Review: Le Nord au coeur – by Brendan Kelly (Montreal Gazette – December 6, 2012)

Louis-Edmond Hamelin shines a northern light

MONTREAL – Louis-Edmond Hamelin is quite the character, and when you have such a great character as your leading man, you usually have a pretty captivating film. Le Nord au coeur is no exception to that rule.

Seasoned documentary filmmaker Serge Giguère has made a brilliant feature about Hamelin, a key intellectual figure in the discussion of northern affairs in Quebec over the past few decades. But this is no dry academic piece; rather, it’s a lively, thought-provoking look at a fascinating man that also serves as a history of Quebec’s forgotten people.

From the development of the iron ore industry in the north in the ’50s to the James Bay mega-project in the late ’60s/early ’70s to the controversial Plan Nord unveiled by the Charest government, those in southern Canada have spent decades plotting the commercialization of the north without worrying about the people who actually live there.

Right at the start of Le Nord au coeur, Hamelin, 89, is seen getting into an Air Inuit plane and then a small seaplane to make his way to the aboriginal community of Mushuau-nipi, a place Hamelin hadn’t been to for 37 years. There he meets with locals, which is when the film moves backwards to look at his life’s work studying the north and its communities.

One of the points Hamelin makes early on is that there were really only two types of people interested in the north: the missionaries who wanted to convert the aboriginals, and the businessmen who wanted to make money from the land.

“Other than me, there was no one who wanted to have a more general sense of the north,” said Hamelin.

In the recent interviews, he comes off as a strong-willed, ultra-articulate fellow with lots to say about this key part of our society. But in a clip of a TV interview with him from a 1987 constitutional conference, he’s downright angry, telling the reporter that the colonization has never ended and that there will never be any constitutional solution because the aboriginal people have always been taken for granted.

The documentary couldn’t be more timely, given that the issues that popped up with the James Bay project are once again front and centre with the debate over the Plan Nord, Quebec’s ambitious initiative to develop billions of dollars’ worth of forestry, mining and energy resources in the north.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Montreal Gazette website: