What Does Canadian History Look Like? The Story of Us

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

It is that time of the year again when historians from across the country are preparing to gather together at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual meeting to talk about our work. The theme of meetings, being held in two weeks time, is “From Far and Wide: The Next 150.” As Canada enters the sesquicentennial’s summer season, hallway conversations will no doubt address subjects related to Confederation and its commemoration (or lack thereof, if the first half of the year is any indicator). Perhaps at top of mind will be CBC’s The Story of Us, a ten-part dramatization of the moments some of Canada’s best-known entertainers, politicians, business people and even a few historians wanted to celebrate with high production-value television. The series, as the tone of the previous sentence sought to instil, was widely critiqued by historians (see here, here, herehere, and here).

Looking at this year’s program, however, suggests we may want to be careful in just how loudly we critique the television series. Some of the problems outlined about The Story of Us seem to apply equally to the CHA’s annual meeting. There are two widespread critiques of the television program that might also be applied to the content of this year’s annual meeting. First, The Story of Us was critiqued because it was a unilingual production with little attention to francophone perspectives, their history and culture. Second, the series takes a narrow view on the country’s early history, completely ignoring Indigenous histories before 1600, the importance of the sixteenth and seventeenth century fisheries, and the role of Mi’kmaq, Wabanaki, Innu and Acadian peoples in cultivating early (and foundational) relationships.

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