Canada’s Relationship with the Academy Awards

March 11, 2019

By: Thom Ernst

Canada’s relationship with the Oscars has been long and fruitful.

At the 2019 Oscars, director and animator Domee Shi becomes the latest Canadian to earn Oscar bragging rights. Shi was the favourite going into the awards not just because her film, Bao, is deserving but because Canadians tend to excel in this category as is evident with our (to date) 8 Oscar wins for Best Animated Shorts.  

Here is a list of ten Canadian-related Oscar triumphs to be proud of:


It takes only a year to win our first Oscar. At the 2nd Academy Award Ceremony, Toronto’s Mary Pickford took home a Best Actress Award for her role in the 1929 film, Coquette.  At the 3rd Academy Award ceremony, Montreal born , Norma Shearer wins Best Actress for her role in The Divorcee and at the 4th Academy Awards, Coburg, Ontario born Marie Dressler wins for Min and Bill.


No film institute outside of the United States has been recognized more than The National Film Board of Canada. The NFB has garnered 75 Oscar nominations, with 12 wins.  55 of those nominations are for Best Shorts, either in the live action or animation. Of those wins, 6 are for Best Animated Short, 4 for Documentary Shorts, 1 for Live Action Short and, in 1989, a special Oscar honouring the NFB’s 50th year contributing to the world of cinema.


In 1942, when the Academy first creates a documentary category, Canada is at the head of the line, winning for the short film, Churchill’s Island. Churchill’s Island, in fact the very first Canadian film to win an Oscar, chronicles Canada’s role in aiding Britain in resisting the German air force. And nothing makes it more Canadian than having Canada’s first voice in broadcasting, Lorne Greene, narrating. That year, War Clouds in the Pacific, another NFB submission, is also nominated.


Speaking of the NFB, one of the most noted filmmakers to come out of Canada is Norman McLaren. McLaren earned three Oscar nominations with one win. In an odd bit of category-crossing, at the 1953 Academy Awards, McLaren’s celebrated short Neighbours is nominated for both Best Documentary short (which he won) and Best Short Subject (which he didn’t win). In later years, other NFB winners in this category are Terre Nash for If You Love This Planet (1982) and Flamenco at 5:15 (1983) from Cynthia Scott.

McLaren makes another Oscar winning appearance (this time as  co-director) when the NFB wins Best Animated short in 1963 for the film, Christmas Cracker.  As mentioned above, Canada’s record in the Animated Short category is stellar:   In 1977, Co Hoedeman wins for The Sand Castle, in 1978 John Weldon wins for Special Delivery and in 1979, Eugène Fedorenko wins for Every Child – all three NFB productions. The NFB wins three more in the category more recently, with David Fine’s Bob’s Birthday in 1994, Chris Landreth’s Ryan in 2004 and Torill Kove’s The Danish Poet in 2006. Three non-NFB films also win in the category:  Frederic Back wins twice, once in 1981 for the film Crac, and again in 1987 for The Man Who Planted Trees. John Minnis wins in 1984 for Charade.


Director F.R. “Budge” Crawley is the first Canadian to win for a feature-length doc at the 1975 Academy Awards for The Man Who Skied Everest.  In 1987 Brigitte Berman wins Best Documentary for her film Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got.

To date, Canada has received 7 nominations in the Best Foreign Film Category. Deepa Mehta gets a nomination in 2006 for Water, Denis Villeneuve is nominated in 2010 for Incendies, Philippe Falardeau in 2011 for Monsieur Lahzar, Kim Nguyen in 2012 for War Witch and 3 nominations for Denys Arcand: The Decline of the American Empire in 1986, Jesus of Montreal in 1987 and The Barbarian Invasions in 2003.  Arcand becomes the first Canadian to win in the Foreign Film category with Barbarian Invasions. (It might also be the first and only sequel to win in this category).


Canadian films have also done well in the screenplay categories. In 1975, Ted Allen becomes the first Canadian nominated for Best Original screenplay for his work Lies My Father Told Me. Adapted Screenplay noms are earned by Mordecai Richler (in 1974, for The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz  based on his own novel) and Sarah Polley (in 2004, for Away From Her, based on Alice Munro’s short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain)   In 1997 Atom Egoyan is nominated for adapting  The Sweet Hereafter from the Russell Banks novel, but hits a couple of other firsts as the first Canadian to garner two nominations for the same film, and the only Canadian ever to get a Best Director nod for a Canadian film. 

Chief Dan George and Graeme Greene were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor awards, and although the films they appeared in—Little Big Man and Dances With Wolves respectively—are not Canadian, these Indigenous  actors are from Canada and remained so throughout their careers.


The films of Norman Jewison—the Canadian Godfather of Cinema—received a total of 45 Oscar nominations.  Jewison is nominated for Best Director 7 times but doesn’t win. However, in 1999 the Academy demonstrated their appreciation by awarding him the Irving Thalberg Award.

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