I watched this BBC series in tandem with reading the book, which I talked about in a previous post. The series received pretty good reviews, though tackling such a subject at such a time inevitably led to it being criticized for not taking a hard enough line against empire. I can see that (the book felt a bit tougher), but overall I found it an interesting enough show to finish all five episodes.
The second episode begins with host Jeremy Paxman explaining how, “Everywhere they went, the men and women who built the empire created a home away from home. From the wastes of Canada, to the fertile highlands of Africa, and the hill stations of India.” This seemed to me to be a bit tough on my home and native land. Overall, I think Canada offered a more congenial climate for British settlers than Africa or India. Nevertheless, Paxman later returns to the Great White North, calling it one of the most “thinly populated if inhospitable places” to build empire. He says this with an opening shot of him trudging alongside a snowy river. I was expecting to see “Canada” come up on the screen, but it more specifically locates the river as in “Ontario” (a.k.a. “the wild and snowy lands of British Canada”). Drilling down deeper, the place we visit is Fergus, Ontario, which is a ten-minute drive from where I live. I guess the producers thought it irresistibly picturesque, as it’s not mentioned in Paxman’s book.
Anyway, Fergus has a “harsh climate” that particularly challenged Scottish immigrants when the winters turned so cold the wheat froze, “which made the scones pretty chewy.” I didn’t know Scots were so soft, or so particular about their scones. It’s bad on me though that while I knew Fergus’s world-famous Highland Games, and even attended them one year, I didn’t know anything about the town’s founder, the pride of Perthshire Adam Ferguson. He named the place after himself.