by Barbara Black
Journalist, filmmaker and Loyola alumnus Brian McKenna has donated his papers to the Concordia Archives, providing a valuable source for historians and other researchers.
McKenna is probably best known for The Valour and the Horror, the series about Canadians in the Second World War that he made in 1992 with his brother Terence.
The 30-box collection he has given to Concordia contains a wealth of material covering all aspects of McKenna's 30-year career, from his days as a reporter for the Montreal Star to his more than 60 films, many of which have won international awards. It includes 353 photographs, 193 videocassettes, 28 maps,
26 audio cassettes, research notes, scripts, court transcripts and
Archives Director Nancy Marrelli said she received a grant last fall from the Archives nationales du Québec, which was used to organize the materials and create an archival finding aid.
"Both Concordia and the National Archives were after my papers," McKenna said. "I chose Concordia both because it was my alma mater, and because I was impressed by Nancy Marrelli and her team." A Loyola graduate in communication arts and English literature, McKenna was editor of the Loyola News from 1966 to 1968.
He started working for the Montreal Star in time to cover Expo 67, and went on to become a parliamentary correspondent for the paper. He also co-wrote a lively biography of Montreal's legendary mayor, Jean Drapeau.
In 1975, he joined the CBC's new investigative television program,
the fifth estate. Over 12 years, he made some 60 films for the show, on such subjects as the Kennedy assassination and the psychiatric experiments carried out in Montreal for the CIA. He then produced prize-winning films on the Holocaust, the Montreal crime underground, the Mexican drug trade, migraine headaches, and
a five-and-a-half-hour seriesfor CBC and Radio-Canada, The Memoirs of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
The Killing Ground, a two-hour film about the experiences of Canadian soldiers in the First World War, was well received. However, The Valour and the Horror, the result of a three-year inquiry by the McKenna brothers into three battles of the Second World War, provoked a storm of debate.
After it was shown on CBC, the controversy among veterans and historians raged for years, and gave rise to hearings at the CRTC, the Senate, and a case before the Supreme Court, which eventually vindicated the McKenna brothers. The series won five Gemini Awards and was shown in Britain -- provoking similarly polarized reactions.
Now, the Valour and the Horror Web site attracts 600,000 visitors a month, and has brought a heightened awareness of Canada's role in the war to a new generation. In this and other projects -- his Holocaust film, which contributed to the prosecution of war crimes, and his film on CIA mind control, which helped the victims get compensation -- McKenna has had the satisfaction of making a difference, something journalists always hope to do.
His papers will be a valuable addition to the Concordia Archives, chronicling a colourful career and through it, an era in the development of Canadian journalism. And since McKenna is still actively working, now on a series about the War of 1812 to be shown here next fall, the collection is far from complete.
- with information
by Tal Ashkenazi
Left, McKenna with Nancy Marrelli. Above McKenna took a break from investigative journalism for a year in the early 1980s to make an eight-part series on sports champions. He is with a crew and Wayne Gretzky in Moscow.