Cover art for podcast The Secret Life of Canada

The Secret Life of Canada

96 EpisodesProduced by CBCWebsite

The Secret Life of Canada is a podcast about the country you know and the stories you don't. Join hosts Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson as they reveal the beautiful, terrible and weird histories of this land. Season 6 coming early 2024!

96 Episodes | 2018 - 2023

The Secret Life of Canada Introduces: Stuff The British Stole | Season 3

July 4th, 2023


Throughout its reign, the British Empire stole a lot of stuff. Today the Empire's loot sits in museums, galleries, private collections and burial …

BONUS | The story Falen never thought she’d tell: On stage at Hot Docs

June 13th, 2023


Falen Johnson took to the stage at the Hot Docs festival to speak candidly about her experience of growing up on Six Nations, a place that was both idyllic and complicated — especially when it came to water and the lack …

S5: Crash course on losing the Shanghai Restaurant

June 8th, 2023


In this episode we talk about lost buildings across Canada. Falen and Leah look into the history of the now torn-down Shanghai Restaurant, owned by the Lee family for over 70 years and a long-time staple of downtown …

S5: The Potlatch Ban

June 1st, 2023


In 1921, Chief Dan Cranmer held a secret Potlatch — a ceremony celebrated by many First Nations along the Pacific Northwest. But because the ceremony had been banned by the Canadian government, authorities arrested …

S5: Crash Course on Bread and Cheese

May 25th, 2023


Bread and Cheese. More than just two of Falen and Leah’s favourite foods. Did you know it’s also a day? In Falen’s community of Six Nations, every Victoria Day weekend people from the community get in line and walk …

S5: Eugenics in Canada: Leilani Muir's fight for justice

May 18th, 2023


In 1992, Leilani Muir decided to sue the government. Along with thousands of other people Muir was forcibly sterilized as part of a robust government …

S5: Crash Course on homeless memorials

May 11th, 2023


In the 1990s artist and activist Bonnie Briggs asked herself, “Why isn't there a memorial for homeless people?” In this crash course we look at the work of Bonnie and tie it to the housing crisis we are seeing across …

S5: The Forgotten War

May 4th, 2023


Not all Canadian history happens in Canada. Over 70 years ago, nearly 30,000 Canadians volunteered to fight in the Korean War. It was the …

S5: Crash Course on a patty by any other name isn't a patty

April 27th, 2023


In every part of the world a patty is just a patty, but in Toronto they are often called a "Jamaican Patty" and the why is connected to one of the weirdest stories ever.

We talk to Patty Vs. Patty director Chris Strikes …

S5: Crash Course on the Moose Jaw Tunnels

April 20th, 2023


Deep below the city of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan lies a network of tunnels from the past. The stories connected to them have turned the passageways into a major tourist attraction. But which ones are true? Were they …

S5: Jewish Montreal: A culinary history

April 13th, 2023


How much history is contained in a meal, a restaurant or even a sandwich? Falen and Leah journey into the culinary history of Montreal’s Jewish …

S5: Newfoundland, the one who almost got away

April 6th, 2023


Confederation took place in 1867 but Newfoundland only joined Canada in 1949. We find out why the province held out for so long, what it all meant for the Indigenous people in Newfoundland and Labrador and what the …

S5: Crash Course on Rat-berta

March 30th, 2023


Is it true that Alberta is a rat-free province? Is there really a Rat Patrol? We find out the truth behind the province’s rat hating reputation.

For …

S5: Dead Malls

March 23rd, 2023


Where have all the malls gone? And what happens to a mall when it “dies?” In this episode we look into how the mall started, what it looked like in its heyday and what happened when it began to decline. So put on your …

We're back! It's Season 5 of The Secret Life of Canada

March 20th, 2023


Hosts Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson are back with an all new season of conversations about the country you know and the stories you don't. Catch our premiere episode on March 23 with new episodes weekly every …

The Secret Life of Canada Introduces: The Africas VS. America

February 10th, 2023


In 1985, at the height of the Black Power era, police dropped a bomb in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Their target? A family of Black radicals known …

S4: Shanawdithit

July 1st, 2022


Throughout the years, the Beothuk people have been written about as an “extinct” nation, whose numbers were few at the time of European contact to Newfoundland. By 1828, they were all gone except one woman named …

S4: Crash Course on Kanata

June 23rd, 2022


How did this place end up being called Canada? We look into the lore behind the naming of the country and the push to reclaim Indigenous place names across this land.

Reclaiming Indigenous Place Names:

The Secret Life of Canada Introduces: Buffy

June 21st, 2022


Buffy Sainte-Marie is one of the most prolific singer-songwriters of the past century. For 60 years her music has quietly reverberated throughout pop …

S4: The Halifax Donair

June 9th, 2022


How did the donair become the official food of Halifax? We find out how it travelled to Canada and transformed after getting here. We learn about its inventor and that famous sweet sauce recipe.

Then, we discover all …

S4: Crash Course on Ukrainian Canadians

May 26th, 2022


Why does Canada have the second largest Ukrainian diaspora in the world? We talk to historian Dr. Rhonda Hinther from Brandon University to find out why so many people from Ukraine made Canada their home.

Books by Dr. …

The Secret Life of Canada Introduces: Kuper Island

May 19th, 2022


Kuper Island is an 8-part series that tells the stories of four students: three who survived and one who didn’t. They attended one of Canada’s most …

S4: Crash course on Puffed Wheat Squares

May 12th, 2022


When candy maker A.J. Russell created a recipe for puffed wheat bars in 1913, it became a popular dessert. But only in one half of the country.

We …

S4: Pro Wrestling

May 5th, 2022


Why are there so many Canadians in pro wrestling? We take a deep dive into carnival and sideshow history to find out why Canada became one of the centers of early pro wrestling. We look into the fun and problematic …

Porter Primers: Building a multicultural Canada

April 18th, 2022


Canada’s much-touted multiculturalism was hard-fought-for and started to materialize in the aftermath of immigration policy changes in the 1950s and …

S4: Crash course on Mary Ann Shadd

April 14th, 2022


Abolitionist, activist, teacher and trailblazer Mary Ann Shadd wore many hats in her extraordinary life. We take a look at the story of the first …

Porter Primers: A historic fight to unionize

April 11th, 2022


When the CBRE, Canada’s railway union, was created in 1908, it intentionally shut out Black porters. What ensued was a historic and decades-long struggle for Black railways employees to be heard at the negotiating table.

Porter Primers: Side hustles

April 4th, 2022


Sleeping car porters were notoriously underpaid and had to fight for tips, condemning most to poverty. Historian Dr. Dorothy Williams describes how porters turned to side hustles and other entrepreneurial pursuits to …

S4: The Fruit Machine

March 31st, 2022


For decades, Canada attempted to purge queer people out of the public service and the military. We look into why it all started during the Cold War, …

Porter Primers: The rise of jazz

March 28th, 2022


In the early 20th century, musicians and audiences flocked to Montreal for its jazz scene, earning the city the nickname “Harlem of the North.” Historian Dr. Dorothy Williams explains how porters were instrumental in …

Porter Primers: How porters created Black neighbourhoods

March 21st, 2022


Where porters went, Black neighbourhoods often followed. Historian Dr. Dorothy Williams breaks down how porters — and the location of railways — …

S4: Crash course on beavers

March 17th, 2022


Beavers are everywhere, on our money, crests, and keychains. So, why do some people see them as a nuisance? We take a look back at the story of the animal who was almost wiped out to build the early Canadian economy and …

Porter Primers: Why were all porters called ‘George’?

March 14th, 2022


Introducing ‘Porter Primers’ — 6 short episodes that shed a little light on Black porter history with the help of historian Dr. Dorothy Williams.

For this first episode, Dr. Williams explains why porters were referred …

S4: The Punjabi Market

March 3rd, 2022


How did Vancouver end up with the oldest Little India in North America? We take a look back at the history of South Asian people in British Columbia …

The Secret Life of Canada Introduces: Podcast Playlist

February 24th, 2022


Podcast Playlist with host Leah-Simone Bowen offers a weekly sampling of new and interesting podcasts from around the world. In this special crossover episode, guest Falen joins Leah to celebrate launching the fourth …

S4: Crash Course on Nora’s Place in Hogan’s Alley

February 17th, 2022


When vaudeville performer Nora Hendrix ended up in Vancouver in the early 1900s, she became a fixture in Hogan's Alley, the neighborhood at the center of Vancouver's Black community. By the time she died at 100 years …

S4: The Boy in the Picture

February 3rd, 2022


They are some of the most shared images connected to the Canadian residential school system. A pair of photos from the late 1800s, taken a few years …

S3: Mailbag!

May 12th, 2021


We did it! We made it to our last episode of the season. Today Falen and Leah sort through the mail and answer your questions about treaties and unceded land; tell the story of a woman named Vivian MacMillan; and dive …

S3: Crash Course on animals — only in Canada

May 4th, 2021


How did an ice age determine what animals and insects are only now found on the land we now call Canada? Leah and Falen go way, way back to find the answers.

See also: "Ours To Save," a special report from the Nature …

S3: The Indian Pavilion at Expo 67 (Part 2)

April 28th, 2021


When Expo opened its doors on April 28, 1967, it was a gleaming futuristic spectacle; a chance for Canada to prove itself on the world stage. But one irreverent pavilion was set to tell its own side of the story — …

S3: Crash Course on the "Whiskey War"

March 2nd, 2021


Did you know that Canada and Denmark “battled” over a small, barren island in the far north for decades? Among their weapons: Canadian whiskey and Danish schnapps. In today’s crash course, the strange but true story of …

S3: The Indian Pavilion at Expo 67 (Part 1)

February 16th, 2021


You may have heard of Expo 67 — Canada's biggest flex during its centennial year — but do you know the fascinating history of the Indian Pavilion? It was separate and distinct from the Canada Pavilion, and it was primed …

S3: Crash Course on Mohawk ironworkers

January 27th, 2021


For over a century, Mohawk ironworkers have been shaping our skylines. Leah and Falen look into the contributions these workers have made in Canada …

S3: Project Habakkuk, Jasper’s top secret ice ship

January 13th, 2021


This is the story of how Geoffrey Pyke, a Jewish inventor from the U.K. came up with one of the most mind-boggling plans to win the war. Namely: to build a ship made out of ice. Code name: Habakkuk. Then, what happened …

S3: Crash Course on Canada’s First Mosque

December 29th, 2020


Al Rashid Mosque — the first mosque in Canada — opened in Edmonton in the late 1930s, but getting it built was no small feat. It happened thanks to the determination of a group of Lebanese Muslim women, led by Hilwie …

S3: You should know The Indian Film Crew

December 16th, 2020


In the late 60s the National Film Board decided it was time that First Nations got to be behind the camera and in charge of how they were seen. …

Introducing: Unreserved

November 28th, 2020


Unreserved is the radio space for Indigenous community, culture, and conversation. Falen, your host for the current season takes you straight into …

S3: Crash Course on Trees

November 25th, 2020


When did the Apple tree arrive in Canada and why do some trees in B.C live over a thousand years? A quick peek into some of the history kept by our …

S3: The Mounties Always Get Their Land (Part 2)

November 11th, 2020


In 1919 almost half the working population of Winnipeg walked off the job in the largest strike in Canadian history. The events that followed led to …

S3: Crash Course on British Home Children

October 6th, 2020


Over 100,000 “home children” were sent from the U.K. to Canada to work as labourers, from 1869 through to the 1940s. We find out who they were and what happened once they arrived here. Plus, Alan Dilworth tells us the …

S3: The Mounties Always Get Their Land (Part 1)

September 16th, 2020


The Mountie is one Canada’s most enduring symbols. Found on souvenirs from keychains to dish towels, our national police force are icons to the rest …

S3: Crash Course on L. M. Montgomery (a.k.a. Maud without an E)

August 19th, 2020


Today we look into the life of Lucy Maud (L.M.) Montgomery, creator of iconic characters like Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. The lesser-known story is that of the writer herself, who had many struggles …

S3: Kanesatake 300 Years Later (Part 2)

August 5th, 2020


On July 11 1990, the so-called Oka Crisis erupted near the small resort town of Oka. The 78 day conflict between the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk Nation) …

S3: Crash Course on Superheroes!

July 15th, 2020


From Captain Newfoundland to Shaman and Alpha Flight, what can some of the most iconic Indigenous and Canadian Superheroes tell us about our history? Turns out, quite a lot.

For transcripts of this series, please visit:

S3: Kanesatake 300 Years Later (Part 1)

June 24th, 2020


Anniversaries can be a strange thing in Canada, depending on who you are and which side you're watching from. It's been 30 years since an event you may know as the Oka crisis; but that's not where the story begins for …

S3: Crash Course on Dr. James Barry and Victoria’s Transgender archives

June 16th, 2020


How we should think and talk about Trans and Non-Binary people who lived well before those terms existed? In this Crash Course, we explore that …

S3: What's the deal with blackface?

June 10th, 2020


In this episode we look into the past to try to figure out why some present-day people are still doing blackface — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. We talk to Dr. Cheryl Thompson and look at what a minstrel show …

S3: Crash Course on Black Nurses

May 27th, 2020


In this Crash Course we look into the surprisingly young history of Black nurses in Canada and why many of these women had to travel to the U.S. for their education. We also take a look at the story of the Black Cross …

S3: Where is Japantown?

May 12th, 2020


Why isn't there a Japantown in every major city across Canada? This episode, we look into early Japanese Canadian history and figure out the “Asiatic Exclusion League” is not what we thought it was. Then, with the help …

S3: Crash Course on "Uncle Tom"

April 21st, 2020


Today we try to figure out the true story of Uncle Tom, with the help of Dr. Cheryl Thompson. You may know “Uncle Tom” as a derogatory term. Or from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. …

S3: Sasquatch in the Gift Shop

April 14th, 2020


In the first full episode of Season 3, Leah and Falen explore the truth behind two very old stories. Sasquatch and Ogopogo are legendary creatures of …

S3: Crash Course on Friendship Centres

March 30th, 2020


We’re baaack! Leah and Falen switch things up and introduce the Crash Course — snack-size history lessons on a range of topics. First up: the history of Friendship Centres, an essential part of urban Indigenous life …

Season 3 is self-isolating

March 16th, 2020


We’re not trying to mess with a global pandemic, so we'll be back on March 31st. Until then, here's a repeat of our most important episode and something we feel everyone needs right now: snacks.

For transcripts of this …

Introducing: CBC Podcasts in Class

September 26th, 2019


Free teaching resources have been developed for select episodes of The Secret Life of Canada! If you — or someone you know — teaches high school …

S2: The Nanny

August 27th, 2019


Who has been looking after Canada’s kids? We find out that Indigenous women and women from all over the world took on this job, and none of their …

S2: Shout out to Autumn Peltier

August 6th, 2019


It's our first shout out to a living youth leader! Meet Anishnabe-kwe Autumn Peltier. Greatly influenced by her great aunt Josephine Mandamin, Autumn has been using her voice to advocate for water rights since she was 8 …

S2: Your Letters

July 23rd, 2019


A mailbag episode! You asked and we answered your burning history questions which took us to the Cowichan sweater, Cheezies, the legacy of Hawaiian Canadians in B.C and one guy named Portuguese Joe.

For transcripts of …

S2: Shout out to Atuat Akittirq

July 9th, 2019


As Nunavut marks 20 years as a territory, Leah and Falen shout out mother, grandmother, educator, knowledge keeper and award winning artist Atuat Akittirq.

S2: The Indian Act

June 25th, 2019


What is the Indian Act and why Canada still have it on the books? The Secret Life team looks at the roots of this complicated policy, which after 143 …

S2: Shout out to Gay Asians of Toronto

June 4th, 2019


As Pride celebrations kick off across the country, Leah and Falen shout out the Gay Asians of Toronto (GAT). Formed in 1979, this organization is thought to be the first LGBT group for non-white queer people in Canada.

S2: Chinatown

May 28th, 2019


Most major cities across Canada have a Chinatown - but how did they start, and why? This episode, a look at the early history of Chinese people this side of the Pacific, and the historic Chinatown in B.C. that predates …

S2: Shout Out to Dr. O

May 7th, 2019


Meet Dr. Oronhyatekha, or Burning Cloud as he was known in Mohawk. Oronhyatekha grew up on Six Nations reserve and attended residential school where …

S2: The Medicine Line

April 25th, 2019


This episode we look at the thing that literally defines Canada - the border. What happened to First Nations when the border was drawn right through their land? And as American "draft dodgers" came north, why did …

S2: Shout Out to Bernelda Wheeler

April 2nd, 2019


Meet Bernelda Wheeler, the "First Lady of Indigenous Broadcasting in Canada". The broadcaster, journalist, actor and activist inspired a generation of Indigenous journalists.

S2: The Golden Boy

March 26th, 2019


Just how did a Greek god become a beacon for gay men in the Prairies? In this episode, Falen and Leah look into some of earliest known queer spaces in the Prairies, how they came to be and why they were so important. If …

S2: Shout Out to Your Grandma

March 8th, 2019


In a special shout out for International Women's Day, The Secret Life of Canada asked listeners to share stories about the matriarchs hidden in their family histories. These women may not have been written about, or …

S2: The province of Jamaica

February 19th, 2019


This episode we take a look at early Caribbean migration to Canada and reveal which islands could have become Canadian provinces. We also dive into …

S2: Shout Out to John Ware

February 5th, 2019


Meet John Ware, the Black cowboy who helped build Alberta's ranching industry and became a legend for his skill as horseman. Please be advised this episode contains strong language.

S2: Water

January 22nd, 2019


Can the foundation of Canada be traced back to Indigenous trade routes? In this episode Falen and Leah take a trip across the Great Lakes, they talk corn and vampires, and discuss some big concerns currently facing …

S2: Shout Out to Madhu Verma

January 8th, 2019


Many Canadians may not have heard of Madhu Verma but her almost fifty years of social activism has greatly shaped the current landscape of Fredericton, N.B. and Canada's East Coast.

S2: Shout Out to Eleanor Collins

December 18th, 2018


Meet Eleanor Collins - Canada's first lady of jazz and the first Black person in North America to host a nationally broadcast television series, "The …

S2: Your questions answered! (Bonus from Toronto Live show)

December 11th, 2018


Want to know where we get our ideas? Why Toronto was the original no-fun city? Check out the Q&A from our live show at the Hotdocs Podcast Festival in November 2018.

S2: Toronto vs. Everyone (Live!)

December 4th, 2018


It's our first live show! Recorded in front of an audience for the Hotdocs Podcast Festival, we try to answer the age-old question: why is Toronto …

S2: The Gold Rush

November 27th, 2018


There is no doubt that the Klondike Gold Rush was an iconic event. But what did the mining industry cost the original people of the territory? And …

S2: Shout Out to Private Buckam Singh

November 6th, 2018


Meet Private Buckam Singh, of one of the first Sikh Canadian soldiers. During WWI he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. In 1916 he …

S2: You don't wanna sleep here (Halloween Special)

October 30th, 2018


Is Canada a haunted place? In this bonus Halloween episode Falen and Leah travel to some of Canada's more obscure haunts. From one of Canada's oldest …

S2: Shout Out to C.D. Hoy

October 15th, 2018


Meet C. D. Hoy of Quesnel, B.C. His work wasn't discovered until 1995 when archivists found his photography. He left behind thousands of pictures that offered a rare look at life during the turn of the century through …

S2: Bay Blanket

October 1st, 2018


The Bay Blanket. These warm blankets are as iconic as Mariah Carey's lip-syncing, but some people believe they were used to spread smallpox and decimate entire Indigenous communities. We dive into the history of The …

Season One Wrap Up

August 27th, 2018


Season 1 is done, and we're taking some time off to work on season 2!

S1: Shout Out to Fred Sasakamoose

August 27th, 2018


Meet Chief Running Deer, Fred Sasakamoose of Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, the first Indigenous player in the NHL.

S1: Shout Out to Tom Longboat

August 27th, 2018


Meet Tom Longboat, an Onondaga long distance runner born in 1887 on Six Nations. Tom became one of the most celebrated athletes of all time, despite his struggles and encountering racism throughout his career.

S1: Shout Out to Jackie Shane

August 27th, 2018


Meet Jackie Shane, the singer and trailblazer that came to prominence during Toronto's bustling Yonge Street music scene during the '60s.

S1: Shout Out to Irene Uchida

August 27th, 2018


Meet Irene Uchida. A Japanese Canadian scientist, she was one of thousands of Japanese Canadians who were imprisoned as part of the Japanese Internment during WWII. Dr. Uchida went on to become a groundbreaking …

S1: The Secret Life of Statues

August 27th, 2018


What do you have to do to get a statue in Canada? We put some of our most lauded historical figures on trial and deliberate their pros and cons. Who …

S1: The Secret Life of Canadian Snacks

August 27th, 2018


Canada is full of its own weird and wonderful snacks. From Pizza Pops to ketchup chips, we dive into the history of Canadian food.

For transcripts of …

S1: The Secret Life of the North

August 27th, 2018


Nunavut has the largest landmass out of all the provinces and territories in Canada - and yet, it is an area that many of us know the least about. In this episode, we look at the forced relocation of the Inuit, the …

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