By Julie Williamson
Two Ryerson journalism professors are among those being recognized for bringing Canadian history into living rooms across the country. Gene Allen and Gordon Henderson worked on Canada: A People’s History, a 17-part series produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that debuted last October on French and English channels.
The CBC will receive the Pierre Berton Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations who have helped popularize Candian History, on Oct. 20 in Winnipeg. The award is named for the famous Candian historian and author who was the first recipient of the prize.
Allen was director of research and a senior producer for the series, which drew an average of 2.2 million viewers in its first seven episodes last year. “It was an intellectual and creative challenge,” says Allen, who teaches copy-editing and layout and introduction to television at Ryerson. He said the goal was to tell history through the people who experience it.
“People think Canadian history is boring,” he said. “We wanted to tell it in a way that was exciting.”
Allen began his career at the Peterborough Examiner beofre taking time to do an M.A in history at York University. He then spent 10 years at the Globe and Mail and began working for the CBC in 1991.
For Henderson, a senior series producer and research and story-editing instructor, using unusual documentary techniques such as people speaking directly into the camera was an exhilarating challenge.
“There was a sense of importance, of producing something meaningful for Canada, something long-lasting,” said the documentary filmmaker. But winning the award wasn’t Henderson’s most sought after gratification.
“Awards are very nice to win,” he says. “I’m happier when I hear that somebody has bought a book to learn more about something we covered.”
The second season of Canada: A People’s History airs over the next seven weeks on Sunday between 7 and 9 p.m.