Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, October 6, 2007
By Alex Strachan

Welcome to Canadaville won't make anyone forget Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, but it has its moments.

This homegrown documentary by Toronto filmmaker Mike Sheerin, maker of last year's The Secret Mulroney Tapes, follows the construction of an idealized community for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Moved by the pictures of desperate people on the news, billionaire Frank Stronach decided to underwrite the building of a new community for evacuees, but as Welcome to Canadaville shows, good intentions have a way of going astray when they come up against hard-wired racial and political tensions.

The very concept of Canadaville incurred the wrath of a neighbouring community, Simmesport, Louisiana, and its mayor, Boo Fontenot.

No good deed goes unpunished. In an eerie, offhand way, Welcome to Canadaville exposes a racially charged undercurrent in some southern U.S. communities that exists to this day. Worth a look.

Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday, October 6, 2007
By Brad Oswald

It’s often been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So is the road to Canadaville. And some of the residents of a northern Louisiana backwater called Simmesport seem to think their town has become a little bit of both places.

The W-FIVE documentary Welcome to Canadaville, which airs tonight at 7 on CTV, takes an in-depth look at the controversial effort by Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach to build a new community for New Orleans residents who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina.

The project, dubbed Canadaville, was supposed to be a good-news story and one of the greatest acts of philanthropy inspired by the Katrina disaster. But small-town politics and deep-rooted southern attitudes have turned it into something more, and something less.

Welcome to Canadaville is a fascinating examination of how good intentions, limitless funds and a well-organized plan aren't enough to guarantee a favourable outcome. The film opens with all-too-familiar footage of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation inflicted on New Orleans' poorest neighbourhoods, and then explains how Stronach felt compelled to take immediate, positive steps to help.

His idea was simple -- to purchase a large plot of Louisiana land and create a new community in which housing would be offered to Katrina refugees free of charge for up to five years. His chosen locale was Simmesport, about four hours north of New Orleans by freeway, a town of 2,200 mostly white residents whose lives had not been disrupted by the hurricane -- until Stronach and his crew showed up.

Officials from Stronach's company, Magna International, negotiated a deal with the town's mayor -- in exchange for several financial and community-service considerations, he would support the development and sell its merits to the townsfolk.

Before long, however, the mayor changed his tune, becoming Canadaville's most committed opponent rather than its biggest supporter.

And because of that, Welcome to Canadaville becomes an analysis of small-town pettiness and thinly veiled (and occasionally boldly stated) racism rather than a celebration of philanthropic triumph.

Several Simmesport residents and councilmen are shown voicing their support for the project, but the mayor -- who claims to represent the "silent majority" in his town -- makes it his mission to block Canadaville's progress at every turn.

Clearly, there are some who oppose the arrival of New Orleans refugees for very fundamental reasons.
A young-adult resident offers this blunt perspective: "I didn't like the idea of all these blacks movin' back in town." He declares that he doesn't like Canadaville residents walking on his street, and says he often spends evenings sitting on his front porch, gun in hand, "so I can get me one if they coming walking in my yard."

For others, the objection to Canadaville's existence has as much to do with nationality as with race.
One drives by the development, where the U.S. and Canadian flags fly alongside other state and local standards, one resident offers this:"You'll notice that Canadian flag flying -- that's been a bone of contention ever since they put it up. It's a foreign flag, and they just came and put it up. They basically said, 'This is Little Canada.' It's like I bought some property in Canada and started flying a United States flag; I don't think the neighbours would be too happy about that."

Welcome to Canadaville follows events in Stronach's dream community from its opening, three months after Katrina, to one year into its existence, with the residents still struggling to settle into new lives and the mayor and townsfolk in Simmesport nowhere near comfortable with their new neighbours.
In this Louisiana town, at least, there's nothing resembling calm after the storm.

“Welcome to Canadaville is a fascinating examination of how good intentions, limitless funds and a well-organized plan aren't enough to guarantee a favourable outcome.”
           - Winnipeg Free Press

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