Canada

Canada has the distinction of having the two oldest points of entry to North America, at each of the uppermost corners of the country. It is true, of course, that the northwest corner is buffered by Alaska, which forms a threshold. But once their entrance had been made, the earliest migrants from Eastern Asia faced the great expanse of Canada. The other point is at the northern  tip of a long peninsula on Newfoundland, not far, as the gull flies, from the outermost edge of the continent on the Atlantic side. It was here, at roughly the beginning of the last millennium, that the Vikings established a small settlement. It did not endure. I have just this moment found a related silent film on YouTube, called The Viking (1928). For a full report, see Early Europe.

The icon for Canada in the menu at right shows the façade of the Canadian Museum of History, which opened in the capital city of Ottawa in 1992. Originally, it was called the Canadian Museum of Civilization, but in 2013 it was decided that the mission of the institution had been overstated and the name was changed accordingly. The distinctive building was designed by the same architect who did the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. The emphasis in the exhibits is on the people of the First Nations. Most prominently featured are the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, and the Eskimo people of the far north. In Northern Ice, there are a few movies that reflect on life in the earliest and coldest times. Until I began work on this site, I had assumed that the people of the North were descended from the earliest nomads who came from Asia. But it is apparently more likely that the migratory path followed corridors of melting ice leading to the south. Only later, when the ice had receded, did the people move to the north.

There is a lack of movie attention to the Northwest Indian cultures, along the original routes of migration. I don’t get to that part of the country very often, but a 2006 visit to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver brought an opportunity to talk with some First Nations craftspeople, who specialized in “story poles” (totems). Those who were talkative wanted to vigorously make the point that in circa 1956 representations of Native culture were banned by the Canadian government. The ban was lifted by Parliament in 1972. During this dark time, various clandestine methods had been employed to carry on with native culture. When I asked if there were any Hollywood movies that reflected on their culture, they could think of none. According to the Canadian Museum of History, the tribes of the Northwest were the only ones to have created totem poles.

Finding movies that make a bridge from the earliest inhabitants of Canada to the European arrivals of only the last 400 years or so, was a daunting task. I called relatives in Toronto and Nova Scotia to ask what they remembered from high school history class and what movies came to mind for them. Little of substance resulted. I found a very useful movie on YouTube about the time when Britain wrested control of Canada from France. It is called Nouvelle France, or Battle of the Brave (2004). My Nova Scotia heritage yielded a 1929 movie of Evangeline, starring Delores del Rio. And most interesting of all my Canadian findings is a movie called The Barbarian Invasions (2003), which reflects on the lessons of history from the perspective of the new millennium. Each of these films establishes a lens for looking at fictional particulars against the broad sweep of historical events.


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