Monday, July 1, 2013

A review of "Canada: A People's History"

"It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, to declare by Proclamation that, on and after a Day therein appointed, not being more than Six Months after the passing of this Act, the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick shall form and be One Dominion under the Name of Canada; and on and after that Day those Three Provinces shall form and be One Dominion under that Name accordingly."

- Canada's "Constitution Act of 1867," also known as the "British North America Act of 1867"

I would like to offer my American perspective to this 32-hour Canadian series. I hope Canadians will not mind. I got this series because I was interested in the history of America's northern neighbor. Canada is one of the United States' biggest trading partners, and being interested in doing trade with Canada, and able to speak both French and English, I thought it would be helpful to know something about Canadian history and culture.

This documentary did not disappoint. It was dramatic and interesting, and I learned much about Canadian history. Having read from many online comments that even Canadians learned something about their history by watching this series, I am struck by its informative and educational power. It is also very moving in places, with great acting, music, and narration. Those looking to learn something about the country will not be disappointed.

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham, a major battle in the Seven Years' War - Quebec, 1759
(an important year in Canadian history, because it was the year that Canada became British)

American invasion of Canada, during American War of Independence - Quebec, 1775

To be sure, this series has excessive liberal bias and political correctness. The earliest examples of this are the anti-British and anti-American bias of the episode dealing with the Seven Years' War - the war that changed Canada from a French colony to a British colony - and the episode dealing with the American Revolution, which saw Canadians and Americans battling one another. The bias is decidedly pro-Canadian and anti-American, and this bias is maintained by propaganda at the expense of factual accuracy, wildly exaggerating the flaws of the Americans, and overlooking many flaws on their own side. This is a common flaw among liberals in general, even American liberals, the need to demonize the supposedly evil and imperialistic United States, and romanticize any of its supposed victims - although their depiction of the War of 1812 was more fair. There is also some anti-Americanism in the episode dealing with Canadian Confederation, and it is maintained by false claims of an American desire for war at that time with Britain and Canada. (Hardly likely, given that the U.S. government had its hands full at that time trying to contain Southern rebels in the American Civil War.)

Death of British general Sir Isaac Brock, at the Battle of Queenston Heights - Canada, 1812

The Fathers of Canadian Confederation, which would happen later in 1867

The other time in which the liberal bias and political correctness become excessive arrives when the series enters the 20th Century, and the series glowingly portrays the Canadian socialists and communists. The series sympathetically portrays the class envy rhetoric of the Marxist tradition, demonizing the supposedly evil capitalists, and giving bleeding-heart portrayals of the poor. The series blames the United States for not only its own Red Scare, but Canada's. (The United States does deserve responsibility for its own Red Scare, but not for Canada's.) And finally, the series dramatizes various left-wing social causes, and condemns the presence of American nuclear weapons in Canada.

Louis Riel, a controversial figure in Canadian history (beloved by French Canadians, and hated by English Canadians)

Battle of Vimy Ridge (a battle with no photographs) during World War One - France, 1917

All of these things notwithstanding, though, this is a good series. Among the better episodes are those dealing with the first European explorations of what is today Canada, the first contact between Europeans and the native peoples of the region, and later on, the episode about the Canadian experience of World War II. Explorations of uncharted territory make for good adventure stories, and the first contact between these cultures is fascinating. Students of American history may notice parallels between the respective frontier histories of America and Canada, and between the two countries' shared experience of World War II.

Canadian soldiers at Juno Beach on D-Day - Normandy, France 1944

Despite my sympathy with my own country during its wars with Canada, it is worth noting that relations between Americans and Canadians have come a long way since then, and I have a great respect for Canada, its culture, and its people. American president John F. Kennedy summed it up well in an address to the Canadian Parliament: "Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. What unites us is far greater than what divides us."

So all in all, a fine series. Well recommended for its dramatic interest, and for its educational and informative power. I may even show this series to some fellow Americans.

"No Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the Constitution Act, 1982 comes into force shall extend to Canada as part of its law."

- The "Canada Act of 1982," as passed by the British Parliament

Episode descriptions
DVD - Set 1 only
DVD - Set 2 only
DVD - Set 3 only
DVD - Set 4 only (4 sets total)

Other posts about Canadian history

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Alistair Cooke's "America" (BBC television miniseries)

Simon Schama's "A History of Britain" (BBC miniseries)

Andrew Marr's "Modern Britain" (BBC miniseries)

Fergal Keane's "The Story of Ireland" (BBC Northern Ireland)

History of the English language (British miniseries)

Available on YouTube
(see first episode below)

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