British Columbia: An Untold History premiered last week on the Knowledge Network
The Knowledge Network is behind the four-part retelling
Before starting his latest project, Kevin Eastwood thought he was headed for some lighter fare.
So when he took on writing and directing duties on the Knowledge Network limited documentary series British Columbia: An Untold History, he surprised himself. “After doing a show about paramedics and PTSD and then Humboldt, I thought I would do something much lighter next,” Eastwood says with a slight chuckle before turning serious.
“But I was wrong; telling the history of this place was as hard a journey as any story I’ve dealt with. Stories of systemic racism and internment camps to the Indian Act and the Komagata Maru—there was a lot of hard subject matter that was just as emotionally exhausting.”
Eastwood began work on the project (now airing on the Knowledge Network) more than three years ago, and he and his team criss-crossed B.C. in search of stories about the history of our province. One of the earliest interviews on the show takes place at the Kamloops residential school that later made news for housing hundreds of unmarked graves.
“We went all around—Fort St. James, Williams Lake, Chilcotin, Tofino, Clayoquot Sound—to get to the people connected to the stories,” Eastwood says. “It was either because they were descendants of people involved or they themselves were involved in the stories. Pretty much all the places we identify in the show, we’re actually filming in.”
The result is a four-part series, airing Tuesdays, that covers a different part of the province’s history each week. Episode 1 (which aired last week) focused on Indigenous resistance to colonizers, along with the implementation of the federal Indian Act and residential schools.
Episode 2 (tonight) and 3 present the history of labour and the fight for equality in the province by First Nations as well as Chinese, Japanese and Black immigrants, and the unfair treatment of those ethnicities during both world wars. The final episode highlights the battle between preservation of natural resources and economic advancement.
“Obviously, the whole cultural conversation has come a long way when it comes to racial equity and the reality of how much inequity there has been, and the fact that we’re a society that favours white supremacist structures,” Eastwood says. “In the early days of this project, we were like, Oh, I don’t know how people are going to respond when we use the word ‘white supremacy.’ Cut to 2021, and the murder of George Floyd, BLM, all those discussion points have become parts of widespread conversation. That sort of makes the show timely, but we certainly couldn’t have predicted that.”
Eastwood isn’t sure what his next project will be, but he does hope that Canadian film and television makes it through what appears to be something of a lull with the end of popular shows like Schitt’s Creek and Kim’s Convenience.
“It’s a bit of a shame there isn’t as much domestic production—American stuff dominates,” he says. “There’s [Global drama] Family Law, which just premiered; that’s like the only one. There’s not a lot of sizable feature film productions made by Canadians—the Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers/Kathleen Hepburn film, The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open—that was a big break getting Ava Duvernay behind it. It got a lot of accolades, but it’s a small film. It’d be good if we could have a little more representation on a larger scale, too.”