Calgary’s McKenzie Lake transformed into Normandy for D-Day Heritage Minute
It’s a man-made lake in the middle of southeast Calgary.
With homes nestled around it, it has all kinds of amenities for fun summer activities, even a boat launch.
It’s hard to think the quiet beach at McKenzie Lake could possibly resemble the war-torn shores of Normandy, France, when Canadian soldiers stormed the beaches on D-Day 75 years ago.
For Calgary filmmaker Chris Petry, that was a challenge he and his team were willing to tackle.
“Turning Calgary into France on that day was a challenge, but one that I don’t think any of us were afraid [of] or doubted we could do,” he said.
Petry was brought on by Bamboo Shoots to direct the latest Heritage Minute spot; a tribute to the Canadian soldiers who participated in the invasion on June 6, 1944.
“I’m born and raised in Canada, I’ve been watching these (Heritage Minutes) since I was a kid,” Petry said. “So it was an honour to get to do one of these stories.”
The spot was shot over two days last September at the McKenzie Lake beach, as well as in parts of Calgary’s Heritage Park. But the special effects in the shoot took six months to complete.
It begins with frantic, young soldiers dodging enemy fire at Juno Beach. The beach is littered with bodies and barbed wire, as large amounts of sand erupt from the beach because of artillery fire.
There are planes flying overhead with blimps above a large bay, battleships in the water and a small village burning to the ground.
“We really set the scene with intimate lensing here on the beach,” Petry said.
“I think when you watch the piece, it shows you can’t tell we’re on McKenzie Lake.”
The spot tells the story of Maj. John Archibald MacNaughton, a native of Black River Bridge, N.B.
Known by his peers as “Archie,” MacNaughton served in the First World War and decided to serve his country again during the Second World War.
After three years serving in Europe, and mere days before D-Day, MacNaughton earned the right to return to his wife and two children but refused.
He felt obligated to lead the young soldiers in the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment during the invasion.
At 47 years old, he was killed leading his men through Tailleville, France. He was the oldest Canadian to fall on D-Day.
Thirty-four men from the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment lost their lives that day — MacNaughton was the only officer.
“On the surface, it was a really touching story, but once we really got into the letters he’d written home… I have daughters myself, so the thought of this man leaving his daughter to grow up without him was a touching story,” Petry said. “I immediately gravitated towards that.”
The filmmakers trucked in anti-tank hedgehogs, safe barbed wire, smoke machines and air cannons to simulate artillery fire.
The actors playing the soldiers were dressed head to toe in costumes with a keen attention to detail.
The Heritage Minute is narrated by MacNaughton’s daughter — who was six years old when he was killed– as well as legendary Canadian news anchor Peter Mansbridge.
“If the family watches this, and is happy and proud, that would mean the world,” Petry said.
Heritage Minutes is a a collection of 60-second TV spots that highlight important moments in Canadian history.
Between 1991 and 2005, over 80 spots were produced, and Historica Canada began producing them again nine years ago.
Directing the spot is something Petry said he will never forget, especially with such a tragic and heroic story like the one about MacNaughton.
“There’s a lot of members of my family that served, a lot of service members: my father, my grandfather and a number of uncles,” Petry said. “So being a part of this was important to me, and being a part of this moment in history, that’s an honour to be asked to [do] and work real hard to achieve.
“Just making something special.”
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