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 1870s and 1880s are a time of trial for the young Dominion of Canada. The country's first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, faces economic depression in the fast-growing factories of the east and a new revolt in the west, led by his old nemesis, Louis Riel. The suppression of the Northwest Rebellion and Macdonald's single-minded insistence that the French-speaking Catholic Riel must hang for treason threatens to tear apart the fragile bond between Quebec and English Canada. During this same era, debates over provincial powers and the Manitoba Schools Question rage, and a dream is realized: the Canadian Pacific Railway links the country and opens the prairies to new floods of immigration.
Massive waves of immigration, a headlong economic boom with the growth of prairie agriculture and urban industry transform Canada between 1896 and 1915. Those who shape the new society include peasants from Eastern Europe, in search of free land; socialists who try to mobilize an emerging urban working class; and campaigners for temperance and women's suffrage. The dizzying pace of change also brings ethnic intolerance and racism, particularly against Asian immigrants. As well, growing tensions over Canada's role in the British Empire help put an end to Sir Wilfrid Laurier's reign in 1911. When World War I breaks out, a burst of enthusiasm in English Canada and resistance in French Canada foreshadows domestic conflict as wartime pressures grow.
Canada's heavy military role in World War I (60,000 dead in a population of 8 million) transforms its society, its politics and its place in the world. The horror, bravery and sacrifice of trench warfare are evoked in Canada's great battles: Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Courcelette and Passchendaele. The domestic consequences of Canada's war effort are also wrenching - the conscription crisis of 1917 marks a low point in English-French relations. After the war ends, labour revolts in Winnipeg and across the country raise fears of a Bolshevik insurrection. The return to stability in the mid-1920s lasts only briefly as the crash of 1929 plunges the country into economic chaos.
Canada's economy collapses during the 1930s, creating a prolonged political and social crisis. In the context of the Dust Bowl, the relief camps and the Regina Riot, political leaders such as William Aberhart, Maurice Duplessis, and Mitchell Hepburn capture national attention. Meanwhile, an increasingly menacing international climate sees the rise of fascism and mounting likelihood of another world war. When war does arrive, Canada finds itself fighting virtually alone at Britain's side.
Canada comes of age in the anguish of World War II, with soldiers on the beaches at Dieppe and women in the industrial work force back home. The country's military role and the domestic social and political consequences of the war are traced through poignant stories of Canadians on both sides of the Atlantic. The horrific global conflict steals the innocence of a generation... but brings hope for a new future.
The end of World War II signals the end of fifteen years of social, political and economic upheaval. The post-war baby boom and government economic and social policies give rise to unprecedented prosperity and growth for Canadian communities. Television becomes a powerful new tool with social and political consequences. But in the midst of plenty, growing fears of the Cold War and nuclear conflict create an unsettled atmosphere. Political leaders - including Diefenbaker, Smallwood, Duplessis create excitement and controversy. Saskatchewan's premier Tommy Douglas begins the fight for Medicare while Canada finds itself increasingly absorbed into the American military, economic and cultural orbit.
The Sixties and Seventies are an era of ferment on every level: politics, culture and personal life. Quebec's Quiet Revolution and youth movements across North America challenge the status quo. Some events bring the country together: a new flag is introduced and Canada shines in the world's spotlight with Expo '67; while others threaten considerable upheaval: growing calls for Quebec sovereignty, the 1970 FLQ/War Measures Act crisis, and an energy shortage pits East against West. A charismatic law professor is elected Liberal leader, then Prime Minister; Trudeaumania changes the face of Canadian politics.
The world order and economic boom that had taken shape after World War II starts to unravel, and a new era of uncertainty begins. Free trade, globalization, and regionalism converge with the rise of feminism, aboriginal claims, growing multiculturalism and the explosion of computer technology. Canada's economic, social and political environment are affected. Canada's new Charter begins to have an impact. Debate around Canadian unity intensifies with the Quebec referendum of 1980, repatriation of the Constitution and the Meech Lake Accord.