Brian McKenna

Recipient of the 2007 Pierre Berton Award

November 21, 2011
Brian McKenna accepting his award at Rideau Hall, 2007.

Montreal (Quebec)

In 1975, Brian McKenna was a founding producer of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Oscar–winning current affairs show, the fifth estate. During his 37-year career, the Montreal–based journalist has gained an international reputation for documenting Canadian history on film and television and in print. Throughout his distinguished career, Mr.McKenna has consistently demonstrated his exceptional ability to tackle the challenges of communicating history through a modern media with originality, determination, and a deep respect for those whose stories he tells.

He has written for Saturday Night, Weekend Magazine, the Literary Review of Canada, Cité libre, the Montreal Gazette and the Toronto Star. He co-authored a biography of former Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, published by Penguin Books. Mr. McKenna is perhaps best known, however, for his provocative, prize–winning films and television documentaries about Canada’s history: The Valour and the Horror; The Killing Ground; War at Sea; Web of War; War of 1812; Fire and Ice: The Rocket Richard Riot; Chiefs; Korea: The Unfinished War, and Memoirs of Pierre Trudeau.

In April 2006, The Great War first aired on CBC-TV, signaling a ground-breaking approach to historical documentary television. The Great War told the story of 150 direct descendants of Canadian First World War soldiers, brought together to trace their ancestors’ journey into battle. Each one was required to bring a family artifact with them, and to share the story behind it during their audition.

Those stories and artifacts also become part of the script, providing a more complete picture on how the Great War affected the lives of Canadian families. Mr. McKenna calls his approach “observational history,” and believes that involving families in the telling of social history is not only good film-making, but provides a greater chance that this next generation of Canadians will retain and share the lessons of our past with future generations to come.