The opening episode of this 16-part documentary ranges across the continent, looking back more than 15,000 years to recount the varied history of the first occupants of the territory that would become Canada. From the rich resource of native oral history and archeology come the stories of the land's first people - how dozens of distinct societies took shape, and how they encountered a strange new people, the Europeans. Among the earliest of these epoch-making encounters is the meeting between Jacques Cartier and Donnacona, the Iroquoian chief whom Cartier first met on the Gaspé shore in 1534 and later kidnapped. Later on the Pacific coast, Nootka chief Maquinna encounters John Jewitt, the English sailor who became his captive and eventually his reluctant friend.
With the search for the Northwest Passage and the expansion of the Grand Banks fishery, the New World soon becomes a destination for permanent European colonies, in Newfoundland and along the St. Lawrence. Samuel de Champlain begins his legendary journeys, and the precarious beginnings of New France are established. It is an era of unprecedented alliances and devastating conflicts with native people, driven by the merchants' search for furs and the Jesuits' quest for souls. After a half-century of struggle, with the colony on the verge of extinction, Louis XIV takes personal control, sending French soldiers to defend the struggling outpost and eligible young women, the "filles du roi," to become their wives.
A small French settlement in New France builds a flourishing society and stakes a claim to a massive continent between 1660 and 1750. New France's populace includes shop keepers, artisans, farmers and landlords, as well as fur-trading expansionists like Governor Frontenac and his commercial partner, Robert Cavelier de La Salle, who build a network of Indian alliances and extend French trading posts to the Gulf of Mexico. But this fast-paced growth brings New France into ever more bitter conflict with the wealthier and more numerous - but less venturesome - British colonists to the south. The story culminates with the heartrending deportation of more than 10,000 French Catholic Acadians as the struggle to possess North America enters its final, decisive phase.
period of a little more than two decades in the mid-18th century changes the destiny of North America. England and France battle each other in the Seven Years' War, a conflict that begins as a clash between les Canadiens and land-hungry American settlers in the Ohio Valley and becomes a world war that engulfs the continent. Fortress Louisbourg, symbol of the French empire, is the target of 27,000 soldiers and sailors in the greatest naval invasion in North America's history. In 1759, General James Wolfe leads the assault against Quebec but the citadel withstands a devastating siege and bombardment. With winter soon arriving, Wolfe forces the commander of the French troops, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, into one last desperate encounter. The battle for North America unfolds on an abandoned farmer's field, the Plains of Abraham, just outside the city's walls. When war ends in 1763, 70,000 French colonists come under British rule, setting in motion the ever-evolving French-English dynamic in Canada.
At the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775, American rebels invade Canada but despite the efforts of rebel spies to entice Quebec to join the revolution, les Canadiens refuse to take up arms against British rule, and the invasion ultimately fails. The mass migration of Loyalists that follows - more than 40,000 people in all - creates an English-speaking Canada virtually overnight. Over the next 30 years, the colony continues to develop. When the next American invaders arrive in 1812, they are fought to a stand-still at the battles of Queenston Heights, Chateauguay and Lundy's Lane, setting boundaries that remain today. The cast of characters includes the audacious military commanders General Isaac Brock and Colonel Charles-Michel de Salaberry; Hannah Ingraham and her dispossessed Loyalist family; Benedict Arnold, the notorious traitor to the American Revolution; visionary Indian leader Tecumseh; Pierre Bédard, brilliant tactician of an emerging colonial democracy; and Canadian traitors who are publicly executed near Hamilton, Ontario.
The Canadian west is opened by the great fur-trading empires of the Hudson's Bay and Northwest Companies, the native people who were their indispensable allies, and bold explorers and map makers who ventured from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean and long-sought-for Pacific. Pierre Esprit Radisson defies a governor to take New France's trade far into the continent's interior and later, founds an English trading empire; Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de la Vérendrye, spends a lifetime searching for the Western Sea and pays dearly for it. Tough Dene chief Matonabbee leads Samuel Hearne on a monumental trek into the Barren Lands; Alexander Mackenzie's dash to the Pacific makes him one of the most celebrated men of his age. And David Thompson comes to the forbidding shores of Hudson Bay as a 14-year-old apprentice and eventually unlocks the secrets of the West more than any other man. As the fur trader's day comes to an end, settlers on the prairies and gold miners in British Columbia begin to claim the west for themselves.
By 1830, the struggle for democratic government in the colonies of British North America has reached fever pitch. As the colonies grow in wealth and population, a generation of charismatic reformers -- Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia, Louis-Joseph Papineau in Lower Canada and William Lyon Mackenzie in Upper Canada - confront the appointed governors and their local favourites with one demand: let the citizens' elected representatives run their own affairs. In the Canadas, the struggle leads to bloody rebellion and disastrous defeat for the rebels. Yet within 10 years, the prize of self-government is won, thanks in part to an unexpected alliance between the French and English-speaking forces of reform.
In a few short years, a handful of small and separate British colonies are transformed into a new nation that controls half the North American continent. The story of Confederation, its supporters and its bitter foes, is told against a backdrop of U.S. Civil War and Britain's growing determination to be rid of its expensive, ungrateful colonies. The dawn of the photographic era provides a vivid portrait of the diverse people who make up the new Dominion of Canada: the railway magnates, the unwed mothers of Montreal, the nuns who provide refuge for the destitute, the prosperous merchants of Halifax, the brave fugitives of the Underground Railroad, and the tide of Irish immigrants who flood into the cities.
Confederation is barely accomplished when the new dominion must face an enormous challenge: extending its reach into the vast prairies and beyond, to the Pacific Ocean. But Canada blunders catastrophically in seeking to take over the west without the consent of its inhabitants, especially the Métis of Red River and their leader, the charismatic, troubled Louis Riel. The resistance of 1869-70 lays the groundwork for Manitoba to join Canada, but it also sets the stage for decades of conflict over the rights of French and English, Catholic and Protestant in the new territories. Thanks to an audacious promise of a transcontinental railway in 10 years, the settlers of British Columbia are more easily convinced of the merits of union; by 1873 Prince Edward Island has joined as well, and Canada can boast a dominion that extends from sea to sea.
The 1870s and 1880s are a time of trial for the young Dominion of Canada. The country's first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, faces economic depression in the fast-growing factories of the east and a new revolt in the west, led by his old nemesis, Louis Riel. The suppression of the Northwest Rebellion and Macdonald's single-minded insistence that the French-speaking Catholic Riel must hang for treason threatens to tear apart the fragile bond between Quebec and English Canada. During this same era, debates over provincial powers and the Manitoba Schools Question rage, and a dream is realized: the Canadian Pacific Railway links the country and opens the prairies to new floods of immigration.
Massive waves of immigration, a headlong economic boom with the growth of prairie agriculture and urban industry transform Canada between 1896 and 1915. Those who shape the new society include peasants from Eastern Europe, in search of free land; socialists who try to mobilize an emerging urban working class; and campaigners for temperance and women's suffrage. The dizzying pace of change also brings ethnic intolerance and racism, particularly against Asian immigrants. As well, growing tensions over Canada's role in the British Empire help put an end to Sir Wilfrid Laurier's reign in 1911. When World War I breaks out, a burst of enthusiasm in English Canada and resistance in French Canada foreshadows domestic conflict as wartime pressures grow.
Canada's heavy military role in World War I (60,000 dead in a population of 8 million) transforms its society, its politics and its place in the world. The horror, bravery and sacrifice of trench warfare are evoked in Canada's great battles: Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Courcelette and Passchendaele. The domestic consequences of Canada's war effort are also wrenching - the conscription crisis of 1917 marks a low point in English-French relations. After the war ends, labour revolts in Winnipeg and across the country raise fears of a Bolshevik insurrection. The return to stability in the mid-1920s lasts only briefly as the crash of 1929 plunges the country into economic chaos.
Canada's economy collapses during the 1930s, creating a prolonged political and social crisis. In the context of the Dust Bowl, the relief camps and the Regina Riot, political leaders such as William Aberhart, Maurice Duplessis, and Mitchell Hepburn capture national attention. Meanwhile, an increasingly menacing international climate sees the rise of fascism and mounting likelihood of another world war. When war does arrive, Canada finds itself fighting virtually alone at Britain's side.
Canada comes of age in the anguish of World War II, with soldiers on the beaches at Dieppe and women in the industrial work force back home. The country's military role and the domestic social and political consequences of the war are traced through poignant stories of Canadians on both sides of the Atlantic. The horrific global conflict steals the innocence of a generation... but brings hope for a new future.
The end of World War II signals the end of fifteen years of social, political and economic upheaval. The post-war baby boom and government economic and social policies give rise to unprecedented prosperity and growth for Canadian communities. Television becomes a powerful new tool with social and political consequences. But in the midst of plenty, growing fears of the Cold War and nuclear conflict create an unsettled atmosphere. Political leaders - including Diefenbaker, Smallwood, Duplessis create excitement and controversy. Saskatchewan's premier Tommy Douglas begins the fight for Medicare while Canada finds itself increasingly absorbed into the American military, economic and cultural orbit.
The Sixties and Seventies are an era of ferment on every level: politics, culture and personal life. Quebec's Quiet Revolution and youth movements across North America challenge the status quo. Some events bring the country together: a new flag is introduced and Canada shines in the world's spotlight with Expo '67; while others threaten considerable upheaval: growing calls for Quebec sovereignty, the 1970 FLQ/War Measures Act crisis, and an energy shortage pits East against West. A charismatic law professor is elected Liberal leader, then Prime Minister; Trudeaumania changes the face of Canadian politics.
The world order and economic boom that had taken shape after World War II starts to unravel, and a new era of uncertainty begins. Free trade, globalization, and regionalism converge with the rise of feminism, aboriginal claims, growing multiculturalism and the explosion of computer technology. Canada's economic, social and political environment are affected. Canada's new Charter begins to have an impact. Debate around Canadian unity intensifies with the Quebec referendum of 1980, repatriation of the Constitution and the Meech Lake Accord.