Television Reviews : PBS Series Looks In on Neighbor to the North

So you think Canadians are just Americans who all live in the woods, go ice fishing too much and talk a little funny, eh?

You’re not alone. What most Americans know about our friendly neighbor to the north could probably barely fill up a category on “Jeopardy!”

To be sure, Canada and the United States are good buddies with a great deal in common besides the wonderfully peaceful and unguarded 4,000-mile border.

But as the new PBS series “Canada: True North” points out (tonight at 8 on Channel 28, and tonight at 9 on Channel 50), there are many important differences that most Americans don’t know about.


“The Relationship,” the first of the four-part series produced by WTVS/Detroit and the National Film Board of Canada, provides a quick 200-year history course in Canada’s long and hard struggle to preserve its identity while living next door to the world’s dominant economic and cultural superpower.

Hosted by Nova Scotia’s own Robert MacNeil, it traces--from a Canadian point of view--the often unfriendly history of U.S.-Canadian interaction and nicely explains why and how we differ.

Though never actually boring, “The Relationship” (written and directed by John Kramer and Barbara Sears) is frequently almanac dry and newsreely in style.

Still, it contains a great deal of interesting information about everything from Canada’s trusty Mounties to such usually forgotten facts as that the United States invaded Canada five times during the War of 1812.


Next week’s much more engaging program, “Where Is Here?” takes a more personal approach as it tries to show how important geography has been in shaping Canadian culture.

It follows nine writers on special assignment for Canada’s only literary magazine, Saturday Night, as they travel from Toronto to the Arctic Circle to rural Alberta, interviewing a variety of people and defining what it means to be a Canadian.

The series is also airing Mondays at 9 p.m. on Channel 24, and Mondays at 10 p.m. on Channel 15.