Discover Canada’s Prime Ministers
Since Confederation in 1867, Canada has had no fewer than 23 prime ministers, each of whom has made a distinctive mark on Canadian politics. This unique new playlist, accompanied by educational resources brought to you by Library and Archives Canada and the National Film Board of Canada, offers a rich selection of films about a remarkable group of leaders, providing in-depth perspectives on their varied contributions to Canadian history and society.
In addition to its compilation of films made over a span of more than 70 years, the playlist features these comprehensive and engaging resources: downloadable fact sheets, archival records, biographies and an assortment of images. This invaluable learning tool can be used both inside and outside the classroom—by educators, students, researchers or anyone seeking to learn more about the fascinating lives and legacies of Canada’s prime ministers.
Are you an educator?
This playlist is perfect for the classroom, and curated just for you.
A downloadable educator’s guide, entitled The Prime Minister in Canadian Life and Politics, contains critical challenges, provincial curriculum connections, activities, handouts, resources and evaluation rubrics designed specifically for Canadian classroom use.
The films in the playlist are sure to enrich classroom learning, and can be viewed in class or as a homework assignment. Each film is accompanied by a short description. CAMPUS subscribers also have access to classifications by grade level and subject area and a chaptering tool that allows them to break the films up into easy-to-teach sections. (It is always recommended that you preview a film before showing it to your students.)
Target grade level:
• This film selection and accompanying resources are suitable for students ages 13 +(cycle 1 & 2 in Quebec).
Target subject areas:
• Canadian History
• Canadian Studies
• Social Studies
Downloadable learning resources
Educator’s Guide: The Prime Minister in Canadian Life and Politics
Fact sheets about Canada’s prime ministers:
• Sir John A. Macdonald
• Alexander Mackenzie
• Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott
• Sir John Sparrow David Thompson
• Sir Mackenzie Bowell
• Sir Charles Tupper
• Sir Wilfrid Laurier
• Sir Robert Laird Borden
• Arthur Meighen
• William Lyon Mackenzie King
• Richard Bedford Bennett
• Louis Stephen St. Laurent
• John George Diefenbaker
• Lester Bowles Pearson
• Pierre Elliott Trudeau
• Charles Joseph Clark
• John Napier Turner
• Martin Brian Mulroney
• Kim Campbell
• Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien
• Paul Edgar Philippe Martin
• Stephen Joseph Harper
For more information about this selection and resources, visit the LAC website.
About LAC and NFB
The National Film Board of Canada is proud to collaborate with Library and Archives Canada to bring engaging films, images, archival documents and educational resources to Canadians via NFB.ca and CAMPUS. Our aim is to make the best possible films and resources available in one place, accessible on the Web, around the world, 24/7. We will work together to achieve this aim by combining our vast and diverse collections into thematic modules, and by making them available online to educators in Canada and around the world.
In Part 1 of this 3-part documentary series, director Donald Brittain chronicles the early years of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and René Lévesque. From their university days in the 1950s to 1967 when Lévesque left the Liberal Party and Trudeau became the federal Minister of Justice, Brittain attempts to get at the heart of what makes these men so fascinating.
Part 2 of this 3-part documentary series about Pierre Elliott Trudeau and René Lévesque covers the years between 1967 and 1977, a colourful decade that saw Trudeau win three federal elections, the 1970 October Crisis and the sweeping rise to power of the Parti Québécois.
The final instalment of this 3-part documentary series about Pierre Elliott Trudeau and René Lévesque spans the decade between 1976 and 1986. The film reveals the turbulent, behind-the-scenes drama during the Quebec referendum and the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution. In doing so, it also traces both Trudeau's and Lévesque's fall from power.
This documentary short is a portrait of Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and 13th prime minister of Canada, John George Diefenbaker (1895-1979). Diefenbaker's political career spanned 6 decades. When he died in 1979, his state funeral and final train trip west became more a celebration of life than a victory for death. Interweaving scenes from past and present, the film crafts a tribute to an illustrious Canadian and records how a nation paused to pay homage to "The Chief."
From the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, Mackenzie King tried to avoid conscription. Most English Canadians thought young men should be sent to fight, while most French Canadians vehemently disagreed. This same division had nearly torn the country apart during the First World War. King had to make a decision in the final year of the war. This docudrama combines archival footage with excerpts from The King Chronicles, a dramatic series written and directed by Donald Brittain.
Some scenes contain graphic language.
This feature documentary traces the political career of T.C. (Tommy) Douglas, former premier of Saskatchewan and leader of the New Democratic Party, who was voted the Greatest Canadian in 2004 for his devotion to social causes, his charm and his powers of persuasion. Known as the "Father of Medicare," this one-time champion boxer and fiery preacher entered politics in the 1930s and never looked back.
This documentary examines the media's coverage of the federal election of May 1979. Filmed over a 3-week period, it takes a fascinating look at journalists in action and the politicians who attempt to manipulate the media.
This feature documentary is a portrait of Adélard Godbout, the largely forgotten man who was Premier of Quebec from 1939 to 1944. During his office, Godbout helped lay the groundwork for the Quiet Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s: instituting compulsory education, giving women the vote, creating Hydro-Québec and trying to free the province from domination by the clergy. Yet, during the conscription crisis, he favoured sending volunteers to fight Hitler: a sin for which many would never forgive him. Filmmaker Jacques Godbout takes a fresh look at his great-uncle's legacy.
This feature documentary retraces the century of haggling by successive federal and provincial governments to agree on a formula to bring home the Canadian Constitution from England. This film concentrates on the politicking and lobbying that finally led to its patriation in 1982. Five prime ministers had failed before Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau took up the challenge in the early 1970s. Principal players in this documentary are federal Minister of Justice Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister Trudeau, 10 provincial premiers and a host of journalists, politicians, lawyers, and diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dancing Around the Table: Part One provides a fascinating look at the crucial role Indigenous people played in shaping the Canadian Constitution. The 1984 Federal Provincial Conference of First Ministers on Aboriginal Constitutional Matters was a tumultuous and antagonistic process that pitted Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and the First Ministers—who refused to include Indigenous inherent rights to self-government in the Constitution—against First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders, who would not back down from this historic opportunity to enshrine Indigenous rights.In a now infamous exchange, Kwakwaka’wakw lawyer and lead negotiator Bill Wilson states that he has two children who want to become lawyers and prime minister. When he says that they are Indigenous women, the male audience bursts into laughter, and Trudeau replies, “Tell them I’ll stick around until they’re ready.” Over 30 years later, Bill Wilson’s daughter, Jody Wilson-Raybould, became Canada’s first Indigenous minister of justice and attorney general in the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The conference was Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s last constitutional meeting before he resigned and the process was handed over to his successor, Brian Mulroney.
Dancing Around the Table: Part Two charts the battle to enshrine Indigenous rights in the Canadian Constitution, capturing a key moment in Canada’s history from the perspective of Indigenous negotiators. The 1985 conference, chaired by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, was the fourth and final meeting to determine an amendment to Indigenous rights as defined in the Constitution. The provincial premiers again refuse to reach an agreement with the First Nations, Metis and Inuit leaders, even though the majority of Canadians supported the inclusion of Indigenous rights to self-government.Director Bulbulian captures the pride and determination of Indigenous leaders and community members who refuse to back down on this historic opportunity to enshrine their rights, and the arrogance of the First Ministers who are fighting to keep power within the federal and provincial governments. The film takes us to Indigenous communities, where ceremony and traditional practices affirm the connection to the earth and its animals, and are the source of the strength and resilience shown by the Indigenous people around the table.
This short documentary looks at Governor General Georges Vanier: his military service in two world wars, his diplomatic service between the wars and his investiture as Canada's 19th Governor General.
This feature documentary is a portrait of Herbert Norman, the Canadian ambassador to Egypt who leapt to his death in 1957. During his remarkable career, Norman had been a trusted aide of General MacArthur in post-war Japan and later played a key role in the Suez crisis. But for years, a US Senate subcommittee probed his past while the FBI accumulated a huge file on him, refusing to accept an RCMP investigation that cleared him of being a communist spy. Interviews with key players and dramatizations help reconstruct Herbert Norman's life.
This raw exposé examines William Sampson’s harrowing experience while imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for a crime he didn’t commit. Sampson was working as a businessman when he was suddenly arrested and charged with a terrorist bombing and murder. He was tortured and held for 31 months. He is still fighting to hold the Saudi government accountable. He also asks, Where was the Canadian government?
A documentary account of the five-week visit of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh to Canada and the United States in the fall of 1951. Stops on the royal tour include Québec City, the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the Trenton Air Force Base in Toronto, a performance of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Regina and visits to Calgary and Edmonton. The royal train crosses the Rockies and makes stops in several small towns. The royal couple boards HMCS Crusader in Vancouver and watches Native dances in Thunderbird Park, Victoria. They are then welcomed to the United States by President Truman. The remainder of the journey includes visits to Montreal, the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, a steel mill in Sydney, Nova Scotia and Portugal Cove, Newfoundland.
For more background information about this film, please visit the NFB.ca blog.
This feature documentary offers a complete record of the 1939 Royal Tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The film opens as the royal couple makes a stop in Québec city, where Premier Duplessis greets them. They then visit Montréal and meet mayor Camilien Houde. A visit to Ottawa brings them to Parliament, where Prime Minister MacKenzie King is present. The visit continues throughout Ontario, the prairies, and western Canada. The Royal couple also makes a brief stop in Washington and meets President Franklin Roosevelt. They then stop in on the Maritime provinces before boarding a Royal yacht for the journey back to England.
This documentary short is a cinematic recording of Tales from a Prairie Drifter, a stage comedy about the North-West Resistance during the opening of the Canadian West. Highlighting the roles of Louis Riel, the Resistance leader, prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald and General Middleton, who was sent to quell the uprising, the play defines the First nations and Métis cause more succinctly than many history books. Here, the play is performed by the Regina Globe Theatre before an Indigineous audience of First Nations and Métis, whose reactions are recorded.
This feature-length documentary paints a lively portrait of Father of Confederation and first premier of Newfoundland Joseph Roberts Smallwood, or "Joey," as he is known to most Canadians.
Following one of Canada’s most colourful political figures during a two-and-a-half-month period that included a stormy Liberal leadership convention, the film reveals a man misunderstood even by his close associates.
This feature-length documentary looks at those desperate days of October 1970 when Montreal awaited the outcome of FLQ terrorist acts. Using news reports and clips from the time, the film reflects upon the October Crisis and reveals the relief, dismay and defiance people felt when the Canadian army stepped in.
Maude Barlow is a crusading warrior for social justice and the leader of Canada's largest citizens' rights group, the Council of Canadians. This feature film portrays Barlow's progress from young Ottawa housewife, quietly reading Germaine Greer alone at home, to outspoken activist, locking horns with such formidable opponents as media magnate Conrad Black and Thomas D'Aquino of the Business Council on National Issues. On the front lines in the battle against the Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), Barlow cautions against "the rise of corporate rule”, arguing that such agreements enhance the international mobility of corporations at the expense of Canadian social programs and jobs.
This documentary introduces us to Italian-Canadians whose lives were disrupted and uprooted by seclusion in internment camps during the Second World War. On June 10, 1940, Italy entered WWII. Overnight, the Canadian government came to see the country's 112,000 Italian-Canadians as a threat to its national security. The RCMP rounded up thousands of people it considered fascist sympathizers. Seven hundred of them were held for up to three years in internment camps, most of them at Petawawa, Ontario. None were ever charged with a criminal offence. Remarkably, the former internees are not bitter as they look back on the way their own country treated them.