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A North of 60 Christmas

I've missed Christmas a few times over the years. Once in a Muslim country as a teenager. Another when a ski trip was in better order. And another for work. Sort of. I didn't miss the day itself, presents were handed out and there was a turkey and all, but I otherwise worked through those holidays. Even on that day.

I was working on a tv show called North of 60 as a writer intern. It was season one and the carrot they dangled in front of me to join the show, enough to uproot the family and move to another city for not much pay, was that if I showed I had the capacity I might get to write a script. At the time, and still, a lucrative prospect. At some point, when I spoke up about what I thought was wrong with one particular script, they told me to rewrite it. I did and I guess I showed them I had the capacity.

Episode 11 became mine and it was a cool story about Eric chasing the ghost of Gabe Coulee through the woods for the better part of three acts. Lots of exteriors in the trees, day and night. And then the producers decided we couldn?t shoot that in the episode 11 slot, scheduled for January. The episode called Raven became episode 24 and we shot it in season two, and it was a good call. We had daytime highs of minus 25 and lots of snow that January.

Instead we had to start all over with a brand new idea fairly late in the day. If there was a time to panic this would've been it but then co-creator and Executive Producer Wayne Grigsby said, "Graham Greene wants to do the show." With a male guest star in mind, and as a starting point (whom would become a love interest for Tina Keeper's character Michelle Kenedi during the episode), I threw out a scenario where a Navajo dude shows up in Lynx River under a false identity and on the run from the FBI. We went with it and, over the Christmas holidays that year, I wrote the script (which often involves several rewrites at every stage ? synopsis, outline, and draft) called Art of the Deal.

No holidays for me.

That was 25 years ago. In fact it was 25 years ago (Dec. 3, 1992) that the very first episode of North of 60 aired on the CBC network to an audience of 1.4 million people. And probably a lot larger given that, at that time, there were no blackboxes (ratings measuring devices) on any reserve in Canada and only one in the north.

By Canadian standards the show was huge. Some Indigenous communities cancelled bingos on Thursday nights. Others took a break from the bingo so everyone could watch the show.

Set in the fictitious Dene community of Lynx River, situated in the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories, the series ran six seasons (90 episodes) plus shot five made for tv movies and was syndicated around the world. Most of the characters were Indigenous and, in season three, it became the first prime time, dramatic series in Canadian television history that featured an Indigenous character as the primary protagonist.

I spent four seasons as a writer and story editor on the show and worked with a number of great people (including writer interns Carol Greyeyes, Richard Van Camp and Richard Wagamese). Not having a post secondary degree, I consider my four years on North of 60 as my university.

I guess sacrificing one year of Christmas holidays was worth it. Good memories. I also remember when 25 years ago used to sound like a long time.

Incidentally, when the Art of the Deal aired in the spring of 1993, Tina Keeper had to make sure her kookum was nowhere near a tv so she wouldn?t see Tina smooching it up and in bed with Graham Greene.

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