Grad debunks Mountie myth

In Arts & Life /

By Stephanie Bomba 

Ryerson graduate William Cobban says the Mounties are a myth — and he’s got the research to prove it.

Cobban’s documentary, Mountie: Canada’s Mightiest Myth, airs on CBC this week.  It delves deep into the history of the Mounties and reveals little-known facts about our glorified national police force.

Cobban decided to make this film, in conjunction with the National Film Board, to shed light on the reality behind the Mountie image.

“The Mounties are conveniently enveloped in the image of what they are,” he says.  “people remember the Hollywood Mounties, not history.”

He goes on to say that nine of 10 Canadians don’t realize their revered Mounties are the same ones who fired into the crowds during the Winnipeg Riots.  This ignorance caused a problem for Cobban when he was making this film.

“I couldn’t take anything for granted,” he explains.  “Canada has always had a problem of getting its story out.”

The filmmaker has no such qualms.  “At the end of the day, I would happily tell Canadian stories,” he enthuses.

Cobban graduated form the Ryerson RTA program in 1970.  He came to Ryerson because “it was one of the few schools that offered really smart studies in radio and television arts,” he said.

He credits his Ryerson education with giving him the tools to express himself in unconventional ways.

“All my friends who went to university learned to express themselves in conventional ways; we learned how to express ourselves through the media.  We learned how to express ourselves visually and [how to] construct ideas in TV and radio format,” he explains.  “It gave me an edge on other people.”

After Ryerson, Cobban made countless films and documentaries, including the 1997 Dawn of the Eye: A Century of the News Camera (winner of the 1997 Cable Ace award for best History of Series) and The Selling of Innocents (winner of 1997 Emmy for best investigative documentary).

Cobban has also worked on CBC’s The Journal as a senior documentary producer.  But Cobban loves to direct.  He is excited about and pleased with his upcoming documentary — though he feels it is too short.

“Every period [of history covered] could have easily been an hour.  You never have as much time as you’d like,” he says, sighing.  “You lose something in the survey.”

His favourite part of the film is the very beginning, which describes the march of the Mounties on the Wild West through old photographs.

“Those old photographs have never been really seen before,” he says.

Representatives of the RCMP have already seen a synopsis of the film while it was in production.  Their reaction?

“To say they were unhappy would be putting it mildly,” he says, laughing.  “They didn’t want a program on national TV that would peek under the covers trying to expose things.  It will be an eye opener for some people.”

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