Critipeg: Colonization Road

Plays Nov. 27 at Towne 8 Cinema as part of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. 

The main thoroughfare through the town of Fort Frances, Ont. is Colonization Road. Similarly named roads can be found in towns throughout Ontario and Manitoba. It’s no secret that the roads in many Canadian towns are named after European settlers, but the fact there are roads named for the forced displacement of Indigenous populations is, at best, a sickening oddity.Ryan McMahon

In Colonization Road, comedian and Fort Frances local Ryan McMahon uses his hometown’s disturbingly named street as a jumping-off point to examine Canadian colonization, specifically in Manitoba and western Ontario. McMahon speaks with a host of experts and activists to look both at colonization’s history and its continued role in Canada.

Little in this documentary will be new to folks who have read about colonization or who follow news surrounding this topic. McMahon and director Michelle St. John miss an opportunity by failing to latch onto the two aspects that make the doc unique: McMahon’s comedy and the Colonization Road phenomenon. While these factors could provide real connective tissue for the film’s topics, they’re instead only occasionally touched on.

That’s not to say the practices the film explores aren’t shocking or outrageous. Forced deportation and relocation – which have been recognized as genocidal in places like Armenia, Kosovo and the Soviet Union for nearly a century – are still commonplace in Canada. When seeing the forced isolation of communities like Shoal Lake 40, just one of the many injustices outlined in the film, one can’t help but shake their head in shame.

Published in Volume 71, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 24, 2016)

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