Episode 5 of CBC’s Canada: The Story of Us, entitled “Expansion,” is far better than what we have seen thus far, tackling Canada from sea to sea to sea.
We begin Sunday night with the story of B.C.’s gold rush and end with the story of the Klondike gold rush sandwiching the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway, a vital bargaining chip used by Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald to cement Confederacy. But we learn the expense of this iron road is paid not just by currency, but also in the blood of both First Nations people and Chinese immigrants. We also see the return of Dr. Hayden King, and this time he is not tokenized by the CBC, as he was in Episode 1.
Overall, I found the story of the Klondike most interesting and/or engaging. The reiteration of the grit and determination that those who explored and sought their fortunes for me always grabs my attention. What kind of person does this, and that so many were driven to do so? When David Plain and I spoke, he too was pleased by the retelling of the history of the gold rush, but did mention:
“I was surprised to hear, only four minutes in, a professor of anthropology said, ‘the quest for gold was something that almost all cultures shared.’ In the Indigenous cultures of North America gold didn’t hold any real importance as a ‘precious metal.’ Nor was it a thing that was necessarily sought after. It was a shiny metal that glittered and had some use in the making of jewellery, but was too soft to be of much use in the manufacturing of the really important things in life such as tools, weapons, arrowheads, etc. But Professor Davis is right if he was talking about western cultures. Gold drives them crazy.”
This episode also attacked a few of the darker episodes in Canada’s history. The treatment of First Nations and the unfairness of the Numbered Treaties, Louis Riel—despite being all too brief—and the importation of slave labour from China, all for the purpose of uniting this country. David also said he “was particularly pleased to hear admissions that those who resisted the railroad, and western expansions were only looking to protect their people and their way of life. The Metis leader Louis Riel is described as passionate about protecting Metis rights, and Big Bear is described as one of the true heroes of the new nation and as a man of peace.”
Was it right for the Canadian Government to do this? I think in hindsight most of us can say no. But we need to know about it and recognize it in a revealing light.
What I do have to applaud at this juncture is the scope of this undertaking. Canada’s history is as vast as the country itself, and no one person can be an authority on everything. While there are gaps, and there is a lack of depth on any one topic, I do feel Canada: The Story of Us deserves merit. Even the gaps and their repercussions have sparked conversations that may not have been had otherwise. Anyone unfamiliar with any one segment may be driven by curiosity to learn more. I know this episode motivated me to quickly review items of interest, particularly my own collection of reports from the North-West Mounted Police.
However, I have to wonder if this episode was re-cut and re-edited in response to the backlash that CBC has been receiving in its treatment of in particular First Nations’ history and the darker blemishes on our past. CBC is now hosting weekly online interactive chats with historians on Tuesday evenings in order to address omissions. The format we have taken here on TV-Eh to review the series was in response to address those same gaps. I noticed a marked difference in the positionality of the storytelling this week, as did David.
“This episode has made me feel thankful that I didn’t change the channel,” he said. “It was not afraid to cast government decisions and entrepreneurs’ actions in a bad light. Things such as the numbered treaties and the treatment of the country’s Indigenous people are called a stain on Canada’s history. And the exploiting of imported Chinese workers is called one of the several black marks on the nation’s past. However, all in all, I found this episode much more evenly presented than previous ones.”
That both of us noticed a change, but each of us from very different cultures, I would be very curious to learn if indeed this episode was somehow retooled at the last minute. Either way, “Expansions,” seemed to broaden its own ideological horizons with respect to the marginalized people in Canada’s past, and the blemishes upon our united history, and that is a good thing. That these black marks are sandwiched in gold I find rather ironic from a teaching perspective. When we assess, we try to “hamburger” an area that needs improvement with positives on either side. Bounded in gold indeed.
My thanks go out once again to David Plain for sharing his thoughts on this week’s episode.
Canada: The Story of Us airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
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