It’s not often you’re given the opportunity to step back into Canada’s past, but that’s exactly what I did last Thursday. The beach at Hamilton’s 50 Point Conservation Area was transformed into Normandy’s Juno Beach, the site where Canadian troops stormed ashore during D-Day.
With just a line of orange pylons separating filming from the public beach, a handful of actors dressed in the fatigues of the time darted up the dense sand countless times, diving behind Czech hedgehogs for scant cover as explosions (peat moss stuffed into metal bowls and then blown skyward) went off around them. The footage filmed portrayed how William “Boots” Bettridge and his fellow Queen’s Own Rifles land on the beach and call in aerial attacks on German tanks.
The segment, and 49 others, are part of Bristow Global Media’s massive production, Canada: The Story of Us, for CBC. Debuting next year to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, other scenes filmed along Lake Ontario’s shores that day included Samuel de Champlain paddling a canoe and a re-creation of the struggle of Nguyen Ngoc Ngan, one of 60,000 Vietnamese refugees who came to Canada following the Vietnam War. Playing Ngan? His son, Tien Ngoc Ngan. Bristow Global Media president and CEO Julie Bristow says all the tales told in Canada: The Story of Us are personal ones.
“As a producer and journalist, this is the perfect combination for me,” Bristow says. “It’s mixing up modern ways of storytelling with CGI, celebrity interviews and re-creations of personal stories is a fresh take on documentaries. I really like doing shows that demand different skill sets and different teams.” She adds over 150 stories were pitched and 50 were chosen for the 10, 60-minute instalments to spotlight everything from Canada’s birth to where the country’s future lies.
“We like to say that, without the actions of that person, Canada may never have been the same,” she says. “It could be a small action, but without the bravery of some people that we don’t know, history might have been different.”
Canada: The Story of Us airs in 2017 on CBC.