Adapted from the 1998 / 2012 revised book by Alan Hustak, this CBC Doc Zone production follows a handful of descendants of the 130 passengers aboard the Titanic, most of whom perished, except for a scant few who survived and were forever changed by the horrific experience.
Among the main figures are railway entrepreneur Charles Hays, Quebec sculptor Paul Chevré, entrepreneur Mark Fortune, perfumer Adolphe Saalfeld, singer / mistress Berthe Mayné, and Neshan Krekorian, who left Armenia and travelled in steerage. Present day descendants are followed as they trek to the Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri, with interview and historical material fleshing out the specific backstories of each family, how they survived the sinking / perished on the ship, and their lives after returning to Canada.
The family histories – which include survivor guilt, social persecution, and contributions towards respective communities - are very touching, as is the doc’s second half which covers the recovery of the bodies, artifacts, and how the families feel about their unique lineage to heroic family members and a terrible tragedy.
Where the doc fumbles is in its structure, because there’s essentially a solid and affecting 60 mins. drama here, but the CBC chose to restructure the narrative into 2 parts, which creates both padding and repetition. There really was no need to extend footage into two halves, except to create extra ad breaks & revenue – a move that cheapens the programme.
There’s also a peculiar editorial line that wants to instill national pride among viewers, as though ‘a Canadian connection’ somehow makes the stories more unique than others; it’s not overt (and may not be deliberate), but the narration perhaps treats the stories as novel Canadiana.
Even with its flaws, Canadian Story offers some lesser-known historical facts that tend to be overshadowed by familiar, rehashed information in other docs. The CBC production also features solid sound design and score, which ensure seamless yet evocative transitions between interviews and archival materials.
Broadcast April 8th, 2012 (and viewable online at the CBC), Canadian Story was also supported that week by periodic news pieces on CBC’s The National which added further (and equally poignant) details, such as an infant’s leather shoes and its original owner; and the team of seamen recruited to retrieve, prepare, and help identify cadavers prior to their burial in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan