Historians and Filmmakers Dissect CBC's Maligned Doc Series 'The Story of Us'

By Szklarski, Cassandra | The Canadian Press, April 12, 2017 | Go to article overview

Historians and Filmmakers Dissect CBC's Maligned Doc Series 'The Story of Us'


Szklarski, Cassandra, The Canadian Press


Historians dissect CBC's 'The Story of Us'

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TORONTO - The CBC attempted to cram 150 years of Canadian history into the 10-hour docu-drama "Canada: The Story of Us." By many accounts, it's not doing so well.

But this isn't the only series that has failed to capture our rich and varied past, celebrated historian Christopher Moore said Wednesday, lamenting a general "fear of historians" that has marked "almost every film project and television project" he's been involved with.

Moore, who was not a part of the CBC production, blamed the downfall of such shows on "producers and directors who essentially are determined to become instant experts."

"They want to get the imprimatur of historians, but they really don't want to listen to them," complained Moore, a two-time Governor General's Literary Award winner for "Louisbourg Portraits: Life in An Eighteenth Century Garrison Town" and "From Then to Now: A Short History of the World."

"The people that are making these films, they're willing to talk to you, but they're not willing to listen to you so I find myself walking away from them fairly quickly."

The Toronto-based writer added his voice to a chorus of complaints plaguing "Canada: The Story of Us," which premiered March 26.

The CBC took the rare step of apologizing Tuesday, noting "we fully recognize that not everyone will agree with every perspective presented." The broadcaster said future episodes will include the perspectives of those who have sent emails, called or taken to social media with criticism.

Critics have included Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, who complained the series said the country's first permanent European settlement was established in 1608 near what is now Quebec City. McNeil countered that Canada started three years earlier, when French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded a settlement at Port Royal, N.S., which is part of his riding.

Meanwhile, in Quebec's legislature last week, the Opposition Parti Quebecois said the history of First Nations, Acadians and Quebecers deserved better than "this contemptuous commentary."

Executive producer Julie Bristow has said the series was not intended to be a typical, comprehensive historical documentary series. Instead of telling a linear tale, it is comprised of 50 short stories "about some of the extraordinary individuals who helped shape our nation."

She asked viewers to stick with the series.

"We necessarily left out huge swaths of history. We recognize the notion of 'Us' in a nation as diverse as Canada is challenging," she said in a statement issued Monday, adding they "regret that some people felt misrepresented."

Film and television producer Kevin DeWalt knows how hard it can be to dramatize history.

In 2006, CBC pulled his movie "Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story" from the schedule because it strayed from accepted historical record in the portrayal of an adversary.

Controversy swirled around how former Saskatchewan premier James (Jimmy) Gardiner came off in the eyes of viewers and Gardiner's family, who were upset with the interpretation. …

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