Gord Downie’s hour-long Secret Path concert special, competition series The Amazing Race Canada and CBC News programming, including two very different dispatches by veteran CBC journalist Adrienne Arsenault, were among the winners on the first night of the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards (CSA). 

Each year, the weeklong CSA event organized by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television celebrates excellence in Canadian screen content, encompassing film, TV and digital media work.

Hosted by comedian Aisha Alfa, Tuesday evening’s ceremony was dedicated to non-fiction programming, including TV news, sports, documentaries, lifestyle, factual and reality content.

Gord Downie’s Secret Path in Concert, among the final works by the late Tragically Hip frontman, won a pair of trophies. Secret Path — a multimedia project, concept album and live performance completed about a year before Downie’s death — tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a pre-teen Anishinaabe boy who escaped from a northern Ontario residential school more than 50 years ago but died of hunger and exhaustion trying to walk 600 kilometres home. The Secret Path concert special won best variety or entertainment special and best sound, non-fiction.

For decades, Downie told stories about Canada through his music. But in his latter years the musician thought, “maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to pat ourselves on the back about being such a great country,” his brother, Mike Downie, said in his acceptance speech. 

Gord Downie’s brothers Patrick Downie (left) and Mike Downie accepted the best variety or entertainment special trophy for the singer-songwriter’s Secret Path concert special. (Albert Leung/CBC )

“Gord wasn’t much of an awards show kind of guy, but I think he’d be happy with this. Any opportunity to keep talking about Indigenous culture, Indigenous traditions, the true history of this country over the last 150 years is a good thing,” he added backstage. 

Longtime foreign correspondent Arsenault, a co-host of CBC’s The National, won kudos both for shepherding the public broadcaster’s coverage of Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle (best host or interviewer in a news or information program) and as part of the team behind The Ruins of Raqqa (best news or information segment), an in-depth CBC News report that also garnered an award for its powerful visuals (best photography, news or information).

CBC’s Brenda Witmer, left, Jean-François Bisson, centre, and Adrienne Arsenault pose with their Canadian Screen Award for best news or information segment, which they won for The Ruins of Raqqa. (Albert Leung/CBC)

Reporting from sites like Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold in Syria, is “about shrinking geography and taking something so distant to our everyday lives and bringing it closer,” Arsenault said.

“It’s the only way we’re ever going to get each other is if we can imagine being in each other’s dusty boots.”

Jonny Harris appears at the Canadian Screen Awards gala for non-fiction programming after winning best host in a program or series. The show also earned a trophy for its writing. (Albert Leung/CBC) 

Other CBC wins included:

  • Best news or information series:The Fifth Estate.

  • Best news or information program: CBC News: Marketplace – Fake Degrees.

  • Best national reporter: Paul Hunter, CBC News: The National – Texas Church Shooting.

  • Best local reporter: Katie Nicholson, CBC Winnipeg News at Six – Minister Tickles.

  • Best host in a program or series: Jonny Harris, Still Standing.

  • Best host in a live program or series: Rick Mercer, New Year’s Eve 2017.

  • Best factual series: The Detectives.

  • Best live entertainment special:The Juno Awards.

  • Best talk or entertainment program or series:The Filmmakers.

  • Rob Stewart Award for best science or nature documentary series:Equus: Story of the Horse.

  • Best biography or arts documentary program or series:Jumbo: The Life of an Elephant Superstar.

  • Best history documentary program or series:The Nature of Things: Ice Bridge.

The team from CBC’s The Filmmakers poses after winning best talk or entertainment program. (Albert Leung/CBC)

Popular and perennially lauded competition series The Amazing Race Canada added a fresh raft of trophies Tuesday, including a Golden Screen Award for TV reality show (a high-ratings honour) and kudos for its photography, picture editing and direction.

We make TV for the audience, that’s why we do this.– Mark Lysakowski, The Amazing Race Canada

Taking the stage alongside the Amazing Race Canada team, showrunner Mark Lysakowski gave a special shout-out to the hit show’s fanbase.

“We make TV for the audience, that’s why we do this. So thank you for watching, thank you for being part of the show,” he said. 

“Remember always: explore Canada,” Lysakowski added. “It’s the best place in the world and we’re proud to call it home.”

Other notable winners included:

  • Best national newscast: CTV National News with Lisa LaFlamme.

  • Best local newscast: CTV News Toronto at 6.

  • Best news anchor, national: Dawna Friesen, Global National.

  • Best news anchor, local: Michelle Dubé, CTV News Toronto at 6.

  • Best live news special: #CityVote: The Debate, City.

  • Best sports analyst: Jack Armstrong, Raptors Basketball on TSN.

  • Best sports host: James Duthie, TSN – Free Agent Frenzy.

  • Best sports program or series: Reborn: Basketball & Reconciliation in Rwanda, TSN.

  • Best lifestyle program or series:Property Brothers, HGTV.

  • Best documentary program: You Are Here, HBO Canada.

  • Donald Brittain Award for best social/political documentary program: Quiet Killing, APTN.

The CSA festivities continue Wednesday with a gala honouring creative fiction programming. On Thursday, the industry will salute digital and immersive storytelling content.

The screen awards culminate Sunday with a broadcast gala celebrating high-profile film and TV categories. It will air live on CBC at 8 p.m. ET (9 p.m. AT/9:30 p.m. NT).

Stars of CTV’s The Social — Melissa Grelo, left, Marci Ien, centre left, Lainey Lui, centre, Jess Allen, centre right, and Cynthia Loyst — attend the Canadian Screen Awards gala for non-fiction programming in Toronto on Tuesday. (Albert Leung/CBC)

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