Effective July 1, 2020, Northernstars.ca is a digital publication of
The Canadian Independent Visual and Digital Media Association Inc, a nonprofit corporation.
This website was founded by writer-director Ralph Lucas as an offshoot of an idea for a documentary series titled Northern Stars – The Canadian History of Hollywood. Launched before the .ca suffix was created, the research for the documentary series went online as Northernstars.net. When it was launched it was just the latest in a long line of projects designed to document and celebrate “all things Canadian,” as Lucas likes to say. His first venture was the publication in the mid-1960s of a tabloid newspaper devoted to Canadian music. This was in the pre-CanCon years. In the first edition, Lucas wrote an editorial calling for more Canadian music on Canadian radio stations. CRTC regulations would come almost five years later.
During a broadcast career that lasted 22 years, every station Lucas would program or manage would always exceed the minimum quotas. Every station also enjoyed increased ratings, but that had more to do with the entire programming mix, not just the music. In 1977, ten years after the national celebration of Canada`s 100th birthday and Montreal’s magnificent Expo ’67, there was little of that “Expo feeling” left in Canada and even less in Montreal as the Province of Québec had elected its first separatist government just one year earlier.
Lucas, a fan of Canadian history since grade school, had been collecting odd bits and pieces of information for years and decided it was time that some of that history reached a much larger audience. By then, he had become an award-winning radio writer-producer, turning out commercials, satirical programs, and the occasional work of science fiction. And so he turned his talents to creating a series that would run on Canada’s first radio station, CFCF. The series had as its foundation in the fact that the country was about to celebrate its 110th birthday, but far more than mere numbers, there was So Much More to Celebrate. Fifty-two 90-second programs were written. They were produced by CFCF’s Keith Grigsby and narrated by a non-staff announcer, Earl Pennington. Two of the finished programs were submitted under the title Canada Week, and both received Honourable Mention Awards at that year’s annual radio commercial festival.
Ten years later, in 1987, Lucas had left radio to establish his own independent production company. Research began almost immediately on the earliest years of the movies and the role Canadians played in the birth of the industry. The result was a concept for a 13-part documentary series which, as mentioned above, ultimately led to this award-winning website. But Lucas didn’t stop there.
In 1992, as Canada prepared to celebrate its 125th birthday he made the decision to update and expand the historical vignettes produced 15 years earlier in Montreal. This new series would kickoff with a 30 minute Canada Day special and then continue with a new 90-second program every weekday for the next 13 weeks. To narrate the series he contacted the agent for one of Canada’s best storytellers and actors, Gordon Pinsent. While the first series in 1977 was heard on just one radio station in Montreal, this new series, Gordon Pinsent On Canada would be heard on a network of radio stations from coast-to-coast.
Co-written by Tony Reynolds, the series was produced and syndicated by Lucas’ production company. It featured original music composed by Leon Aronson, and technical production was by Ron Zakar. A few years later Lucas turned his attention to Canada’s sports heritage and working with archive material, researched, wrote and produced 130 90-second programs titled, Great Moments from Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Again featuring original music by Leon Aronson, the series was distributed by the radio division of TSN, and heard across Canada.
In 1997 when the Province of Ontario enacted legislation to amalgamate the City of Toronto with its neighbouring municipalities into a new “mega-city,” Lucas created, researched and co-wrote 65 1-minute programs titled Neighbourhoods of the GTA detailing the history of the many small communities that make up the Greater Toronto Area. The series was produced by and aired on Toronto’s NEWS680 radio station. Since the Northernstars website was launched, much of Lucas’ time has been given over to writing and researching the people who make up the ever-growing database. The vast majority of the long, detailed biographies on this website were written by him, and several have been picked up for republication. Lucas is particularly proud of his biography of Mack Sennett, which was used in A Short History of the Movies, published by Pearson-Longman in the United States in 2006.
The photo of Gordon Pinsent is Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Lucas – Used with permission.