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Cherry Theresanathan, Svjetlana OppenCherry Theresanathan and Svjetlana Oppen plan a shot for “Bud and Ron’s Northern Adventure,” outside Kapuskasing.

Failed northern settlement subject of documentary

A little-known episode in Canadian history will find a national audience Sunday, thanks to a team of UWindsor filmmakers.

The CBC Television program Land and Sea will air a documentary directed by professor Kim Nelson at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 27.

Entitled “Bud and Ron’s Northern Life,” it tells the story of brothers Bud and Ron Sinai, part of a failed experiment in settling northern Ontario.

The Depression-era Back to the Land program sent dozens of Windsor families — including the Sinais — to farm the land around Kapuskasing, almost 800 km due north. When then-Windsor mayor David Croll visited the settlers, he found them starving and pressed the provincial government to end the scheme.

“There was a romance in the way homesteading in the bush was portrayed that did not match the reality,” says Nelson. “The families were not able to support themselves, given the land and the climate.”

Members of her crew got a taste of the extreme conditions during their filming in the area.

“In the winter it was so cold that the batteries in our equipment couldn’t hold a charge,” Nelson says. “In the summer, the mosquitoes were so relentless I went into shock.”

She is proud of the UWindsor contributions to the project — it is based on research by history grad Graham Beatty, graduate student Svjetlana Oppen acted as director of photography, media and audio-visual technician Cherry Theresanathan as assistant camera operator, and alumna Maria Cusumano as editor.

Nelson says she is excited to bring national attention to a largely-forgotten tragedy.

“It’s a really compelling story,” she says. “Doesn’t Windsor have an endless amount of great stories?”

Nelson hopes the half-hour segment will form part of a feature-length film treatment of the Back to the Land history.