Published in The Toronto Star, September, 2010 .
Part 1 of 5 in special section on inaugural Canada's Walk of Fame Festival
There's a maple-syrup-scented change in the air.
What began as a light breeze of patriotism leading up to the Vancouver Olympics became a gale-force storm when both Canadian hockey teams won gold — the men in overtime against the arch-rival Americans.
Canadians are now being encouraged to relive that wave of unapologetic, audacious nationalism for four days in October at the first-ever Walk of Fame Festival.
“We realized there's not a single festival that is purely, 100-per-cent dedicated to celebrating Canadian culture and achievements,” said Peter Soumalias, president and CEO of Canada's Walk of Fame. “We felt we were in a position to provide the vehicle to display our pent-up pride.”
So what began as a small, red-carpet ceremony in 1998 is being expanded this year to a four-day festival, featuring four homecoming concerts by some of Canada's biggest stars, dozens of free concerts by emerging artists at various downtown venues, and the 13th-annual induction ceremony that will add seven names to the Walk of Fame.
“This is a whole new version of Canada's Walk of Fame,” Soumalias said. “We want to be the gatekeepers of Canadian pride and Canadian spirit.”
The Walk of Fame started out modestly, with a few stars placed on King St. to honour some of the best-loved and most-accomplished Canadians.
(Some of those early sidewalk plaques are showing signs of wear and tear, prompting complaints from Gordie Howe and William Shatner. Walk of Fame officials confirm the damaged stars will be replaced immediately.)
Over the years, a curious pattern began to emerge when inductees stepped up on stage to accept the honour.
Unlike other award shows, in which singers and actors thank their agents, directors and producers, Walk of Fame recipients wax poetic about how much they love their country, and how much they owe their success to Canada.
For Howie Mandel, who will host this year's red-carpet gala, getting his star on Canada's Walk of Fame last year was more of a milestone than being awarded a similar star in Hollywood in 2008.
“It meant so much more to me because everyone wants to be accepted by their homeland,” Mandel said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “To be recognized by Canada is an honour.”
Mandel's love for Canada is undeniable. Throughout his career, he's been a stalwart ambassador for his country, taking every opportunity to tout his Canadian roots in interviews and TV appearances.
He keeps a home in Toronto and his three children spend their summers here with their cousins. He insisted that his hidden-camera TV show, Howie Do It, for NBC, be shot and produced entirely in Canada. And he's currently in talks with Global and CTV to produce more shows here.
“I want to do shows in Canada for international consumption,” he said, bristling at the suggestion it will be tough to compete against big-budget Hollywood productions. He insisted the only the only thing stopping Canadian shows from international success is our inferiority complex — and the money to aggressively market ourselves.
Mandel is not alone in his belief that Canada's entertainment industry has matured and grown more confident over the years.
Canadian funnyman Colin Mochrie, who will be part of the festival's comedy gala, says we're no longer worried about making Americans laugh; we're now producing comedy to make ourselves laugh.
Which may be why Soumalias is confident with his answer to the most common question he gets about the Walk of Fame: “I can honestly tell you we will never run out of people to honour in our lifetime. For inexplicable reasons, we keep producing extraordinary talent in this country.”