Historical drama Frontier tells story of 'invasion' of northern Ontario

The James Bay lowlands are the setting for a new TV drama that aims to tell Canada's history from a first nations perspective.

New Discovery Channel and Netflix show set in James Bay lowlands, but filmed in Newfoundland

The new drama series Frontier is set in northern Ontario in the 1780s, but is filmed in Newfoundland. (Discovery Channel )

The James Bay lowlands are the setting for a new TV drama that aims to tell Canada's history from a first nations perspective.

Frontier, which airs on the Discovery Channel Sunday nights and on Netflix next year, focuses on the fur trade in northern Ontario in the 1780s.

Creators Rob and Peter Blackie said that even though Frontier is historical fiction, they wanted to make sure it was as accurate as possible, particularly in how the James Bay Cree are presented.

So, consultants from the coast have been on the film set to advise on Cree language and culture.

"Because it was so important for us, as much as humanly possible to not hit any false notes," said Rob Blackie.

Host Markus Schwabe speaks with Rob and Peter Blackie, the creators of the new TV series Frontier from Newfoundland where they are filming the second season of the show set in the James Bay area. 6:55

Rob Blackie said it's fair to say that Frontier aims to take a different perspective on Canadian history and shows the fur trade more as an "invasion" of first nations territory by the companies vying for a piece of the lucrative pelt business.

He said they are aiming to tell a story that has some truths in it, while being sexy and exciting.

"It's historical fiction. It's a delicate balancing that we work hard on an ongoing basis to get right," he said.

Edwina Follows, the director of commissioning and production for Discovery Networks​, agreed.

"I think that we've underestimated the incredibly exciting history that we have in this country," she said.

"To me, the challenge is to take a history that everybody thinks that they knew everything about it and give it a new spin."

Heather Dahlstrom, the reporting supervisor of film programming for Cultural Industries Ontario North, says northern Ontario rarely gets to play itself on film. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

Rob Blackie said the key role James Bay and northern Ontario played in the fur trade is one reason Frontier is set there, but the other is how closely it resembles Newfoundland, where his production company is based and where they are filming the series. 

Northern Ontario's film industry has taken off in recent years, but it's rare for the region to get to play itself, often filling in for fictional American cities and towns.

"On the other side of this, I'm actually really glad that they're telling the story, because there are some pretty amazing historical events that have happened in northern Ontario that people are not aware of," said Heather Dahlstrom, reporting supervisor of film programming for Cultural Industries Ontario North.

Dahlstrom said federal film funding now seems to favour the telling of Canadian stories, which she hopes will lead to more productions filmed and set in northern Ontario.

"And not necessarily the kind of content that beats you over the head, the Mounties, the Canadian stereotype content. I think people are telling more real Canadian stories," she said.