Canada: A People's History is a 17-episode, 32-hour documentary television series on the history of Canada. It first aired on CBC Television from October 2000 to November 2001. The production was an unusually large project for the national network, especially during budget cutbacks. The unexpected success of the series actually led to increased government funding for the CBC. It was also an unusual collaboration with the French arm of the network, which traditionally had autonomous production. The full run of the episodes was produced in English and French. The series title in French was Le Canada: Une histoire populaire. In 2004, OMNI.1 and OMNI.2 began airing multicultural versions, in Chinese, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, and Russian.
The producers intended to make this a dramatic history of the Canadian people; as much as possible, the story was told through the words of the people involved, from great leaders and explorers to everyday people of the land at the time. The documentary makes effective use of visuals, transitions, and dramatic music from or evocative of the eras being covered. In the first season, actors representing historical figures spoke their words, while later seasons used voiceovers over photographic images and film or, when available, original recordings of the subject.
The opening episode of this 16-part documentary ranges across the continent, looking back more than 15,000 years to recount the varied history of the first occupants of the territory that would become Canada. From the rich resource of native oral history and archeology come the stories of the land's first people - how dozens of distinct societies took shape, and how they encountered a strange new people, the Europeans. Among the earliest of these epoch-making encounters is the meeting between Jacques Cartier and Donnacona, the Iroquoian chief whom Cartier first met on the Gaspé shore in 1534 and later kidnapped. Later on the Pacific coast, Nootka chief Maquinna encounters John Jewitt, the English sailor who became his captive and eventually his reluctant friend.
With the search for the Northwest Passage and the expansion of the Grand Banks fishery, the New World soon becomes a destination for permanent European colonies, in Newfoundland and along the St. Lawrence. Samuel de Champlain begins his legendary journeys, and the precarious beginnings of New France are established. It is an era of unprecedented alliances and devastating conflicts with native people, driven by the merchants' search for furs and the Jesuits' quest for souls. After a half-century of struggle, with the colony on the verge of extinction, Louis XIV takes personal control, sending French soldiers to defend the struggling outpost and eligible young women, the "filles du roi," to become their wives.
A small French settlement in New France builds a flourishing society and stakes a claim to a massive continent between 1660 and 1750. New France's populace includes shop keepers, artisans, farmers and landlords, as well as fur-trading expansionists like Governor Frontenac and his commercial partner, Robert Cavelier de La Salle, who build a network of Indian alliances and extend French trading posts to the Gulf of Mexico. But this fast-paced growth brings New France into ever more bitter conflict with the wealthier and more numerous - but less venturesome - British colonists to the south. The story culminates with the heartrending deportation of more than 10,000 French Catholic Acadians as the struggle to possess North America enters its final, decisive phase.
period of a little more than two decades in the mid-18th century changes the destiny of North America. England and France battle each other in the Seven Years' War, a conflict that begins as a clash between les Canadiens and land-hungry American settlers in the Ohio Valley and becomes a world war that engulfs the continent. Fortress Louisbourg, symbol of the French empire, is the target of 27,000 soldiers and sailors in the greatest naval invasion in North America's history. In 1759, General James Wolfe leads the assault against Quebec but the citadel withstands a devastating siege and bombardment. With winter soon arriving, Wolfe forces the commander of the French troops, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, into one last desperate encounter. The battle for North America unfolds on an abandoned farmer's field, the Plains of Abraham, just outside the city's walls. When war ends in 1763, 70,000 French colonists come under British rule, setting in motion the ever-evolving French-English dynamic in Canada.
At the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775, American rebels invade Canada but despite the efforts of rebel spies to entice Quebec to join the revolution, les Canadiens refuse to take up arms against British rule, and the invasion ultimately fails. The mass migration of Loyalists that follows - more than 40,000 people in all - creates an English-speaking Canada virtually overnight. Over the next 30 years, the colony continues to develop. When the next American invaders arrive in 1812, they are fought to a stand-still at the battles of Queenston Heights, Chateauguay and Lundy's Lane, setting boundaries that remain today. The cast of characters includes the audacious military commanders General Isaac Brock and Colonel Charles-Michel de Salaberry; Hannah Ingraham and her dispossessed Loyalist family; Benedict Arnold, the notorious traitor to the American Revolution; visionary Indian leader Tecumseh; Pierre Bédard, brilliant tactician of an emerging colonial democracy; and Canadian traitors who are publicly executed near Hamilton, Ontario.
The Canadian west is opened by the great fur-trading empires of the Hudson's Bay and Northwest Companies, the native people who were their indispensable allies, and bold explorers and map makers who ventured from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean and long-sought-for Pacific. Pierre Esprit Radisson defies a governor to take New France's trade far into the continent's interior and later, founds an English trading empire; Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de la Vérendrye, spends a lifetime searching for the Western Sea and pays dearly for it. Tough Dene chief Matonabbee leads Samuel Hearne on a monumental trek into the Barren Lands; Alexander Mackenzie's dash to the Pacific makes him one of the most celebrated men of his age. And David Thompson comes to the forbidding shores of Hudson Bay as a 14-year-old apprentice and eventually unlocks the secrets of the West more than any other man. As the fur trader's day comes to an end, settlers on the prairies and gold miners in British Columbia begin to claim the west for themselves.
By 1830, the struggle for democratic government in the colonies of British North America has reached fever pitch. As the colonies grow in wealth and population, a generation of charismatic reformers -- Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia, Louis-Joseph Papineau in Lower Canada and William Lyon Mackenzie in Upper Canada - confront the appointed governors and their local favourites with one demand: let the citizens' elected representatives run their own affairs. In the Canadas, the struggle leads to bloody rebellion and disastrous defeat for the rebels. Yet within 10 years, the prize of self-government is won, thanks in part to an unexpected alliance between the French and English-speaking forces of reform.
In a few short years, a handful of small and separate British colonies are transformed into a new nation that controls half the North American continent. The story of Confederation, its supporters and its bitter foes, is told against a backdrop of U.S. Civil War and Britain's growing determination to be rid of its expensive, ungrateful colonies. The dawn of the photographic era provides a vivid portrait of the diverse people who make up the new Dominion of Canada: the railway magnates, the unwed mothers of Montreal, the nuns who provide refuge for the destitute, the prosperous merchants of Halifax, the brave fugitives of the Underground Railroad, and the tide of Irish immigrants who flood into the cities.
Confederation is barely accomplished when the new dominion must face an enormous challenge: extending its reach into the vast prairies and beyond, to the Pacific Ocean. But Canada blunders catastrophically in seeking to take over the west without the consent of its inhabitants, especially the Métis of Red River and their leader, the charismatic, troubled Louis Riel. The resistance of 1869-70 lays the groundwork for Manitoba to join Canada, but it also sets the stage for decades of conflict over the rights of French and English, Catholic and Protestant in the new territories. Thanks to an audacious promise of a transcontinental railway in 10 years, the settlers of British Columbia are more easily convinced of the merits of union; by 1873 Prince Edward Island has joined as well, and Canada can boast a dominion that extends from sea to sea.