Timescape: History Plays and Isolation
establish in Canada a tradition of “indigenous radio drama,”29 and to help boost Canadian
patriotism by showcasing what were looked upon then as Canada’s heroes.30 The series
was popular enough that Rupert Caplan was hired to direct a second season. Similar
regional series were also successful on stations like Edmonton’s CKUA, where
playwrights like Gwen Pharis Ringwood and Elsie Park Gowan wrote series running
from 1928 to 1941 (Londré and Watermeiser 352). It appears that Merrill Denison found
dealing with History a nuisance at times. In the forward to his anthology of six scripts
from the Romance of Canada series entitled Henry Hudson and Other Plays, Denison
I believe the plays to be reasonably accurate from the standpoint of historical veracity, but I confess to having been more interested in dramatic development than with historical minutiae – although, in certain instances, dramatic possibilities have had to be sacrificed in the interests of historical fact (ix).
Denison’s History plays in The Romance of Canada were very much a tool for advancing
the cause of Canadians’ pride in their past – especially the past of European exploration
and settlement. The series was also the first dramatic effort in Canada to celebrate
Canadian stories and provided a model for future Canadian playwrights. Whether they
chose to follow Dennison’s model or ignore it depends on whether they desired to write
in the Historic, or historic mode. That the series was aired in 1932 is also significant.
29 See quoted above. In 1931 “Canada had no indigenous radio drama” - according to Tyrone Guthrie in his book My Life in Theatre as quoted in Signing On (McNeil and Wolfe 193).
30 Canadian Heroes as remembered by the then very patriarchal school of history. Kelsey and Fraser maintain their mythos of heroic explorers, but Laura Secord’s feat is diminished when officers comment on how her journey was valiant, but inconsequential, as they already knew of American plans to attack. Denison also wrote a play about Madam La Tour, who battled to save her husband’s fort from the Governor of Acadia. Her struggles proved fruitless, though, as she was captured and imprisoned. It is hard to be a triumphant woman in the annals of History – whether in plays of The Romance of Canada or actual history as recorded by patriarchal scholarship.