TORONTO (CP) _ It’s been six years since Jeff Douglas’s "I am Canadian" rant during a Molson’s beer commercial sparked a national frenzy of patriotic pride. In those six years, the Nova Scotia-born Douglas moved to L.A., struggled as a "fish out of water" in Tinseltown, married his wife, returned to Canada in the aftermath of 9-11, and is now hosting not one but two shows on the History Channel.
"I was going back and forth in my head: Do I want to be here, do I want to stay here, is this really where I want to live my life?," the affable Douglas says of Hollywood as he sips on a glass of port at a downtown hotel. "I always felt like I was walking on marbles _ I couldn’t really get my feet on the ground there." After 9-11, the political climate changed in the U.S. _ and Douglas says he felt the sting.
"The first pilot season I went down there, it was pretty wide open. No one was saying to me ‘Hey, do you have papers, do you have this, do you have that?’ They would look at you and say ‘If you’re right, we’ll make this happen."’
"But after 9-11, they would just say: ‘Canadian?"’
Douglas, 35, also found himself suddenly embroiled in discussions with Americans who were resentful when former prime minister Jean Chretien decided against sending troops to Iraq.
"I remember sitting at dinner one night and someone down there made some comments about Canadians and war, saying Canadians weren’t known for fighting. I said: ‘There are a couple of examples I can think of right off the top of my head that we were in and you weren’t for the longest time … little things we like to call World War One and World War Two,"’
Douglas recalls with an exasperated sigh. It’s Douglas’s love and knowledge of history, in fact, that so attracted him to his latest History Channel show, "Ancestors in the Attic." Premiering on Wednesday night, the show follows Douglas and a crew of genealogists and researchers as they help Canadians across the country track down their lost ancestors and solve the mysteries entwined in their family trees.
"Ancestors" is the second show he’s hosting on the History Channel _ "Things That Move," a program that explores the genesis and history of going mobile, is now in its second season. It’s been a hit with viewers with Douglas nominated for a viewer’s choice Gemini for best host. But Douglas is particularly pumped about "Ancestors in the Attic" because the show often helps people find the answers to questions that have plagued them for years. In one emotional segment in the premiere, for example, an aboriginal woman gets the answers she’s longed for about an elusive ancestor fittingly named Silence.
"I like people’s stories, that’s what I like about making the show … some people have very central family issues and they’re looking for clarity and direction. In a couple of occasions, we’ve been blessed to be able to provide that," Douglas says. And, he adds, it’s a fun show to work on.
"We have the same crew every single episode that we shoot. We go out on the road and it’s like travelling wtih four of your best friends, all the time. We have a lot of laughs. My greatest hope for ‘Ancestors in the Attic’ is that half the fun we have making it makes it to the screen."
The ever upbeat Douglas describes this time as one of the best in his life, but adds his success as "Joe Canadian" was also a blast.
"People liked the idea of it _ the reason it worked in part is because I’m so ordinary, so average. It wouldn’t have been the same if it had been someone really pretty doing it," he says, under-estimating his considerable physical charms. The timing of the commercial, as well, worked to turn it into a phenomenon, Douglas adds.
"They had just finished this ad, just had it ready, and they wanted to premiere it during the Oscars but they said ‘no, we’re full, we’ll try to put it on the overtime list,"’ Douglas recalls. "So of course the Oscars always go over, and it came on in Canada just after Robin Williams was singing ‘Blame Canada’ from the South Park movie … so they had massive viewership in place and the timing was perfect." And in the end, it seems, Douglas is indeed Canadian.
"It’s an exciting time to be Canadian; we’re sort of coming of age," he says. "Just ease up on same-sex marriage and marijuana, adopt the Euro, build a bridge to Russia and we’re there!"