The Tommy Douglas Story

Wow – we’ve just finished viewing a very moving film Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story, a two-part drama on CBC-TV. It’s a fascinating biography of the man who became a long time premier of Saskatchewan and then the first federal NDP leader, and a pioneer of universal health care in Canada. The movie has some of Canada’s best actors with Michael Therriault doing a fantastic job in the lead role and it is beautifully filmed in Saskatchewan, with 3000 extras donating their time for the privilege!

Though we remember Tommy Douglas from our youth, we learned some new and shocking Canadian history, about a bloody riot and the oppression of the farmers and workers, dirty politics (what’s new?) and the rise of social democracy. Saskatchewan, under Douglas’ five term leadership, brought forth the first provincial car insurance, free education, electricity to farms, medicare against the objection of doctors, Bill of Rights and more. Nationally Douglas’ NDP fought for national medicare, old age pensions, unemployment insurance, five-day work weeks with paid holidays and more. You don’t have be an NDP member to admire this man’s contributions to our country. This film impressed us so much that we’re going to order the DVD (something we don’t often do!)

I really enjoyed the online information about Prairie Giant, including the official movie site. In 2004, Tommy Douglas was voted greatest Canadian in a special CBC television series, which (I think) provided the impetus to make this movie.

Wikipedia also has an excellent biography from where, for example, I was able to confirm a recollection that Tommy Douglas is the father of actress Shirley Douglas, and the grandfather of actor Kiefer Sutherland and a twin sister. She was married to their father, actor Donald Sutherland, from 1966 to 1970.

Chandrasutra* has more at her blog.

Addendum: March 14th: A commenter at Chandrasutra points out the Tommy Douglas Research Institute. Read Mouseland, one of Douglas’ most famous speeches that we heard, chuckled over and admired in the movie.

* sadly, her blog no longer exists

March 13, 2006 in Films, History by Marja-Leena