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Cariboo Country

Year: 1960
Language: English
Format: 16mm Black & White
Runtime: 30 min
Director: Philip Keatley
Producer: Philip Keatley, Frank Goodship
Writer: Paul Pierre
Cinematographer: Kelly Duncan
Editor: John Fuller
Music: Ricky Hyslop
Cast: David Hughes, Buck Kindt, Merv Campone, Jean Sandy, Paul Stanley, Joseph Golland, Lillian Carlson, Rae Brown, Chief George, Nancy Sandy, Walter Marsh, Ted Stidder
Production Company: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

This imaginative and innovative mix of anthology and series storytelling aired on the CBC as a summer replacement show from 1960 to 1967. Produced in Vancouver, far from CBC headquarters in Toronto, Cariboo Country was one of the first Canadian television dramas to be filmed on location. Its adventurous, ambitious approach paved new ground in Canadian television and became a model for many subsequent CBC series of the sixties and seventies.

Set in the fictional town of Namko in the Chilcotin region of B.C., the series primarily revolved around the hardships of an independent rancher named Smith (David Hughes), his wife Norah and their son Sherwood. Cariboo Country was intended as an antithesis to the Western genre that dominated American television at the time. Series writer Paul St. Pierre commented that the show “may be a curious drama series, since almost all the people are singularly undramatic, given to understatement and to casualness, to indirection and to private humours. Probably the country makes them that way – strong, self-reliant, hospitable, individualistic, unpredictable.”

The series, which introduced actor Chief Dan George, was notable for the fact that the Native characters were always played by First Nations actors, as well as for its laconic, allusive dialogue, its black-and-white, documentary-style visual strategy, non-linear plots and ambiguous endings. Like Beachcombers, the seminal CBC series that producer-director Philip Keatley would go on to produce in the seventies, Cariboo Country was respectful of concerns regarding cultural appropriation long before they were deemed a priority within mainstream culture.

The series spawned three hour-long specials: How to Break a Quarterhorse, Sister Balonika and The Education of Phylistine, the latter of which in many ways epitomized the series’ strengths (it was pulled together from two half-hour episodes and won numerous international awards and a Canadian Film Award.) St. Pierre’s Cariboo Country stories have been published in the anthologies Cariboo Country: Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse, Boss of the Namko Drive and Smith and Other Events.

By: Andrew McIntosh