For Canada Day, Maclean’s launched an online 148-video series meant to capture the experience of what it means to be Canadian.

By Chantal Braganza, Associate Editor

For Canada Day, Maclean’s launched an online 148-video series meant to capture the experience of what it means to be Canadian, from playing pond hockey to breakdancing in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square. The series, shot entirely on GoPro cameras, took a full-time team of four editors months to pull together. We spoke to Andrew Tolson, Maclean’s director of photography, about the production process.


J-Source: What kicked off the production of this series?

Tolson: We started thinking about this in February of last year. Every year we do something massive for Canada Day. So for this year, we bandied about the idea of Canadian moments; things that define us as being Canadian. There’s hockey and all the cliché stuff. But we wanted to go deeper than that and have a digital visual element. So, we started off thinking of first-person videos of what it feels like to be Canadian. It started with a concept of videos of 10 to 15 prominent people in the country.

Then, in typical Maclean’s fashion, we decided to get more ambitious. Canada’s turning 148, so why not 148 videos? After we made a commitment to that, we started to think about how would we do this.


J-Source: Was there an editorial or selection process to these moments? How do you decide what a Canadian experience is?

Tolson: There was. One is that a lot of GoPro videos are action-based: people skiing and playing hockey and riding on mountain bikes. Because of the nature of the camera, people use it for that kind of thing. And we wanted some of that, they’re definitely Canadian touchstones. 

But Canada has a huge and diverse cultural voice. So we thought: can we put a GoPro on Peter Mansbridge? Would he allow us to?

And other cultural ideas; not just action and sports. We put a camera on Sonia Rodriguez, the principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada. There’s one of Adrienne Clarkson as she’s reading a bedtime story to a young child. We wanted a lot of surprising stories, too. People are going to see amazing, beautiful landscapes


J-Source: Were there any cutting room-floor videos or concepts that you wish had made it into the series?

Tolson: We asked lots of people to be involved, but not all of them agreed. For a lot of people it was difficult, until you see the videos, to explain that they’re in a first-person point of view. A lot of people are wearing the GoPros, or an animal is—in the case of Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones, we put the camera on a curling rock—so it was difficult to explain to people what we wanted to do.


J-Source: Why GoPro cameras specifically?

Tolson: When people think of that camera, they think of someone surfing. And the cameras are awesome for that. But by putting it on Peter Mansbridge or doing the things that are a little bit unexpected, we pushed what GoPros can do. We sometimes used three or four in a shoot: for the video on the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, we put one on the conductor, two on musicians and one overhead and edited the footage together. So we really approached GoPro as a storytelling tool. 

Also, because we weren’t using big, expensive cameras, I think there was a lightness to it that people appreciate. The quality isn’t always amazing, especially indoors. And there’s a lot of things happening in the frame. But it also has a very cinema vérité look to it, almost a documentary feel, and that’s what we were going for.


J-Source: What kind of Canada Day projects has the magazine taken on in the past?

Tolson: A couple of years ago we did a big book of lists: 99 Reasons Why It’s Better to Be Canadian. To some extent, with this one, we almost bit off more than we can chew. I say almost because it’s done, and we’re very happy with it. But it took a dedicated team of four or five of us, full-time since February, to pull it off. 

We’ve got another ambitious project planned for Maclean’s 110 anniversary in October. We’re photographing 110 people across the country from ages zero to 110.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.