Silver Donald Cameron interview series to be part of national archive collection

Silver Donald Cameron, right, and Chris Beckett created an interview series that examined environmental and sustainability issues. (Marjorie Simmins - image credit)
Silver Donald Cameron, right, and Chris Beckett created an interview series that examined environmental and sustainability issues. (Marjorie Simmins - image credit)

Author and environmentalist Silver Donald Cameron left behind a body of work that is now public for all to see — for free.

Cameron, a recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia in 2012, was born in Toronto but eventually Cape Breton became his home. He died in 2020.

His environment-focused video series, The Green Interview, and six films are now available online and will soon be preserved for future generations as part of the Library and Archives Canada collection.

The series of over 100 hour-long interviews, recorded from 2000 to 2015, were initially only available by subscription.

Interviewees ranged from well-known personalities like Margaret Atwood, to little-known community leaders from around the world involved in local environmental movements.

Well-known personalities

Chris Beckett worked with Cameron to produce the video series. He said they went deep into debt using their own money to fund the equipment and travel to conduct the interviews, but it was the "fruit of a lifetime" for both of them.

"We were documentarians and this is a legacy."

He said people became more familiar with them after a while, including some well-known personalities like David Suzuki of the Suzuki Foundation..

"Don was sitting in his chair reading over his notes," Beckett said with a chuckle. "Suzuki walked in and said hello and greeted us both, shook hands, and he said ... 'I don't know why the hell you want to talk to me. You've already talked to everybody else.'"

According to Beckett, there were only two people they wanted to interview but couldn't — celebrated folk singer and activist Pete Seeger and Prince Charles.

Seeger wasn't feeling up to it when they asked him, Beckett said, and he died shortly thereafter.

Beckett said an interview wasn't convenient for Charles at the time.

Silver Donald Cameron
Silver Donald Cameron

Beckett said the interviews provide a snapshot of where the environmental movement was at the time of recording.

The recordings, according to Beckett, contain messages of hope for the future and a guide to a way forward for the planet.

Influential and accomplished people

Before Cameron died, he and Beckett had approached Library and Archives Canada in hopes that the collection of interviews could be preserved there, but they were told it wasn't suitable at the time.

But in an email to CBC News, Library and Archives Canada said there are now a number of reasons for acquiring the recordings.

"Environment is currently a much-discussed topic, and one that is of interest to Canadians," the email said. "The interviews cover a wide range of topics on environmental issues and sustainability, and are conducted with a variety of influential and accomplished people active in their fields."

Broadcast quality

The email said the interviews are of professional broadcast quality, which also makes them suitable for the collection.

Ecology Action Centre
Ecology Action Centre

Raymond Plourde, of the Ecology Action Centre, a Nova Scotia-based environmental organization, said Cameron was an environmentalist before the word was commonly used.

He said he welcomes the inclusion of the collection in the national archives.

"In all likelihood, a number of the younger climate and biodiversity activists are perhaps not aware of the significant contribution and legacy of Silver Donald Cameron," he said.

"But now, thanks to this open archive availability, hopefully they will come to get to know his work."