10 of Canada's biggest Academy Awards wins (that you may have never heard about)

From James Cameron to Buffy Sainte-Marie, some of our most impressive Oscars have come outside of acting.

From James Cameron to Buffy Sainte-Marie, some of our most impressive Oscars have come outside of acting

Director James Cameron raises his Oscar after winning in the Best Director Category during the 70th Academy Awards in 1998. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The nominations for this year's Academy Awards offered many Canadians reason to celebrate. Beyond Denis Villeneuve receiving two nominations for writing and producing Dune (though he was snubbed for best director), Canadians were present throughout the announcement. Quebec producer Roger Frappier was nominated for The Power of the Dog (which led the nominations overall), Toronto's J. Miles Dale got a nod for producing Nightmare Alley, The National Film Board of Canada's Affairs of the Art was nominated for best animated short film, Geoff McLean was nominated for best documentary short for Audible and numerous Canadians from the teams behind Dune and Nightmare Alley (which, like most of Guillermo Del Toro's recent work, was shot in Toronto) were nominated in categories like best production design, best costume design and best sound. 

They add to a storied history of Canadians across the Oscars' 94-year existence. While most attention tends to be paid to the acting categories, the vast majority of Canada's wins have come elsewhere. In fact, of the 84 Oscars ever won by Canadians, only 7 have come for acting. A few years back, we gave a complete rundown of that particular history (and it sadly does not need to be updated as no Canadian actors have been nominated since). This time around, we're taking a look back at some of the most notable homegrown winners in other categories throughout Oscars history.

Stephen Bosustow

There is no category at the Academy Awards where Canadians have excelled more than best animated short film. 60 short films made by Canadians have been nominated over the years, winning a total of 13 Oscars. And while there are many recent notable examples (Domee Shi winning for Bao in 2018 and Alan Barillaro for Piper in 2016), the unquestionable Canadian animated short king is the late Stephen Bosustow. Born in Victoria in 1911, Bosustow would produce nearly 600 short films, 13 of which would get Oscar nominations. He won 3 times: in 1950 for Gerald McBoing-Boing (which you can watch above), in 1954 for When Magoo Flew and in 1956 for Magoo's Puddle Jumper. Even more wild is that in 1956, he produced every single film nominated in the category, guaranteeing him the win (for Puddle Jumper) and making him the only person in history who received all the Oscar nominations in one category.

Michèle Burke

Irish-born Michèle Burke immigrated to Canada as a teenager in the early 1970s, first working as a model in Montreal before becoming one of Hollywood's most sought-after makeup artists in the 1980s and 1990s. She'd end up with six Oscar nominations for that work, winning for both Quest for Fire in 1982 and Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1992. (Her other notable nominations included her work on Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and The Cell.) Burke isn't the only Canadian to win in the category (Paul LeBlanc won for Amadeus in 1984 and Stephan Dupuis won for The Fly in 1986), but she is the only one to win more than once.

James Cameron

The most Oscars any Canadian has ever won in a single night came, unsurprisingly, when James Cameron took home 3 of the whopping 11 trophies won by his 1997 juggernaut Titanic. His infamous "I'm the king of the world!" speech (see above) is as cringe-inducing now as it was then, but there's no denying Cameron was reasonable to consider himself as such: Titanic made a bajillion dollars and swept the Oscars, something that's unlikely to ever happen again. (He came close to history repeating 12 years later with Avatar, but it ended up losing the top prize to his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker.)

Richard Day

While James Cameron may have won three Oscars in one night, he doesn't hold the record for the Canadian with the most trophies overall. That would be a tie between two folks who were winning Oscars well before Cameron was even born. The first is Victoria-born production designer Richard Day, who from 1930 to 1970 was nominated for a staggering 20 Academy Awards, winning 7 times, including for his work on the likes of How Green Was My Valley (1941), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On The Waterfront (1954). He is part of a bountiful legacy Canadians have in the category, where we've won 12 times (most recently in 2017 for Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin's work on Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water) and received several nominations again this year (including Vieau again, this time for Nightmare Alley). You can watch Day's 1954 speech for On The Waterfront above, and find out who he's tied with for the record later in this list (the suspense we're serving you).

Paul Haggis

For many Brokeback Mountain fans, it is hard to be reminded of when Jack Nicholson shocked the 2006 ceremony by reading Crash as the winner of best picture instead. But whether we like it or not, it happened — and Canadian Paul Haggis was the beneficiary. The London, Ont.-born filmmaker won two Oscars that night, for both writing and producing Crash (best director went to Brokeback's Ang Lee, so not all was lost for that film's fans). The following year, he'd be nominated again for co-writing Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, making him the only Canadian to be nominated for more than one screenwriting Oscar. 

Norman Jewison

Despite 7 nominations spanning three decades (and being responsible for directing Cher to her Oscar), Norman Jewison has never won an Academy Award. While his 1967 film In The Heat of the Night did indeed win best picture (making Jewison, Cameron and Haggis the three Canadians who have directed best picture winners), Jewison didn't get to take home a trophy for that because he didn't produce it. He did, however, finally get his Oscar in 1999 when he was given The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award — basically the Academy's lifetime achievement award. making him only the second Canadian to ever do so (the first was My Fair Lady producer Jack L. Warner, who was born in Canada but moved to the United States when he was very young).

Buffy Sainte-Marie

In 1983, iconic Cree musician Buffy Sainte-Marie became the first Indigenous person (from any country) to receive an Academy Award when she won for co-writing the song "Up Where We Belong" from An Officer and a Gentleman. (Almost 40 years later, Māori filmmaker Taika Waititi would become the second for writing JoJo Rabbit — and to this day they remain the only two awarded trophies history, alongside a non-competitive Oscar given to Cherokee actor Wes Studi in 2019). Sainte-Marie was also the first person born in Canada to even be nominated in the best original song category, though she'd soon be joined by David Foster, Bryan Adams and Neil Young (though unlike Sainte-Marie, none of them won).

Douglas Shearer

Drum roll for who is tied with Richard Day for the Canadian with the most competitive Oscars... that would be Westmount, QC.-born sound designer and recording director Douglas Shearer. Between 1930 and 1951, Shearer was nominated for 21 Oscars in two different categories (best sound and best visual effects), winning 7 times. He also won an additional 7 honorary Oscars at the separate Academy Scientific and Technical Awards, so if there's a need to break the tie, Shearer takes it. As well, he holds an additional place in the history of Canadians at the Oscars: his younger sister, Norma Shearer, won best actress in 1930 for The Divorcee and was the first actor of any gender or nationality to receive 5 nominations. Canada's OG Oscar power family!

Howard Shore

Toronto-born music composer Howard Shore should have won his first Oscar in 1992 for his masterful score for The Silence of the Lambs (he wasn't even nominated!), but they'd make up for it in 2004. After finally getting his first nomination and win two years earlier for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Shore would win two more Oscars for that film's second sequel, The Return of the King, for writing both the film's score and its original song "Into The West" alongside Annie Lennox and Fran Walsh. With 3 trophies, Shore is currently the Canadian musician with the most Oscars.

Ralph E. Winters

Finally, let us celebrate the Canadian master of the art of film editing: Ralph E. Winters. Born in Toronto in 1909, Winters was nominated for 6 editing Oscars between 1950 and 1971. He would win twice, including as part of the team behind William Wyler's 1959 epic Ben-Hur, which won a record-setting 11 Oscars. (It would eventually be tied by two other films already mentioned on this list: James Cameron-directed Titanic and Howard Shore-scored The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.) So basically, if you want to win a ton of Oscars, history suggests it's in your best interest to bring some Canadians on board (which certainly bodes well this year for The Power of the Dog and Dune). 


Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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