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Behind the Scenes
About the TV Series
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Getting the Story Right
Hitting the books

Canada: A People's History is the result of a staggering amount of research, carried out by a team of journalists and researchers, assisted by a number of archivists and historians. In all, more than one hundred organizations - libraries, universities, archives, museums and historical societies - were consulted.

Gene Allen, historian and CBC journalist, orchestrated the colossal enterprise as Director of Research.
The production team examined manuscripts at the National Archives of Canada, as well as many other resource centres.
A closer look The production team examined manuscripts, photographs, paintings and other documents at the National Archives of Canada, as well as many other resource centres.
One of the first tasks for Allen and the rest of the editorial team was to identify the historical periods to be included. Then came selecting the manuscripts, recruiting episode-specific specialists and organizing the content into a narrative form. Last but not least was ensuring that the final scenes would respect the facts uncovered in the research.

Throughout production the team relied on the expertise of three respected Canadian historians: Ramsay Cook, Jean-Claude Robert and Olive P. Dickason. "My role," says Cook, "has been simply to try to say to the producers: 'If you're going to present this period in an accurate and adequate way you have to cover these events, deal with these people.' But in the end the scriptwriter, the film-makers and the directors have had to make a decision about how to balance that with the entertainment side of it... and I say I think it's very successful, what I've seen."

In producing the series and the accompanying book, the team consulted letters, personal journals, archived newspapers, political acts, and seigneurial records, gathering the material from just about everywhere. "To do a series like this we found source material all across the country," says Allen. "From Vancouver, from archives in Quebec, in the Atlantic provinces ... and because of course the early part of our period was very much an international story -- what happened, the different empires competing here -- we found material in scores if not hundreds of different places in Canada and around the world."

Still more material came from private collections. People from all over loaned or donated photographs or documents that had belonged to their parents and grandparents. Allen recounts that a gentleman in Ottawa donated pictures of his family growing up in the 1950's for the episode A New World Order and the team also found written accounts in individual collections. "We've been in Whitehorse in the Yukon looking through the diaries and accounts of the Klondike gold rush in the late 1890's," Allen says.

The first five episodes of the series take place well before the advent of photography. Finding images to accurately represent these eras demanded a diligent search.

"The biggest challenge was the rarity of these documents," says Hélène Bourgault, one of the visual research coordinators on the project. "In the 16th and 17th century, there weren't many painters and very few portrait artists. For example, no one has yet found an authentic portrait of Samuel de Champlain. Very few portraits exist of the people who lived during the period of the establishment of New France."

As for the history of Canada's native peoples, it couldn't be reconstructed from written sources because almost no written documents exist. For thousands of years the history of native peoples has been passed down from person to person from the elders of the tribes or villages. Through the legends and mythology of the native peoples, the team was able to reconstruct part of their history. According to Andrew Gregg, the director of Episode 1: When the World Began..., this was a complex undertaking.

"We piled through tons of archives, tons of books, talked to tons of experts, both native and non-native about oral histories and we picked the ones that we felt would give the audience an idea of what it might have been like here," Gregg says. "Some of those stories were very difficult to use, like the Mohawk Dekanawidah legend which, told properly, takes three days. So we gave more of a sense of the Dekanawidah story as opposed to the entire thing, and in putting those all together, what we tried to do ... was give a picture of what it might have been like here for many thousands of years before Europeans arrived."

In addition to the official documents and the historic iconography, the use of personal documents gives the series a human dimension. "These people were a part of the history," says Ramsay Cook, one of the historical advisers on the project. "They have expressed their opinions and their interpretation of the events. This has helped to anchor the series in reality.

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The historical advisers on the series maintain the integrity of the story.

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