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Image courtesy Canadiana.

Canadiana documentary series tells a uniquely Ottawan Cold War story

By Bruce Burwell on November 18, 2022

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The Canadiana documentary web series takes an entertaining look at some of Canada’s lesser-known historical episodes. It’s not just a dry recitation of names and dates, but a headlong dive into specific stories where narrator Adam Bunch guides us using onsite video at historic locations. The videos are supported with extensive use of graphics and animation.

Canadiana is now into its third season and recently released some major Ottawa content. “How the Cold War was started… in Ottawa” is the story of the defection of cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko, an employee of the Soviet embassy in Ottawa during World War II. He defected just a couple of days after the war ended… and arguably started the Cold War.

Image courtesy Canadiana.

I had heard of Gouzenko before, but knew nothing about the drama surrounding his defection. After sneaking a lot of top secret documents out of the Soviet embassy, he spent two whole days trying to defect to various levels of police, government departments, and even the media. He was eventually taken into custody and spent two years interrogated about Soviet spy networks and their attempts to get their hands on the technology behind the atomic bomb.

As befits a good spy story, the Canadiana video deftly builds tension around the defection. Will someone take him into custody? Will the Soviets get to him before he’s safe? Even though you know the ending, the suspense builds.

Image courtesy Canadiana.

I learned a couple of other Ottawa historical tidbits by watching this. The Somerset Street apartment where Gouzenko and his wife and baby lived still stands, and it looks pretty much the same as it did then. The story of the fire that burned down the lovely old Soviet embassy in Sandy Hill on New Year’s Day 1956 is actually surprisingly related to the Cold War.

A few years ago, I wrote about some of the Canadiana project’s earlier historical videos. It’s interesting to see how the series has evolved since then. Adam Bunch is still the rumpled but highly compelling narrator. They continue to tackle lesser-known bits of history and use location footage well. This time, though, their animation seems a bit more animated and less Monty Python-esque. And maybe it’s a side effect of doing a story set in a modern era, but the Gouzenko video made great use of archival video and stills.

Igor Gouzenko had to conceal his identity when being interviewed, to preserve his safety. Image courtesy Canadiana.

After enjoying the Gouzenko video, I binged the other released season 3 videos. Again, these are not your typical history lessons. One is on werewolves, and two others describe the rise and fall of piracy on the Atlantic coast. There are several more planned releases in season 3, including another one with significant Ottawa relevance that I’m really looking forward to—the Rideau Canal.


The Canadiana Season 3 series is available on their YouTube channel. Five of the planned ten episodes are currently available.

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