Canadian history flicks

Four timeless Canadian history films to put on your watch list (if you haven't seen them yet).

Written by Mark Reid, Andrew Workman, James Gillespie, and Tanja Hütter  

February 18, 2016

What are your favourite Canadian history films? Unless you’re a die-hard Canadian history film buff you would be hard pressed to name more than a few titles. Canada’s History staff shared a bit about their favourite Canadian history films.

Margaret’s Museum

(1995), directed by Mort Ransen. Story by Sheldon Currie. Stars:  Helena Bonham Carter, Kate Nelligan, Clive Russell.

“Poignancy and sorrow permeate the film Margaret’s Museum.  It is a film that resonates with all Maritimers. Ours is a region that is no stranger to disaster. From the early shipwrecks that dotted our coastlines, to the Halifax Disaster of 1917, to the mine disasters in Cape Breton and in Springhill, Nova Scotia, that decimated entire communities, there is a pragmatic acceptance among our people that there’s a price to be paid for reaping the bounty of land and sea. Margaret’s Museum tells a small tale, of love both romantic and familial, amid the hardscrabble milieu of a coal-mining town. It’s a world where old men die of black lung, while young men chafe for their chance to replace their fathers underground. You will not come away from this movie unmoved.” – Mark Reid, Editor-in-Chief and Director of Content

32 Short Films About Glenn Gould

(1993), directed by François Girard. Written by François Girard, Don McKellar and Glenn Gould. Stars: Colm Feore, Derek Keurvorst, Katya Ladan.

“One of Canada's most iconic and enigmatic musicians is profiled in this kaleidoscopic biopic. Gould's early life, his career, his inspiration, and his eccentricities are approached from many angles, offering a rich portrait of the multifaceted virtuoso. The film also functions as a love letter to Canada; the land, the people, and the mythology of which came to define Gould as much as he would define the landscape of Canadian music and arts in the twentieth century.” – Andrew Workman, Graphic Designer

Black Robe

(1991), directed by Bruce Beresford. Based on a novel by Brian Moore, published in 1985. Stars: Lothaire Bluteau, Aden Young, Sandrine Holt.

“My favourite Canadian movie is Black Robe. My father took me to see it when I was eleven. It was the first time I had been exposed to a grittier version of Canadian history. It opened my mind to ideas that there was more to history than what I was being taught at school. Realities of life that were presented in a way that the school system and educators at an elementary school level would not have been allowed to explain. Years later this movie still holds up as a quality film.” – James Gillespie, Art Director

The Great Escape

(1963), directed by John Sturges. Based on the book by Australian Paul Brickhill who was there, but the Canadian element is better represented in The Tunnel King: The True Story of Wally Floody & the Great Escape published in 2004. Stars: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson. 

“At first blush my choice for favourite Canadian history film will seem odd, but I think it’s important to recognize it as a Canadian story. No question that The Great Escape was a Hollywood film created for American audiences, but compared to the history of the actual event, the role of the Americans was significantly beefed up in the film while the contributions of the Canadian prisoners of war was seriously downplayed. Of the fifty escapees that were caught and executed, six were Canadian. No Americans actually escaped in the breakout of March 1944. While the American prisoners of war were involved in creating the tunnel named Tom, they were transferred to a different camp after Tom was discovered by the Gestapo. The “Tunnel King,” played by Charles Bronson, was based on Canadian Flight Lieutenant Wally Floody who worked in the mines in Timmins, Ontario, prior to the war. Although Floody was instrumental in building the tunnels, he could not participate in the escape because he had been transferred as well. Wally Floody also served as technical advisor to the film.” – Tanja Hutter, Online Manager

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