Preview: The Great Lakes takes centre stage in TVO’s must-see Great Lakes Untamed

I vividly recall where I was when I first watched Paddle to the Sea.

I was sitting, cross-legged, in my elementary school’s library with my fellow students and watched, transfixed. The 1966 National Film Board of Canada film, based on Holling C. Holling’s book of the same name, is the tale of an Indigenous boy who sets out to carve a man and a canoe. Calling the man Paddle to the Sea, the boy sets his carving down on a frozen stream to await spring. The film follows the adventures the canoe experiences on its long trip from Lake Superior to the Atlantic ocean. Directed by Bill Mason, I never forgot the film.

Neither did Ted Oakes. The veteran producer, director and biologist was so impacted by the film as a child—followed by meeting Mason and holding that carved canoe in his hands as an adult—that the result is Great Lakes Untamed.

Debuting Monday at 9 p.m. ET on TVO as well as on TVO’s YouTube channel, Great Lakes Untamed is a must-see three-part documentary that goes deep—sometimes literally—on the five lakes that straddle Canada and the United States.

Narrated by Allegra Fulton, Monday’s first instalment, “Source to Sea,” begins where little Paddle to the Sea did, at the headwaters of Lake Superior. It’s there that viewers are introduced to not only the water but the animals that depend on it for survival. Among them are the wolf and beaver, whose predator-prey relationship helps regulate the flow of clean water into the lakes. That clear water offers the filmmakers the opportunity to capture loons on the hunt for shiners and a few of the more than 500 documented shipwrecks claimed by the sometimes ferocious inland sea. Then it’s off to Lake Michigan, with over 12 million people surrounding its shores and the incredible Sleeping Bear Dune, a 55 km stretch of sandy wilderness created by glaciers and home to the endangered piping plover. Explorations to Lake Huron, Erie and Ontario follow.

To me, the best documentaries are ones where I am madly scrambling to write down something to look or later or grab my phone and Google it. Great Lakes Untamed had me doing that several times just in Episode 1.

“Source to Sea” is followed by “The Big Freeze,” which explores how animals, people and the landscape have been forged by snow and ice, on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET; and “Marvels and Mysteries,” which delves into how life and the landscape of the Great Lakes have adapted to changes in temperature that arrive each year, on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.

Stunningly filmed, Great Lakes Untamed is at the top of my list of favourite nature documentaries made about this county second only to The Nature of Things‘ “The Wild Canadian Year.”

Great Lakes Untamed airs Monday at 9 p.m. ET, followed by “The Big Freeze” on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET and “Marvels and Mysteries” on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on TVO, as well as on TVO’s YouTube channel.

Image courtesy of Christian Dalbec Photography.

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