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Sunday, October 14, 2012

DVD Review: Northern Century

I recently acquired a copy of Chandos Television's documentary Northern Century: 100 Years of Passenger Train Service.  The documentary covers the history of both the T&NO and the Ontario Northland's passenger trains up to the early 2000s.  This is a very professional production featuring stunning footage of the Northlander and Little Bear along with lots of very good archive footage dating back to the 1950s.  The production certainly dug deep into various collections to find the best footage to tell the story of passenger rail in northeastern Ontario.  I was particularly pleased to see footage of the iconic TEE trains in both Europe and Ontario.

I do have a few criticisms of the documentary.  While I found it informative and easy to follow, that is likely because I have dedicated much of my time in the past year to studying the history of the railway.  I fear that this production would be hard for a general audience to follow, especially because it is so fast-paced.  From a more academic perspective, I found the reading of the history to be quite whiggish at times, glossing over many negative events.  I found this especially during discussions on the Swastika-Rouyn line (which is a very interesting story as politics blocked the line's construction for the better part of a decade) and the Cochrane-Moosonee line, which was a financial failure - even if it did create an important transportation link.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary.  It highlights the perseverance and community of the north while showing how Ontario Northland can boast continuous passenger service for over a century - something few railways in North America can claim to have done.

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