An American's Guide to Canada: Media

Canada's national obsession seems to be its own identity. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has strict rules about how much Canadian content, or "Can con," must go out on the Canadian airwaves, and the government funds a network of radio and television stations that reach just about the whole country.

An apologetic disclaimer: while Canada has a great deal of media produced in French, I (like many Anglophone residents of Canada) am not very familiar with it. I've added some information about it (there doesn't seem to be much on the Web), but input from Francophones is very much appreciated. (Thanks to Goglu for some new listings and pointers.)



The CBC and SRC

Half an hour later in Newfoundland.
--What you hear at the end of every program announcement on the CBC

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and its French version, the Société Radio-Canada (SRC), are a national institution. CBC Radio One, Radio Two, and the SRC are on the air 24 hours a day with no commercials and no pledge drives, and their programming is of consistently excellent quality. It's like NPR, only better. Check out the Radioworks Web site (which, alas, has ads) for a list of programs and the RealAudio simulcasts of CBC and SRC stations across Canada.

CBC programs I try to listen to regularly:

  • As It Happens, a nightly interview show hosted by Mary Lou Finlay and Barbara Budd. They always open with a terrible pun. They cover an incredible variety of topics, often moving from a light piece of fluff to a deadly serious story about a major news event, and somehow they manage to get exactly the right people on the air. "Today the military dictator was overthrown in Lower Slobovia. We reached the new president of Lower Slobovia for her comments." Another nice touch is that they sometimes feature the late Alan Maitland, a former host, reading stories in his Front Porch Al persona in the summer and Fireside Al persona in the winter. He had the perfect storyteller's voice, and he is much missed.

  • This Morning, a daily show of commentary, interviews, and panel discussions hosted by Michael Enright. This Morning's interviews tend to be longer and in more depth than those on As It Happens. An hour of the morning's show, repackaged as This Morning Tonight, is on in the evening.

  • Quirks and Quarks, a weekly science show hosted by Bob McDonald. McDonald is one of Canada's foremost science journalists, and can get scientists to talk about their work in a way that is understandable yet doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence. It consistently fascinates even this hardcore humanities geek.

  • ...definitely NOT the Opera, a weekly show about pop culture. Four hours on Saturday afternoon, hosted by Nora Young, who is engaging and smart. Rex Murphy delivers scathing commentary about TV, Cathi Bond gives over-the-top video reviews, Ross Porter (who has the perfect jazz show host voice) reviews CDs, and Nora brings in a famous person to discuss that person's favorite book, song, and movie. Great stuff.

  • Madly Off in All Directions, sketch and standup comedy hosted by Lorne Elliott. It's named from a famous phrase written by the (do I even have to tell you he's Canadian?) humorist Stephen Leacock.

There's more good stuff on CBC Radio One and Radio Two, but these shows are the ones I have the best luck catching.

CBC Television, while not quite as wonderful as CBC Radio, has its own appeal too. Its main drawback is that it has commercials. Its strong points are numerous: just about everything on it in primetime is Canadian and of consistently high quality, it gets away with showing a lot of programs that would never make it onto American TV, and the male anchor of the national evening news went bald and nobody stuck him into a toupee.

CBC TV programs I like to watch:

  • The National, the 10pm newscast (half an hour later in Newfoundland) with Peter Mansbridge and Hana Gartner. Thorough, knowledgeable journalism that assumes an intelligent viewer. The transcript of last night's show is online.

  • the fifth estate, investigative journalism similar to that of 60 Minutes, but mercifully without an analogue to Andy Rooney.

  • This Hour Has 22 Minutes, viciously funny political satire and commentary from four Newfoundlanders who perform the show in Halifax in front of an audience. Rick Mercer's "Streeters," shot in black and white, are absolutely scathing and right on the mark. The Web site has some video and sound clips that may give you a feel for this show.

  • Comics! Each week, the CBC gives a different standup comedian half an hour to do whatever she or he wants. Hit or miss, but the good ones can be hilarious.

  • The Nature of Things, hosted by David Suzuki. It explores science, natural history, and the environment, admittedly with Suzuki's political slant, but it's always absorbing.

  • The Red Green Show. You may have seen this on PBS. Good-natured rural guys who like "repairing" hopelessly broken large pieces of equipment with impossible quantities of duct tape. Ridiculous and occasionally paralyzingly funny.

  • Twitch City, a short-run series that was described as "The Odd Couple on acid." Surreal yet believable, and not quite like anything else I've ever seen on television.
The CBC also has a news network, CBC Newsworld.

CBC gossip you won't see on the Web site:

  • Wendy Mesley, the oh-so-perky host of the "new media" show Undercurrents, is Peter Mansbridge's ex. It's always fun to see them appear together on some news show and watch the glares back and forth.
  • Several years ago, Peter Mansbridge was being courted by an American TV network to go be an anchor in the States. Knowlton Nash, the previous anchor of The National, agreed to retire early so that Mansbridge could take over and stay in Canada.
For lots more (that's lots juicier), see Frank magazine, mentioned below.

In so many words: the CBC rocks. Explore their Web site, listen to some RealAudio clips, and see if you can hear any of their stuff on your local Public Radio International station. Hooray for the CBC.

Other Canadian TV broadcasters

CBC is one of Canada's two national networks; the other is CTV. There are other regional networks, and national cable networks. Many of the national cable networks are specialty channels, added in October, 1997, October, 1998, and October, 1999.

The Canadian Broadcast Directory provides a number of links to Canadian radio and TV station Web sites.

National cable networks

(Some of these may not be truly national, as they may not be carried in Québec.)
  • Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, the only network of its kind in the world
  • Bravo!, devoted to arts programming; part of the Citytv empire
  • Canadian Learning Television
  • CBC Newsworld
  • The Comedy Network. I like their slogan: "Time well wasted."
  • Country Music Television
  • The Cable Public Affairs Channel, or CPAC. Funded by Canada's cable companies, CPAC provides bilingual coverage of the proceedings of the House of Commons, plus its own public affairs programming.
  • CTV Sportsnet. I like them because they show English Premier League soccer.
  • The Discovery Channel. Programming about science, nature, and technology.
  • Family Channel Canada. Commercial-free fare for kids and adults; they get a new set of classic movies (many from the '30s and '40s) every month, and show them in rotation.
  • HGTV, Home and Garden Television Canada
  • History Television. They show some great stuff, such as Rick Mercer's It Seems Like Yesterday, which examines the popular culture of a twentieth-century week, year, or decade. They also show 1960s episodes of Front Page Challenge, a panel quiz show popular for decades, and they package old films as History on Film, with informative introductions and interviews by Ann Medina.
  • The Life Network, with programming for homeowners, cooks, and crafters
  • The Movie Network, or TMN
  • Moviepix
  • MuchMusic, Canada's answer to MTV (which isn't carried by Canadian cable networks)
  • MuchMoreMusic, the analogue to VH1
  • MusiquePlus, the French MuchMusic. Not available across Canada, but we watch it when we're in eastern Ontario because they often play better music than the English network.
  • Musimax, the French MuchMoreMusic.
  • Outdoor Life Network
  • Prime, a channel full of reruns of St. Elsewhere and Remington Steele. It hasn't seemed able to figure out how to market itself -- first it was TV for Baby Boomers, and then it was "Canada's superstation," and now I don't know what it is. I still like Steele, though.
  • Report on Business Television. All business news, all the time.
  • Showcase, good films and high-quality series
  • Space: The Imagination Station. Reruns of Star Trek (original series, TNG, and DS9), Doctor Who (from the very beginning!), The X-Files, Lost in Space, and lots more. Every night at midnight they show bad science fiction movies. Sometimes they show videos or "Spacenews" between shows. Fun, except nothing gets me to change the channel faster than that hideously annoying "Conspiracy Guy."
  • Star!, "Canada's Entertainment Information Station." Oh boy.
  • Teletoon, Canada's animation station. They show some American cartoons, but their focus is primarily Canadian -- I particularly like the shorts from the National Film Board.
  • Treehouse, commercial-free programming for very young children
  • TSN, The Sports Network. I like them because they show lots of curling in the winter.
  • TVA, a Canadian French-language network, on broadcast TV in Québec and cable in the rest of the country
  • Vision TV. Vision shows religious programs from just about every denomination you can think of, plus reruns of Little House on the Prairie. Imagine what American religious stations would be like if they were multicultural and polite.
  • The Weather Network
  • YTV, for older kids and teenagers

Regional networks

Film

The National Film Board helps produce a lot of those great animated short films that appear in animation festivals (such as Spike & Mike). They also make documentaries (a particular talent of Canadians is their skill at making documentary films) and fictional films. They emphasize the necessity of moving past racism, sexism, and violence in the films they produce today, and they maintain an archive of older Canadian films as well (some from the 1920s). They have an extensive library of videocassettes available through mail order. Visit their Web site. They're neat.

A lot of Canadian film is also produced by the members of the Independent Film and Video Alliance.

Well-known Canadian directors:

  • David Cronenberg, most recently known for eXistenZ
  • Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter)
  • James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator, Terminator 2, True Lies)
  • Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, Moonstruck)
  • Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo, Highway 61, Roadkill)

Print journalism

Newspapers

The Canadian Newspaper Association maintains pages of links to online newspapers, press organizations, journalism schools, and more. It's an interesting place to poke around.

One big difference between Canadian newspapers and American ones is that in Canada, the big weekend paper, the one with all the extra real estate listings and feature sections and comics and catbox liners, comes out on Saturday instead of Sunday. Canada's "national" newspaper, The Globe and Mail, doesn't even bother to publish a Sunday edition. (I put "national" in quotation marks because the Globe is based in Toronto and has the unfortunate habit of printing things such as "out in Vancouver...")

The Globe is analogous to The New York Times in the range, depth, and style of its news coverage. The Globe's editor-in-chief, William Thorsell, is rather conservative (but what passes for conservative in Canada might be considered flamingly communist in some parts of the States). Some of the most interesting Globe writers include Robert Fulford, Rick Salutin, and Geoff Pevere.

The other national newspaper is the National Post, a right-wing conglomco daily.

The two big Toronto papers are the Toronto Star (which has the highest circulation of any paper in the country) and the Toronto Sun. The Star used to be known as the Daily Star; the Daily Planet, workplace of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, was named after it. The Star shows the influence of flashy US papers such as USA Today in its color photographs and graphics, but the writing manages to stay pretty good even so. The Star has a reputation for being mostly liberal.

The Sun is a tabloid-style daily owned by the Sun conglomerate. It's Neanderthal enough to feature the "Sunshine Girl" pinup on page three every day, but tries to make up for it by having a "Sunshine Boy" buried deep somewhere else in the newspaper. The Sun has sister papers in Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa.

In Québec, the most important French-language papers are Le Journal de Montréal, a tabloid with a high circulation, La Presse (intellectual but accessible), Le Devoir (small but influential; more intellectual), and Le Soleil. The most well-known English-language paper there is the Montreal Gazette. (Again, input from Francophones is appreciated here.)

As in the US, a few big conglomerates are running around buying up most of the local papers, dumbing down the content and making it more palatable to the corporate bigwigs. One of the biggest newspaper owners is Southam. Conrad Black owns a controlling stake in Southam, which controls more than half of Canada's daily newspapers (including the National Post). Black's ambition seems to be power and control, rather than quality journalism. Thomson is another newspaper conglomerate; it owns a good percentage of what's left.

Magazines

The Canadian Magazine Publishers' Association maintains a Web site with a comprehensive listing of Canadian magazines, including brief descriptions of them and information on how to subscribe.

Some notable Canadian magazines:

  • Maclean's is a weekly newsmagazine, analogous to Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report. Frank (see below) calls them "Maclone's."
  • Ryerson Review of Journalism discusses events and ethics in journalism in Canada.
  • Saturday Night, "Canada's magazine." Good writing, both fiction and non, and a good way to follow what's happening in Canada, but it has tended too much toward smarmy right-wing self-congratulation for my taste lately.
  • L'actualité. News and opinion en français. Published bimonthly; important and influential.
  • Canadian Living calls itself "Canada's family magazine." Crafts, recipes, decorating ideas, and so forth.
  • Chatelaine is a women's magazine similar to McCall's or Ladies' Home Journal.
  • Flare is also a women's magazine, more concerned with fashion and beauty (think Glamour).
  • Western Living is a general-interest magazine for western Canada.
  • Canadian Forum contains discussions of Canadian politics and policy.
  • Shift Magazine is a good source of information about new media and culture.
  • 7 Jours, a popular Québec lifestyle magazine.
  • Frank Magazine is published every two weeks with no names but that of the publisher on the masthead. Frank contains dirt, hot gossip, general nastiness, and usually an apology or two for something published in a previous issue. Their rendering of Jean Chrétien's Quebecois accent never fails to make me giggle.

--Emily Way (emily_@_americansguide.ca)
Last updated December 17, 2000

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