a later period include Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Vérendrye (1695–1749), Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1764–1820), David Thompson (1770–1857), Simon Fraser (1776–1871), Joseph E. Bernier (1852–1934), and Joseph Burr Tyrrell (1858–1957). Louis Riel (1844–85), of Indian and French-Irish ancestry, led the métis in rebellion in 1869–70 and 1885, when he was captured and hanged for treason.
Fathers of confederation and other important 19th-century political figures include Louis Joseph Papineau (1786–1871) and William Lyon Mackenzie (1795–1861); Sir John Alexander Macdonald (1815–91), first prime minister of the confederation; George Brown (1818–80), Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley (1818–96), and Sir Charles Tupper (1821–1915). The greatest political leader at the turn of the century was Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1841–1919), prime minister from 1896 to 1911. The outstanding national leader of the first half of the 20th century was William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874–1950), Liberal prime minister for over 21 years (1921–26, 1926–30, 1935–48), who retired with a record of the longest service as prime minister in Commonwealth history. Charles Vincent Massey (1887–1967), governor-general from 1952 to 1959, was the first Canadian to represent the British crown in Canada. Lester Bowles Pearson (1897–1972), prime minister and Canada's longtime UN representative, won the Nobel Prize for peace in 1957. Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919–2000) served as prime minister from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984, when he was succeeded by Brian Mulroney (b.1939). The best-known French-Canadian separatist was René Lévesque (1922–87), leader of the Parti Québécois, who became premier of Québec in 1976.
Highly regarded Canadian painters include James Edward Hervey MacDonald (1873–1932), Thomas John ("Tom") Thomson (1877–1917), Frederick Horsman Varley (1881–1969), and Lawren Stewart Harris (1885–1970) of the Group of Seven; James Wilson Morrice (1864–1924); and Emily Carr (1871–1945). Paul-Emile Borduas (1905–60) and Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923–2002) both were part of the Montréal School; however, after settling abroad, they probably became better known in France and the United States than in their native country. Two other artists of distinction are James W. G. MacDonald (1897–1960) and Harold Barling Town (1924–90). The portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh (b. Armenia-in-Turkey, 1908–2002) was a longtime Canadian resident.
Well-known Canadian musicians include the composer Healey Willan (1880–1968); the conductor Sir Ernest Campbell MacMillan (1893–1973); the pianist Glenn Gould (1932–82); the singers Edward Johnson (1878–1959), Jon Vickers (b.1926), and Maureen Forrester (b.1931); the bandleader Guy Lombardo (1902–77); and, among recent popular singers and songwriters, Gordon Lightfoot (b.1938), Paul Anka (b.1941), Joni Mitchell (b.1943), Neil Young (b.1945), and Celine Dion (b.1968).
Canadian-born actors who are known for their association with Hollywood include Marie Dressler (Leila Koerber, 1869–1934), Walter Huston (Houghston, 1884–1950), Mary Pickford (Gladys Mary Smith, 1893–1979), Raymond Hart Massey (1896–1983), Walter Pidgeon (1897–1984), Norma Shearer (1904–83), Lorne Greene (1915–87), Raymond Burr (1917–93), William Shatner (b.1931), and Donald Sutherland (b.1935). Stage personalities include Beatrice Lillie (1894–1989), Hume Cronyn (1911–96), and Christopher Plummer (b.1929).
Notable in the world of sports are ice-hockey stars Maurice ("Rocket") Richard (1921–2000), Gordon ("Gordie") Howe (b.1928), Robert Marvin ("Bobby") Hull, Jr. (b.1939), Robert ("Bobby") Orr (b.1948), and Wayne Gretzky (b.1961).
Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796–1865), author of Sam Slick, was the first Canadian writer to attain more than a local reputation. Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts (1860–1943) and Bliss Carman (1861–1929) were widely read poets and short-story writers. Archibald Lampman (1861–99) wrote sensitive poems about nature. Narrative poems about the northwest frontier by Robert William Service (1874–1958) achieved mass popularity, as did the backwoods novels of Ralph Connor (Charles William Gordon, 1860–1937). The animal stories and bird drawings of Ernest Evan Thompson Seton (b. UK, 1860–1946) are still highly regarded. Stephen Butler Leacock (1869–1944), economist and essayist, is regarded as Canada's leading humorist. The Anne of Green Gables novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874–1942) have been popular with girls of several generations. Mazo de la Roche (1885–1961) achieved fame for her romantic Jalna novels about an Ontario family. Well-known contemporary novelists include Morley Edward Callaghan (1903–90), Hugh MacLennan (1907–90), Farley McGill Mowat (b.1921), Alice Munro (b.1931), Margaret Lawrence (b.1926), Mordecai Richler (1931–2001), and Marian Passmore Engel (1933–1985). The novels and plays of Robertson Davies (1913–95), newspaper editor, actor, music critic, and university administrator, crackle with wit. Lorne Albert Pierce (1890–1961) was a prominent editor and literary critic. Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911–80) was a communications theorist and cultural critic. Herman Northrop Frye (1912–91) was a well-known literary critic, and Margaret Atwood (b.1939) is a noted novelist and poet. The British newspaper publisher William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook (1879–1964), was born in Canada.
The Histoire du Canada (1845) of François Xavier Garneau (1809–66) stimulated a great interest in French Canada's heritage. Joseph Octave Crémazie (1827–79) was the first notable French Canadian poet. The poems of Louis Honoré Fréchette (1839–1908) were crowned by the French Academy. Louis Hémon (1880–1913), a French journalist who came to Canada in 1910 and spent only 18 months there, wrote the classic French Canadian novel Maria Chapdelaine (1914). Authors of realistic novels dealing with social and economic problems of French Canada include Claude-Henri Grignon (1894–1976), author of Un Homme et son péché (1933); Jean-Charles Harvey (1892–1967), author of Les Démi-civilisées (1934); Ringuet (Dr. Philippe Panneton, 1895–1960), author of Trente Arpentes (1938); Germaine Grignon Guevremont (1900–1968); Roger Lemelin (1919–92), author of Au pied de la pente douce (1944); and Gabrielle Roy (Carbotte, 1909–93). Gratien Gélinas (1909–1999) is an actor, director, and dramatic satirist. Abbé Félix Antoine Savard (1896–1982) wrote a poetic novel of pioneer life, Menaud, maître-drayeur.
Among the famous Canadian scientists and inventors are Sir Sanford Fleming (1827–1915), inventor of standard time; Sir William Osler (1849–1919), the father of psychosomatic medicine; and Sir Charles Saunders (1867–1937), who developed the Marquis wheat strain, which revolutionized wheat growing in northern latitudes. The codiscoverers of insulin, Sir Frederick Grant Banting (1891–1941) and John James Richard Macleod (1876–1935), were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1923. George Brock Chisholm (1896–1971) was an eminent psychiatrist and former head of WHO. Gerhard Herzberg (b. Germany, 1904–1999) won the 1971 Nobel Prize for chemistry for his work on molecular spectroscopy. Marius Barbeau (1883–1969), anthropologist and folklorist, was an authority on totem poles and Canadian folk music.