Canadian History and the CBC

The CBC is pulling Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story from rebroadcast and sales for home and educational use, citing historical inaccuracies in the television miniseries' portrayal of the late Saskatchewan premier and federal Agriculture Minister James "Jimmy" Gardiner …

The Gardiner family, historians and politicians raised concerns about scenes such as Gardiner giving a province wide radio broadcast condemning strikers in 1931 as communists and undesirable immigrants. That speech never happened and Gardiner was not even premier at the time …

Complaints were also raised about the teetotaller Gardiner drinking alcohol and an overall depiction of his character as mean, arrogant and vindictive.

CBC yanks Douglas movie, James Wood, Saskatchewan News Network, June 13, 2006

In 1997 the CBC aired The Arrow. It remains one the most watched program in Canadian history. Like The Tommy Douglas Story, the CBC could not leave well enough alone. Like The Tommy Douglas Story, the saga of the Arrow could stand on its own, it did not need the CBC to manipulate history to make it more exiting and inspiring.

Gardener was fortunate his family was around to fight the CBC’s distortion of his accomplishments and his place in history. This deceptive film has been taken out of distribution indefinitely… not so for The Arrow.

The producer of The Arrow defended her distortion of Canadian history, saying it was done in an effort to boost sales abroad and to highlight women’s contribution to the building of the Arrow.

Most of the work on the Arrow was done in the early 1950s. The only major contribution that women made in the building of the Arrow was in giving birth to the engineers who built the plane. Yet, the producer of this historical drama put a woman in a pivotal role. The character is a complete fabrication. To my knowledge not a single woman engineer, or technician for that matter, worked on the Arrow.

Canadians schools in the 1940s and early 1950s were not graduating women engineers or technicians in any significant numbers.

Women who did not want to become home-makers or work in secretarial or clerical occupations were expected to become nurses or elementary school teachers, not engineers or technicians. These were men’s jobs.

The fight to convince a significant number of Canadian women that they could excel in non-traditional occupations would be fought in the 1960s and was largely won in the 1970s.

Marc Lépine in 1989 slaughtered thirteen young women student and one female professor at L’École Polytechnique in Montreal (Memorial plate). He blamed them for his failure to get into an engineering school. As he shot them he screamed, “I hate feminists”.

The feminist movement that convinced these young women that they could compete with men in non-traditional professions was, in Canada, a post-war phenomenon, post Korean war. The young women who died that day were pioneers in that movement.

The CBC in its retelling of the Arrow story would have you believe that the pioneers were fictional characters, and that the battle for equal opportunity for Canadian women in our country’s universities and colleges and in the work place had largely been won in the first half of the 20th century.

When you deceptively introduce pivotal fictional characters into historical recreations, as the CBC did in the Arrow story, you kill off real people almost as effectively as Marc Lépine did 17 years ago, even if its only the memory of their accomplishments.

Bernard Payeur

Related: The CBC and The Great War