The Canadian National Railways Radio station in Montreal, Quebec produced Canada’s first series of national radio dramas for avid listeners across the country.
As the strains of orchestral music drew silent, the radio speaker crackled. “And now it’s time,” the CNR Radio announcer may have said in his smooth, inviting voice, “for this week’s episode of…Romance of Canada.” The family nestled into the living room with ears turned to the large device set on the table was ready to listen to Canada’s first national radio drama in 1931.
Local radio drama productions were a regular event on early radio. Plays produced across the country were entertaining listeners with theatre-like quality. Productions by the Canadian National Railway Radio drama department’s CNRV Players in Vancouver varied widely. They included works by Shakespeare and local plays, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. But until 1931, there had been no cross-country, national dramas. Enter Romance of Canada.
Historical Events into Drama
Romance of Canada was a series of 24 plays written by Canadian author Merrill Dennison. Based on historical events of Canada, he wrote scripts that captured the imaginations of radio fans. The first season of 14 plays was directed by Tyrone Guthrie, the second season episodes were directed by Rupert Caplan and Esmie Moonie. The series was noted for setting high standards in radio drama production, said Mary Vipond in her book, Listening In: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting 1922 – 1932, making Romance of Canada a pioneer in programming.
Since there was no television to watch in the 1920s and 1930s, radio was an important medium for news and entertainment. The radio served all audiences, “both middle and working class, low and high brow,” said Vipond. Live concerts were performed on the air through “sponsorship and networks” making “the presentation of large orchestras and star performers feasible,” said SSS. Listeners were entertained by programming that included American productions of Amos ‘n’ Andy and The Funnyboners” among others.
Romance of Canada Live
Romance of Canada plays were performed live on the radio with professional actors in a Montreal studio. The participants shaped the mood, characters, music and sound effects for radio with great success. The plays took listeners on trips through popular Canadian history, from the early days of New France to the glory days of Sir John A. Macdonald and Confederation. Unfortunately, no recordings were made of the programs, according to Michael Hollingsworth of Couchiching.ca , nor were any scripts kept; there were few ways to record these performances at that time since tape recorders had not yet come into being in 1931. The pressing of recording disks was done only on special occasion, such as a speech from the Prime Minister.
Canadian National Railway Radio began broadcasting in 1923. The transcontinental railway giant “grasped radio’s potential to promote the railway and its services,” noted Broadcasting-History.ca, inspired by Sir Henry Thornton, CNR’s President and Chairman.at the time. The company began with radio service for its trains then went into network broadcasting on December 30th of that year. The first station in operation was Ottawa’s CKCH on February 24, 1924, with a 500-watt transmitter.
Definitely a part of the Romance of Canada.
Vipond, Mary, Listening In: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting 1922 – 1932, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992. Pp. 97-98.