From the very beginning Executive Producer Mark Starowicz envisioned Canada: A People's History as a lasting history of Canada for this generation. To realize that, the television series (32 hours of programming in French and English) was produced with accompanying resources, including a many-layered Web site.
The site, really two sister sites available in English on CBC.ca/history and in French on radio-canada.ca/histoire/, was designed so it could grow over the run of the series and afterward. It uses cutting-edge database technology to build the pages from stored data, allowing producers to add new material all the time. Each of the stories told in the television series is retold on the web, with accompanying images, series video clips and radio and TV archive materials from both broadcasting services. There are also other ways to explore and engage the events in Canada's history: from games and puzzles to discussion forums to stories written specifically for younger viewers.
The team based in Montreal and Toronto, compiled all the stories and accompanying material. The site is structured so it can be easily navigated in either French or English or in both languages, as viewers can link from one language to the other at the top of every page.
Click for Canada: A People's History website credits
When Mark Hyland, past director of New Media for CBC television became involved in the project in 1998, he and Starowicz envisioned the Web site not only as a companion to the series but as an online resource that would evolve into a comprehensive site for Canadian history. It would be an extension of Starowicz's main vision for an accessible, easy to find history of Canada, particularly for the country's children and students.
"What propelled me in '96 was a very personal story," says Starowicz, recalling where the notion came from to make this series. "We, my two daughters, and my wife, we go to the farm every weekend, and we listen to cassettes in the car and after several years of Paul Bunyan and American stories and Walt Disney stories, I wanted to find something Canadian to listen to. And some videotapes ... I couldn't find anything."
In order to make the content on the history site as easy to find as possible the team decided to build it using an information management system. Designed to work with multiple pieces of media, in many formats, the management tool would catalogue the entire contents of the site (including thousands of pages of text, hundreds of still pictures and an equal number of media clips) and store each piece together. The idea was to simplify the search for a specific object (a piece of text, a video clip or an image) and to make it possible to relate several objects together under various categories.
The New Media and Information Technology teams at CBC and Radio-Canada partnered with consultants from Ascential Software, Inc. , an internet software company headquartered in Massachusetts, to build both the management tool and the database-driven Web site.
A key part of the design is how the site will grow over time. As each new episode of the series airs, the stories, images and clips associated with that episode will appear on the Web site. Web surfers will be able to read and watch everything from a particular episode or search through all the episodes for a particular person or topic. There is also room for the site to grow beyond the episode content to include more stories and events from Canada's past.