Julie Bristow told me she was aiming to get some big-name Canadians to participate in Canada: The Story of Us and she came through. Sunday’s debut, at 9 p.m., opens with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau teasing what the next 10 weeks will explore.
“Tonight, and throughout this series, we meet some of the extraordinary women and men who shaped our country’s unique character,” Trudeau begins. “I hope that, like me, you’ll be inspired by these heroic Canadians so that together we can write the next chapter in the great Canadian story.”
Trudeau is just one of over 80 Canadians—among them Susan Aglukark, Lorne Cardinal, Paul Gross, Eugene Levy, Duncan McCue, Peter Mansbridge, Tatiana Maslany, Rick Mercer, Candy Palmater, Christopher Plummer, Lilly Singh, Georges St-Pierre, Clement Virgo, Colm Feore and David Suzuki—who participate in telling key stories from the country’s past as we celebrate 150 years as a nation.
“As a producer and journalist, this is the perfect combination for me,” Bristow Global Media president and CEO, and Story of Us executive producer 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.”
Stunning in scope and with so much history to cover, Bristow says 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. Sunday’s debut starts, naturally, at the beginning with “Worlds Collide,” covering pre-1608 to 1670, as French settlers arrive and make an immediate impact on the Indigenous peoples who have lived there for centuries. Corner Gas‘ Lorne Cardinal and film and television producer Jennifer Podemski help outline the First Nations people of the time, a community with advanced democracies in place.
Samuel de Champlain is the first European sent to The New World specifically to settle the area and name it New France. His crew of 27 men contend with the elements, and an assassination plot, as the set down roots in an impressive settlement at the site of what is now Quebec City. Britain gets in on the action, and it’s a race between the countries to claim as much land and befriend as many First Nations communities as they can. This, ultimately, leads to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
Using stunning CGI, well-done re-enactments and under the guidance of historians and academic consultants—including renowned Canadian historian and author John English and Indigenous Arts Scholar Gerald McMaster—Canada: The Story of Us is informative and immensely entertaining. It’s certainly more thrilling than any history class I’ve sat in, no matter how good the teacher.
“In every episode, there are five personal stories that echo a theme,” Bristow says. “While every episode is loosely chronological, it’s not comprehensive. Each is a coming-of-age episode. Against all odds, we’re here as a country and a lot of the story is, ‘Can you believe it?!'”
Canada: The Story of Us airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.