The View From Here – An historical account must be definitive otherwise it is fiction, not history

Tom Henihan
A country’s identity emanates in large part from its history.

A country’s history is not legend or folklore; it is not pliable material that can be reconfigured to fit contemporary sensibilities or some preferred narrative that minimises or expurgates all transgressions.

So much of history is about conquest and in the case of countries such as Canada, countries that were “discovered” and colonized by Europeans, there is a great temptation to use omission or euphemism to circumnavigate many of the injustices on which those countries were established.

History tells us about the individuals and circumstances from which we rose and allows us to define ourselves against that benchmark.

While history celebrates our victories and inspires us through the valour of those who came before us, it also demands that we have the courage to confront our sins and mature as a society.

The CBC, the self-ordained keeper of the Canadian cultural flame, continues to do damage to the Canadian identity and the Canadian story with its new mini-series Canada: The Story of Us.

The mini-series, commissioned to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary has been severely criticised for its omissions and inaccuracies.

So far, the most vocal dissent has come from Nova Scotia and Quebec.

In a glaring inaccuracy and an affront to Nova Scotia, the series portrays the site of Quebec City as the first permanent European garrison in Canada when the historic fact is that Samuel de Champlain was instrumental in establishing a settlement in Port-Royal, N.S 3 years earlier, in 1605.

Politicians on both sides of spectrum in Quebec have joined those in Nova Scotia in denouncing the series for its omission of salient historical events, ignoring the Mi’kmaq and Acadians’ contribution to the settling of the country and the less than flattering portrayals of the French.

In an attempt to address the negative response to the mini-series the CBC issued a statement on April 6.

“We recognize that not everyone will agree with every perspective presented, but our intention was never to offend anyone or any group, nor diminish the importance of any of the stories that were not ultimately included.
“Whenever you recount a country’s history, there will inevitably be citizens, historians and politicians who will have different points of view.”

Having a differing point of view on historical facts is one thing, blatant inaccuracies are something else.

The series states that Quebec City was the site of the first permanent European settlement in Canada when in fact it was Port-Royal, Nova Scotia.

The CBC statement goes on to say: “We think it’s fair to say the format of this series has been misunderstood; it is not a definitive or linear history of Canada.”

If Canada: The Story of Us is not a definitive or linear history of Canada what is it, what purpose does it serve?

The CBC operates on the assumption that it is the executor of Canadian history and Canadian culture. It believes it has licence to play with the facts and conjure up its own idealized portrayal of Canada, then broadcast that portrayal for mass consumption.

It is deceptive and irresponsible that the CBC had to be confronted about flaws in its story before offering the disclaimer that Canada: The Story of Us was not an authoritative historical account.

Had the CBC not been challenged on the veracity of the series, it is reasonable to assume that it would have allowed the series to stand as the definitive story.

History is immutable; it demands that we stay honest and any deliberate disregard for the truth, for the historical facts, does a disservice to all Canadians past and present.

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