This edited video clip from Out of the Shadows (BC Archives AAAA2523) shows how two separate video transfers have been combined to create the best possible version of the film’s opening sequence. At 0:27, the video transitions from the poorer, more complete VHS transfer to the better quality 1-inch master. At 1:43, a single word of the narration and its accompanying video, which were missing from the master, have been inserted from the VHS copy.

    These comments are from my introductory talk at the National Canadian Film Day 150 screening at the Royal BC Museum, April 19, 2017.  The screening featured five documentaries from the BC Archives collection, made in the years 1941-1959.


    In the world of motion picture preservation, major archives that labour to preserve and restore feature films usually work with the original 35 mm negatives; the results can be quite remarkable, and a pleasure to look at.  Institutions like the BC Archives, on the other hand, have a mandate to preserve what are sometimes called “ephemeral films” — documentaries, travelogues, TV news footage, and industrial, promotional, or educational films.  Far too often, the original 16 mm printing materials for these films no longer exist.  Many films about British Columbia survive today only as circulated released prints, which have been projected many times, and show obvious signs of wear and damage.

    I’m reminded of “The Film Prayer”, which for many years used to show up on a card or sticker in every can of circulating film.

    Many films that had cause to offer this prayer have ended up at the BC Archives, which has endeavored to preserve the best (sometimes the only) surviving copy.  The interesting and unique content of these films still captures our attention today, despite the limitations of the extant prints.

    Valhalla Patrol: The uniform of the day.

    This program features four BC films which have survived in this form.  These circulated prints were transferred to analog videotape in the 1980s, and the tape masters were recently digitized for better access.  The fifth film only ever existed as a spliced original picture reel, which was fully restored by the BC Archives for National Film Week in 1986.

    All of these films date from the 1940s and 1950s.  They are postcards from a long-lost world when some BC cities were ostentatiously British, or perhaps draped in film noir shadows; when narrators often spoke in “purple prose”; when men went everywhere dressed in plaid shirts (topped with Cowichan sweaters); and when almost everybody wore a hat.  They offer a priceless look at how we saw ourselves, back in the middle of the 20th century.

    Vancouver Island : British Columbia’s Island Playground
    BC Government Travel Bureau, Photographic Branch, 1941-42
    21 minutes, colour
    The first colour-and-sound travelogue produced in-house by the BC government. The BC Archives holds the only known copy of  the 1941-42 version, donated in 1979 by a private citizen. The original reversal printing elements of this version were later re-cut to create the 1951 and 1956-57 versions, both of which bore the same title.
    Digital frame grab from BC Archives AAAA3013.


    Out of the Shadows
    Lew Parry Film Productions, 1957, for the Salvation Army Harbour Light Corps
    27 minutes, b&w
    A poignant film about the daily life of a homeless alcoholic on the streets of Vancouver’s Skid Row, and his recovery through the aid of the Salvation Army.   To view more and read about the film, see my blog posts City of Shadows and A Path from the Shadows.
    Digital frame grab from BC Archives AAAA2523.



    Salmon for Food
    Vancouver Motion Pictures Ltd., [ca. 1945], for BC Packers Ltd.
    16 minutes, colour
    A commercial short about the BC salmon industry, with unique glimpses of working conditions for female cannery workers.
    Digital frame grab from BC Archives AAAA2669.



    BC Power Commission, Public Information Division, [ca. 1959]
    14 minutes, colour
    Electrical utility workers patrol an essential power line high in the snow-covered mountains between the Arrow Lakes and Slocan Lake in the West Kootenays. These edited excerpts show the workers traveling in a Sno-Cat over-snow vehicle to the 6,750-foot summit of the line.
    Digital frame grab from BC Archives AAAA2987.



    In the Daytime : [1986 restored version]
    Stanley Fox & Peter Varley, 1949-50
    22 minutes, b&w
    An impressionistic documentary showing people on a summer day off in Vancouver, made by two talented amateurs on a budget of sixty dollars.  The sound editing and film lab work necessary for the 1986 restoration cost $2,500, funded through a grant from the BC Heritage Trust. (It would probably cost three or four times that today.) The museum’s Learning Pathway on amateur filmmaking includes an excerpt, showing activities in Stanley Park.
    Photographic frame enlargement from BC Archives AAAA1518.

    102 years ago this week, nine months into the First World War, anti-German sentiment boiled over in the streets of Victoria, BC. The above video clip is silent film footage from the riots that took place on May 8-9, 1915, following the sinking of the British liner R.M.S. Lusitania off Ireland by the German submarine U-20.  Soldiers training in Victoria were reacting to the deaths of Canadian citizens in the sinking, particularly that of a former comrade — Victoria resident Lieutenant James Dunsmuir of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles.  Soldiers and civilians formed an angry mob that attacked businesses owned by German-Canadians, destroying property and looting goods.

    The surviving footage is in three sections:

    • 0:12-0:30 — Shots of milling crowds, damaged storefronts and broken windows.
    • 0:31-0:52 — Uniformed soldiers can be seen throwing objects from the broken second-floor windows of the German Club, above the Dominion Express office on Government Street.
    • 0:53-1:12 — The clip concludes with shots of the crowd outside the Blanshard Hotel (formerly the Kaiserhof Hotel), at the corner of Blanshard and Johnson Streets; broken windows are visible on the upper floors.


    Spectators gather outside the Kaiserhof Hotel, southwest corner of Johnson and Blanshard Streets, Victoria, May 8, 1915. (BC Archives photo A-02709, detail)

    Mob and spectators gathered outside the Blanshard (ex-Kaiserhof) Hotel, 1322 Blanshard Street (southwest corner of Blanshard and Johnson), Victoria, May 8, 1915. (BC Archives photo A-02709, detail)


    Damage to the bar in the Kaiserhof Hotel following the Lusitania riot, May 1915. (BC Archives photo C-07552)

    Damage to the bar in the Blanshard (ex-Kaiserhof) Hotel following the Lusitania riot, May 1915. (BC Archives photo C-07552)


    Damage to the German Club above the Dominion Express office, Government and Courtney Streets, Victoria, May 1915. (BC Archives photo A-6827, detail)

    Damage to the German Club above the Dominion Express office, 904 Government Street (just north of Courtney Street), Victoria, May 1915. (BC Archives photo A-6827, detail)


    The newspaper accounts and notices excerpted below appeared in the Daily Colonist of Sunday and Tuesday, May 9th and 11th, 1915. The Mayor and the military called for calm; threatened businesses with German-sounding names emphasized their loyalty to the British Empire. But a great deal of damage had already been done.














    Expo 86 opened its doors to the world on 02 May, 1986.

    Leading up to the World Fair, several large infrastructure projects were proposed and planned for, so that they would be open and useable by the public by the time the fair opened.

    These projects included

    These projects were discussed on the Webster Show.

    Of course politics was involved, as the mayor defended his vision of what Vancouver would look like, as it celebrated the hundredth anniversary of its founding.

    Redevelopment of False Creek was a major issue – BC Architect Arthur Erickson and the director of planning for BC Place, David Padmore discuss the Expo 86 site plans.

    Here is the interview of a member of the BC Place planning committee.

    Sky train was a region wide issue.

    This episode shows the proposed route of the LRT as Steve Wyatt drives the streets of Vancouver, trying to get as close to the proposed route as possible.

    Bear in mind that the route used existing railway rights of way for the majority (if not all) of the line.

    There are several versions of this. The final one was slowed down somewhat so you can see the surrounding city a little more easily.

    For the unedited show see this Link.

    Canada Place – the cruise ship terminal. Webster goes on a fly about/ walk about

    BCTV was a major sponsor and broadcast daily from the Expo grounds.

    Here is part of the hype, when some of the pieces  get lost.

    Counting Down to opening day

    And after the exhibition

    The auction

    And distributing the wealth


    This video clip comprises edited excerpts from silent 16 mm film footage shot by Vancouver filmmaker Alfred E. Booth (1892-1977).  In the 1930s and 1940s, Booth travelled extensively in the BC Interior, shooting footage of the various regions and communities, including their amenities, businesses, and people. This footage was for use in films promoting the communities as travel and commerce destinations. In most cases, the completed films have not survived; but some of the raw footage and out-takes are preserved at the BC Archives.

    The Nakusp footage includes views of the main street and residents, the retired sternwheeler S.S. Bonnington, the cenotaph, the Arrow Lakes Hospital, and activity at a sawmill. At 3:15 in the clip, there is a brief sequence shot across the lake in Edgewood. It shows the Arrow Lake Hotel, Edgewood General Store, and residents at the lakeshore for the arrival of the S.S. Minto. The latter shot is very brief in the original, so I have “stretched” the shot (to render it in slow-motion), and concluded with a freeze-frame made from the last image.

    The source film is the compilation reel [Kootenay-Boundary area] : [footage and out-takes], one of 39 film reels in the Alfred E. Booth fonds at the BC Archives.

    For more examples of BC Interior and Vancouver footage shot by Alfred E. Booth, see the following blog posts:

    Meeting the Minto at Edgewood on Upper Arrow Lake — the last frame of a very brief shot. (Digital frame grab from V1995:01/016.01 item #2)

    One of my tasks as a Digital Access Technician is to identify and propose small digitization projects. Imagine browsing in the archives stack areas, surrounded by all manner of storage containers. As I walk through the stacks, I am thinking about my experience in the reference room, and recalling which records groups were most frequently consulted. What kinds of questions did people have, and what records did I use to answer those inquiries?

    I find myself pulling a box of GR-0461, Teachers Bureau records off the shelf and moving to a table to browse its contents. We often receive requests for information about specific BC schools, and about their teachers. These records are interesting for what they reveal about the history of education, and as records of rural life in British Columbia. They are also valuable in family and genealogical research. Young men and women became teachers and moved to these rural and remote schools. Now their grandchildren and great-grandchildren search for records that might contain a glimpse into the teacher’s world. Public interest is a factor I think about when proposing a digitization project. Not only do I want to draw attention to our records, but I also want the digitized records to be useful to the public. Records that are useful for genealogy research meet a public demand.

    The extent of the records is something to consider. I like to keep projects to a reasonable size so they can be completed in a timely manner. This group consists of approximately 1400 pages, and that strikes me as about the right size for a small digitization project. The format of the records is another important consideration. Can I scan them easily myself, without help from our staff photographer? Do they need to be removed from bindings? Will they require conservation prior to scanning? Preparing such records for scanning takes more time and additional staff resources.

    GR-0461 consists of two boxes of documents in file folders. That’s a manageable size for a small project. This group consists of forms that were sent to schools, filled out, and returned to the Department of Education. I wonder, “How complete are the forms? What types of questions are asked? Are there any other materials in the files?” This group’s forms are reasonably complete, with questions and answers that I think will interest the public; there are also some photographs of the schools to add interest to primarily textual records. The range of responses and the inclusion of images make me think this would be a good digitization project to suggest.

    Before I digitize these records for access, I make sure that there are corresponding online descriptions available. I need a proper descriptive record to attach the digitized images to, and those records are usually created by an archivist. Fortunately, the appropriate level of descriptive work for GR-0461 has already been done in AtoM, and that makes this project more likely to be approved by my manager.

    That is the informal process I go through when I consider a candidate for digitization. I think about what will interest researchers, about the extent and condition of the records (to keep the project within a manageable size), and about how much descriptive work will be required in order to provide digital access online. GR-0461 meets all these conditions, and has been added to my list of proposed digitization projects. If all goes well, the forms in GR-0461, Teachers’ Bureau Records, will be online for users to access.


    Lower Nicola School Students, 1921. (BC Archives photo F-06210, from GR-0461)

    Kildonan School Students, [1928?] (BC Archives photo F-06207, from GR-0461)


















    This video clip tells the story of the barge Straits Maru and her 1956 voyage from Victoria to the breaker’s yard at Osaka, Japan, loaded with scrap iron.  She was towed there by the Victoria-based deep-sea tug Sudbury, a former Royal Canadian Navy corvette.  The clip is an excerpt from the promotional film Saga of the Sudburys (1960), produced for Island Tug & Barge by Parry Films Ltd.  The eventful sea voyage is documented in amateur footage shot by Captain Harley Blagborne (1910-1969), the Sudbury’s skipper.

    The Straits Maru had begun her career in 1870 as the iron-hulled ocean liner S.S. Parthia, built in Scotland for Cunard’s trans-Atlantic service.  In 1884, the Parthia was sold to John Elder & Co., who installed more efficient engines and transferred the ship to the Guion Line, which used her on its route from Australia to South America.  From 1887 to 1891, the Parthia was chartered to the Canadian Pacific Railroad for use in the CPR’s new trans-Pacific service. Following a major refit in 1892, the ship was renamed S.S. Victoria.  Over the ensuing 16 years, under a variety of owners, the Victoria carried passengers between Hong Kong to Tacoma, U.S. troops to the Philippines, and prospectors to the Klondike, before finally settling into service with the Alaska Steamship Company from 1908 to 1952.  She was operated between San Francisco, Seattle and Nome, Alaska, or in trans-Pacific service, with a stint in military cargo service during the Second World War. In 1955, she was acquired by the Straits Towing and Salvage Company of Vancouver, who converted the hull into a lumber barge, briefly operated as Straits No. 27.  In 1956, the ship was sold for scrap — and that’s just where the above film clip begins!

    A note about the image quality:  This video copy of Saga of the Sudburys does not gladden the eye.  The original film materials no longer exist.  The three colour release prints that survive at the BC Archives, acquired from Seaspan International in 1985, are circulated projection prints with many scratches, splices, and other damage.  Moreover, the colour dyes in the Eastmancolor prints have faded so badly that all the prints have turned magenta.  When the film was transferred to video in 1986, it was not possible to bring back the colour, and a decision was made to transfer it only in black and white — and only to 3/4″ U-matic videocassette, a format with inherent limitations in picture quality and long-term stability.  So even though it was made from the best available print (F1985:21/003.03), this is a digital copy of an inferior analog copy of a faded, damaged print.  The three prints are now in cold storage to prevent further deterioration.  One day the archives may have the resources to make a better digital transfer directly from the best print.  In the meantime, I think the film’s content is interesting enough to make this version worth watching.


    The deep-sea salvage tug Sudbury in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. (BC Archives photo I-26428, [detail])


    The S.S. Parthia (right) and the Robert Kerr at Vancouver, 1887. (BC Archives photo A-00303)

    The S.S. Victoria at dock (n.d.) (BC Archives photo A-00225 [detail])

    This week’s blog post is my contribution to The Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon, which is being hosted by Movies Silently.  Please visit the Blogathon site to read new reviews and essays about 20th century films directed by women.

    The very fact that [film] societies are operated by volunteers (who are elected by a membership except in rare cases) contributes to their unique atmosphere.  An unimposed mutual interest first brings the ‘evangelists’ together; it drives them continually to explore and search out films of artistic and historic merit which otherwise might remain unknown and unseen; it urges them to find audiences in living-rooms, halls and theatres; it can stimulate them to study and discuss, often to write, and sometimes even to make films.— Dorothy Burritt, 1959[i]

    Dorothy Burritt in “Three There” (1940) (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1986:63 item #1)

    In Vancouver, British Columbia, during the late 1930s and 1940s, Dorothy Burritt (1910-1963) was one such “evangelist” whose enthusiasm for cinema led her to make films.

    The Vancouver Branch of the National Film Society of Canada was organized in 1936 to promote the appreciation of motion pictures, both as art and as entertainment.  Its film fare was eclectic and often challenging.  The society grew surprisingly in the late 1930s, with a paid membership of 600 or more.  The popularity of its screenings is confirmed in a short film that documents a Sunday afternoon show at the Stanley Theatre in April 1940.[ii]

    Some of the amateur films produced by society members in Vancouver transcended their creators’ modest intentions, and provide early evidence of an artistic sensibility in western Canadian cinema.  Fortunately, these long-forgotten works have been preserved, and can be found in Canadian archival collections.

    In the late 1930s, Dorothy Fowler, a UBC student and film society member, met Oscar C. Burritt (1908-1974), a mainstay of the society.  He was an avid amateur filmmaker who would go on to work for Vancouver Motion Pictures (later Shelly Films) as a director and cinematographer.  They would marry in 1942.  Oscar’s VMP colleague Lew Parry recalled Dorothy as “something of an artiste” who was interested in “arty things, arty groups, discussions on philosophy and all that sort of thing.”[iii]  Not unlike the collaboration of Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid on Meshes of the Afternoon, the pairing of Dorothy and Oscar brought together her sense of drama and visual style with his wit and cinematographic skill.  Their partnership produced a few obscure but delightful treasures of Canadian independent filmmaking.[iv]

    Three There (1940) (Digital frame grabs from BC Archives V1986:63 item #1)






    Their first complete film, Three There (1940), records a long weekend on Galiano Island in the Strait of Georgia with their friend Margaret Roberts.  Although on first appearance nothing more than a well-photographed holiday keepsake (with the requisite posing, repetition and waving to the camera), Three There is actually a little essay in using film to create a sense of place and mood. The action of waves and the passing of steamships mark the languid rhythm of “island time” as the three friends wander along country roads, relax in a cottage, visit neighbours and play on the beach.  In a series of striking vignettes, Dorothy lolls in the grass like a reclining goddess and performs dramatic Martha Graham-like gestures in a suspended mirror.  Viewing the film is somewhat like listening to the ambient music of Brian Eno (which would in fact be the perfect soundtrack).  As elsewhere in Dorothy’s work, there are strange similarities to Maya Deren’s visual style — although Deren would not make her seminal first film Meshes until 1943, some three years later.  Especially evident throughout Three There is the affection and humour shared by the trio.[v]

    “and–” (ca. 1940). (Digital frame grabs from BC Archives V1985:36 item #1)






    At around the same time, Dorothy collaborated with Margaret Roberts to produce the collage film “and–”, the earliest known attempt at experimental filmmaking in Vancouver, and among the earliest in Canada.  “and–” is partially composed of material culled from Oscar’s late-1930s footage.  This found footage — including negative and inverted (reversed) images and wild camera movements — is combined with painted and scratched stock, and a section where holes punched in the frame have been filled with other images.  The result is refreshingly chaotic.  From an ominous opening shot of a large metal cylinder rolling toward a fragile glass figurine, the film hurtles headlong through segments of increasingly frenetic rhythmic montage to its abrupt conclusion at a stop sign.  Local landmarks appear upside-down, and both Oscar Burritt and Margaret Roberts put in cameo appearances.  Preserved today in silent form[vi], the film was originally presented with a soundtrack of jazz music from phonograph records: Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” and Bud Freeman’s “The Eel”.  The technique of painting and scratching directly onto film would later become widely identified with Norman McLaren of the National Film Board of Canada.  However, Dorothy and Margaret were almost certainly inspired by the earlier work of Len Lye, whose pioneering short A Colour Box (1935) had been screened by the film society.[vii]

    The Vancouver Branch of the National Film Society had been inactive during the Second World War.  In 1945-46, however, Dorothy Burritt, Moira Armour and Vernon Van Syckle joined forces with painter and Vancouver School of Art instructor Jack Shadbolt to continue the screenings.  Collaborating with the short-lived Labor Arts Guild, they presented an impressive series featuring more than 60 cinema classics.  It is worth noting that this series included key works by Luis Bunuel, Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau — an ambitious program for any film society, even today.[viii]

    The most complete and personal and of Dorothy’s cinematic efforts was Suite Two: A Memo to Oscar (1947), made in collaboration with UBC student and film buff Stanley Fox.  In 1946, the Shelly Films operation had moved to Toronto, and Oscar went east to continue working for the company.  Dorothy, who remained behind temporarily in Vancouver, conceived Suite Two as a present for her husband:  a memento of their old home at Suite 2, 1960 Robson Street — part of an old mansion that would soon be demolished.  Like Three There, the film transcends its simple objective, and in so doing provides an amusing glimpse of a unique milieu.

    Dorothy Burritt in “Suite Two”. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1989:05/001.01)

    Suite Two depicts Dorothy at home, and records the community of friendships the couple enjoyed in Vancouver.  Entering through a window, the roving camera watches Dorothy arise, brush her hair, tidy the apartment, drink coffee, and sit for a formal portrait by painter Peter Bortkus.  In the evening, several friends (including film editor Maureen Balfe, film librarian Moira Armour and clairvoyant Nettie Gendall) drop in for drinks, dancing, spirited conversation and a screening of a French feature film, Sacha Guitry’s Pearls of the Crown (1937).  Refreshments are served by an absurd figure in an animal costume; he bears a curious resemblance to Sesame Street‘s “Big Bird” of two decades later.  The most intimate of the Burritts’ films, essentially made for an audience of one, Suite Two is perhaps the most satisfying as well.  Its modest aim — to depict a person, a living space and a milieu — is so charmingly achieved that the film fascinates complete strangers 70 years later.  Due to its very specificity, recording this particular person, this room, these curios, and this gathering, the film achieves a degree of “universality.”  One can only envy the Burritts the pleasure they took in their friends, and enjoy the spirit in which the film captures it.  Suite Two received Honourable Mention in the amateur category at the very first Canadian Film Awards presentation in 1949.[ix]  (For further discussion of Suite Two and Dorothy Burritt’s influence, see my recent blog post “Portraits of a Lady”.)

    The film society officially regrouped in 1947, and became the Vancouver Film Society in 1950.[x]  Moving to the east, the Burritts helped to create the Toronto Film Society.  In 1951, when the society brought Maya Deren to Toronto to produce a dance film, Moira Armour and Dorothy Burritt directed the TFS workshop that collaborated with their famous visitor.  The completed project, Ensemble for Somnambulists, was shown only once in Toronto.  Dissatisfied with the film, Deren never released it, and later remade it as The Very Eye of Night (1952-58).[xi]

    Dorothy proved instrumental in building the Canadian Federation of Film Societies, and did much to promote the awareness of film as art in Canada.  Oscar left Shelly Films in 1950 to join the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where he supervised the television film services and trained film personnel.  Unfortunately, the couple’s interest in making films lost out to their institutional activities.  They continued to shoot home movies, but these largely lacked the playful artistry of their Vancouver films.[xii]

    The Burritts’ contribution to the film society movement was recognized by a special Canadian Film Award in 1963, just a few months before Dorothy’s death.  Shortly afterwards, the Toronto Film Society established The Dorothy Burritt Memorial Award (later renamed for Dorothy and Oscar Burritt), an annual cash grant to support projects that contribute “to greater understanding and enjoyment of film as an art”.

    © 2017 Dennis J. Duffy


    Dorothy Burritt in “Three There” (1940) (Digital frame grab, BC Archives V1986:63 item #1)


    [i]           Dorothy Burritt, “The Other Cinema,” Food for Thought, vol. 19 no. 6 (March 1959), p. 265.

    [ii]           This 16 mm footage, shot by Oscar Burritt, is BC Archives item AAAA2047 at the Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM) in Victoria, BC.

    [iii]           Lew Parry interviewed by David Mattison, 11 June 1981; oral history tape no. T3855:0004, BC Archives.

    [iv]           Biographical information about Oscar Burritt and Dorothy Burritt was supplied by Douglas S. Wilson of Toronto in his correspondence with the BC Archives’ moving image archivists, 1981-1990, and by Stan Fox and Don Lytle in conversation with the author.

    [v]           Three There is preserved at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Ottawa.  The RBCM holds a video reference copy, BC Archives item AAAA2879.

    [vi]           “and–” is also preserved at LAC.  The RBCM holds a video reference copy, BC Archives item AAAA0004.

    [vii]          Dorothy Burritt, “The Other Cinema,” p. 263.

    [viii]          Jack Shadbolt, “A Personal Recollection,” in Vancouver: Art and Artists, 1931-1983 (Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1983), p. 41.  Shadbolt recalls Dorothy Burritt as a “fanatic” on the subject of cinema.

    [ix]           The edited camera original of Suite Two: A Memo to Oscar is preserved at the RBCM as BC Archives item AAAA2810.

    [x]           Societies file no. 2279, “Vancouver Film Society,” B.C. Registrar of Companies files, BC Archives.  The society was dissolved in 1953, but a second incarnation was active from 1955 through the early 1970s.

    [xi]           Herbert Whittaker, “Show Business,” Toronto Globe and Mail, 3 October 1951 p. 9; John Porter, “Artists Discovering Film: Postwar Toronto,” Vanguard, Summer 1984, p. 24.  Ensemble for Somnabulists was published as an “extra” on the Zeitgeist Films DVD release of Martina Kudlacek’s documentary In the Mirror of Maya Deren (2002). Dorothy Burritt and Moira Armour are credited under “production assistance”.

    [xii]          One of their few completed films from this period is Oscar’s Cinemaorgy, which documents the Toronto Film Society’s 1955 visit to George Eastman House at Rochester, New York.  It is preserved at LAC.



    This video clip shows an East Kootenays road trip road in the mid-1940s. It comprises excerpts from Kootenay East, a BC Government Travel Bureau travelogue, which was filmed in 1944-45 and copyrighted in 1948.

    Starting from Kootenay Prairie, the clip highlights:

    • local guest ranches;
    • the Sullivan Mine (silver-lead-zinc) at Kimberley;
    • the coal industry at Fernie and Michel (as well as Fernie’s unique golf course);
    • the history of Fort Steele;
    • Cranbrook’s municipal swimming pool (!); and
    • a customs stop at Kingsgate crossing on the Canada-US border.


    The source film is BC Archives AAAA1074 at the Royal BC Museum. These excerpts were also featured in the Royal BC Museum DVD Evergreen Playland: A Road Trip through British Columbia (2008).


    The “mad rush” as miners come off shift at the Sullivan Mine, Kimberley. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1989:40/002.03)

    Fort Steele. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1989:40/002.03)











    Kingsgate. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1989:40/002.03)


    The above video clip shows hydraulic gold mining at the Bullion Mine, near Likely in BC’s northern Cariboo. The Bullion Mine operated from 1892 to 1942. Huge hydraulic monitors – apparently the largest installed in North America – used high-pressure water to blast away the surface soil, gravel and stones to expose the gold. These operations created the so-called “Bullion Pit,” a man-made canyon up to 300 metres wide, 125 metres deep and almost 3 kilometres long.  The work of sluicing the gravel and separating the gold is also shown in close-up.

    Shot around 1941 by Vancouver filmmaker Alfred E. Booth, this unique colour footage provides graphic evidence of the mining operation’s scope and the sheer power of the hydraulic monitors. Watching it, I recalled Robert W. Service’s poem, “The Ballad of Touch-the-Button Nell” (ca. 1909), with its memorable and vivid description of hydraulic mining in the Yukon:

    The long lean flume streaked down the hill, five hundred feet of fall;
    The waters in the dam above chafed at their prison wall;
    They surged and swept, they churned and leapt, with savage glee and strife;
    With spray and spume the dizzy flume thrilled like a thing of life.

    “We must be free,” the waters cried, and scurried down the slope;
    “No power can hold us back,” they roared, and hurried in their hope.
    Into a mighty pipe they plunged, like maddened steers they ran,
    And crashed out through a shard of steel — to serve the will of Man.

    And there hydraulicking his ground beside a bedrock ditch,
    With eye aflame and savage aim was Riley Dooleyvitch.
    In long hip-boots and overalls, and dingy denim shirt,
    Behind a giant monitor he pounded at the dirt.

    A steely shaft of water shot, and smote the face of clay;
    It burrowed in the frozen muck, and scooped the dirt away;
    It gored the gravel from its bed, it bellowed like a bull;
    It hurled the heavy rock aloft like heaps of fleecy wool.

    Strength of a hundred men was there, resistless might and skill,
    And only Riley Dooleyvitch to swing it at his will.
    He played it up, he played it down, nigh deafened by its roar,
    ‘Til suddenly he raised his eyes, and there stood Lew Lamore.


    Those of you who know the poem will remember that, just three stanzas later, the enraged hero Riley Dooleyvitch “accidentally” turns the hydraulic monitor upon the leering villain and pimp Lew Lamore.  I’ll draw a veil over the details of what the monitor does to Lamore.  However, the photo below shows clearly how the monitors left the Bullion Mine site after its closure in 1942.

    The “Glory Hole” at the abandoned Bullion Mine, 1946. (BC Archives photo I-27192)


    Hydraulic gold mining at the Bullion Mine, ca. 1941. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1995:01/006.01 item #1)


    This video clip shows a road trip from Osoyoos to Castlegar in the mid-1940s, highlighting seed growing at Grand Forks, the Trail smelter, and a sternwheeler trip on the Arrow Lakes.  The clip comprises excerpts from the first half of Kootenay West, a BC government travelogue filmed in 1944-45  and copyrighted in 1948.  It is a twin film with Kootenay East, shot and released in the same years.  During the Second World War, the BC Government Travel Bureau had been working on a film with the working title “The Kootenays: British Columbia’s Mountain Playground”.  Cameraman Clarence Ferris came back with so much good footage, however, that the Bureau decided to release two films instead.  As with some other Bureau films, post-production work was delayed by wartime priorities and completed in 1945-47.

    The Arrow Lakes sequence is particularly appealing because it features the sternwheeler Minto, which served communities on the lakes from 1898 to 1954 as part of the CPR Lake and River Service.

    These excerpts were also featured in the Royal BC Museum DVD Evergreen Playland: A Road Trip through British Columbia (2008).


    The S.S. Minto at Robson, near Castlegar Renata, BC. (Digital frame grab from the DVD “Evergreen Playland”.)


    “[The two lakes] are the ideal weekend trip from Vancouver or New Westminster, however.  You hop the CPR at 6:50 any evening, [and] arrive here to be met by colorful and famous Joe Jackson at 12:40 a.m., six hours later.  Joe Jackson and his spouse, Lil, proprietors of the modern and reasonably-priced accommodation here, set up shop just last year and, like most good fish-camp keepers, do all they can to get you hooked into a trout.” — Lee Straight, “Outdoors,” Vancouver Sun, August 8, 1947, p. 11

    This video clip features amateur film footage shot in the 1940s by Joseph J. Jackson (1895-1972).  The footage has been edited from a reel called [Coquihalla lodge, fishing, miscellaneous railway shots].  With his wife Lil, Mr. Jackson operated the Lil-Joe Lodge at Coquihalla, BC, along the Kettle Valley Railway.

    • 0:09 – The edited clip begins and ends with sequences shot from trains leaving or arriving in Vancouver via the CPR main line, along the south shore of Burrard Inlet. In both of these segments, there are good shots (at 0:35 and 6:25) of the original Second Narrows Bridge, a rail and automobile crossing that was built in 1925.
    • 0:46 – Buildings and activity around the Coquihalla station, including the children of employees.
    • 1:50 – Rolling stock on the KVR, including speeders, CPR steam locomotives 3628 and 3652, and Sperry Rail Services rail detector car SRS 130.
    • 2:58 – Lil-Joe Lodge, Lil and Joe, and trout fishing from rowboats on the Coquihalla Lakes.
    • 5:21 – A community bonfire.
    • 5:59 – Coming back into Vancouver on the CPR mainline.


    In the August 8, 1947 edition of his Vancouver Sun column “Outdoors” [found in MS-0528, box 1 file 2, BC Archives], Lee Straight wrote:

    COQUIHALLA LAKE, B.C. — Nestled up here on the summit of the Kettle Valley railroad pass between the lower Fraser Valley and the Okanagan are some little lakes mainlanders should know about.  Right at the Coquihalla Station are the two Coquihalla Lakes and four hours back by pack horse are Brooks and Murray Lakes….

    All of these lakes offer good trouting.  The Coquihalla Lakes, which wife Joan and I fished Wednesday and Thursday, are on-again off-again propositions right now.  They’re 3800 feet above sea level, but are so shallow that the sparkling water is warm in August and keeps the oxygen-hungry fish down in the cooler pools at midday.  But they’re bulging with rainbows and Kokanee and these same trout bulge with fat.  They will pay heed to a fly or troll, but only in the still of early morning and just after sundown….

    The setting a country of grey spires — ghost of a forest fire that licked through the valley fifteen years ago.  But the hilltops and lake shores are green.  The harshness of the burn is softened with new growth and the landscape holds promise of game.

    We’ve heard or seen blue and willow grouse and muskrats.  There are also the odd coyote, plenty of deer and goat, and hills of blueberries and blue huckleberries.  The cabins are logs, new and airtight, and the sleeping is easy.  But Joan and I get the biggest kick out of Joe [Jackson] himself.

    He has a scrap book that will hold you for hours.  It turns out that he is one of the real sourdoughs of 1920-1930 Alaska prospecting.  At 30 he was famous all over the U.S. and British Empire as “the Millionaire Kid.”  And the name still means plenty to an Alaskan….

    The Joseph J. Jackson fonds (PR-0709) at the BC Archives contains Joe’s films, photographs, and textual records.  Four film reels, shot ca. 1933-35, provide extensive coverage of his travel and placer mining activities on the Stikine River.  We’ll look at highlights from that footage in a future post.


    View from CPR passenger train leaving Vancouver; Marine Building in distance. (Digital frame grab from V2012:01/007.02)

    CPR locomotive 3628 pulling a westbound freight train past Coquihalla station. (Digital frame grab from V2012:01/007.02)

    A Lil-Joe Lodge visitor fishing on the Coquihalla Lakes. (Digital frame grab from V2012:01/007.02)








    Lil and Joe Jackson (left and centre) of Lil-Joe Lodge, with a visitor, display their catch after fishing on the Coquihalla Lakes. (Digital frame grab from V2012:01/007.02

    A community bonfire at Coquihalla. (Digital frame grab from V2012:01/007.02)





    The original Second Narrows Bridge (the 1925 road and rail bridge), seen from a train headed for Vancouver’s CPR station, ca. 1946-47. (Digital frame grab from V2012:01/007.02)






    Water tower and station buildings at Coquihalla, on the KVR. (Digital frame grab from V2012:01/007.02)



    The BC Archives holds several 16 mm films shot by the provincial Department of Agriculture in the the 1920s and 1930s. Among them is a reel of unedited footage on the activities of Boys’ and Girls’ Agricultural Clubs, mainly filmed on the Saanich Peninsula. In 2011, it was one of several short films transferred to video for better access, through generous funding from the Friends of the BC Archives.

    Since the original footage is not edited into any structure, and lacks explanatory inter-titles, it appears to be from a film that the department shot but did not complete. One interesting section shows children at a rural school receiving packages of eggs for hatching, and a young girl preparing a brood box for a hen selected to do the job. This section exists in its raw form, with the individual shots out of sequence. Using a digital video file made from the VHS reference copy, I have trimmed and edited the shots into what I believe was its intended form.


    A Boys’ and Girls’ Poultry Club at a rural school on the Saanich Peninsula, 1930s. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V2012:01/001.02.)


    A girl from a Boy’s and Girls’ Poultry Club moves her brood hen to new quarters; Saanich Peninsula, 1930s. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V2012:01/001.02.)


    <em>Out of the Shadows</em>

    “I’d really hit bottom. That’s what did it.” (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1987:18/004.01)

    My January 12th blog post, “City of Shadows,” featured excerpts from the first part of Out of the Shadows, a film made for the Salvation Army in 1957 by Lew Parry Film Productions.  That section showed, with devastating frankness, the day-to-day experiences of a homeless alcoholic on Vancouver’s Skid Row.

    My comments considered the film’s stylistic similarities to the film noir canon. I contrasted it with the other films made by BC producer Lew Parry, which were mainly industrial and promotional in character.  I also discussed a closely related film that was made a year earlier — Allan King’s CBC Vancouver documentary Skidrow.

    This week I’m looking at the second part of Shadows, which depicts (with equal frankness) the protagonist’s eventual reintegration into society.  In this regard, it is quite different from the CBC film.

    The previous clip from Shadows ended with the man passing out in an alley, where he is found by the police.  We pick up the story the next morning, in a continuing flashback: he wakes up in jail and discovers that he has lost more than he realized. As he says, “This time it was different.”  In ensuing scenes, we’re shown his growing awareness of his condition, his acceptance of help from the Harbour Light Corps, his efforts to regain his confidence and self-respect, and his newfound faith.

    As its title indicates, Out of the Shadows offers the hope of recovery.  It does so in a non-judgmental way, offering understanding and compassion to the men of the Skid Road. The tone is not overtly “preachy”, and the steps our hero takes are practical ones, supported by his religious beliefs.

    This part of the film has several memorable scenes.  The protagonist’s realization that he has “really hit bottom” is captured in eloquent close-ups.  His restless wandering on the city streets is depicted in a very evocative manner.  His two encounters with the pump organ, showing music as something that has left him, “along with everything else” — but which can ultimately be regained — provide a powerful metaphor for his condition.  The narrator’s simple statement, “And this was my room,” underscores a poignant scene handled with restraint.  The sudden appearance of “temptation” (a proffered drink of rubbing alcohol), and the decision to walk away from it, give the story its quiet climax.

    I’ll just point out that the video clip presented here has been edited to condense this part of the film to a reasonable length.  In addition, the closing scene that frames the central flashback has been omitted.  However, a reference copy made from the (almost) complete surviving print can be viewed in the BC Archives reference room.


    Out of the Shadows: “As I walked out of the shadows, the sun was warm and friendly on my back.” (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1987:18/004.01)


    School District Information Form for Oona River School (GR-0461 Box 1 File 7, BC Archives)

    One of the pleasures of working in the archives is the opportunity to pull out a box of records and examine the records inside. It’s a bit like opening a gift from the past. You never know what sort of discoveries or connections await within. When I had a few minutes recently, I sat down with Box 1 of GR-0461, Teachers’ Bureau Records, and browsed through it. In those few minutes, I learned a lot about the conditions faced in some of British Columbia’s rural and assisted schools in the 1920s.

    The Teachers’ Bureau acted as an employment exchange by gathering information about the schools and districts, and by conveying information about vacancies and the schools to prospective applicants. The records in GR-0461 consist of School District Information Forms—questionnaires that were distributed to rural school teachers in 1923 and 1928. This set of records is not entirely complete. There were 684 rural and assisted schools in 1923, but only 651 completed forms exist from that year. In 1928, there were 728 schools, but there are only 711 completed forms.

    Those who completed and returned the School District Information Forms to the Teachers’ Bureau left a very useful tool for examining working conditions for teachers in the 1920s. The more remote the community, the more likely the teacher was to experience loneliness and isolation. The living conditions at Big Bar Upper School in the school district of Lillooet were described as “Isolated and lonely. Crude pioneer homes. Very little money to be had.”[i] Similar sentiments are expressed by many of the teachers. Living conditions at the Copper Creek Station School were tersely described as “Absent” — a case of “create your own world.” Boarding and lodging options there were “very limited and unattractive.”[ii] Some of the “additional remarks” on the forms indicate the skills necessary for success. “This school requires a strict fearless teacher; and one who is impervious to dismay.”[iii] So wrote the teacher at Big Bar in 1923, Gerald S. Andrews. That name may ring a bell for those familiar with BC history and our archival records—Gerald S. Andrews was later to become the Surveyor General for British Columbia.

    Perhaps Dorothy A. Clarke of North Dawson Creek said it best in her additional remarks: “Teachers labor under great difficulties in this country, as the settlers are very poor and they find it exceedingly hard to make a bare living for themselves. Consequently it is really hard to get any money together for school purposes. I do not think it wise to encourage young and inexperienced teachers of either sex to come in here to any of the schools.”[iv] Such were the conditions in the rural and remote schools of British Columbia during the 1920s.

    Glentanna School. (GR-0461 Box 1 File 4, BC Archives)

    Oona River School (GR-0461 Box 1 File 7, BC Archives)








    [i] GR-0461, Box 1, File 1.

    [ii] GR-0461, Box 1, File 2.

    [iii] GR-0461, Box 1, File 1.

    [iv] GR-0461, Box 1, File 3.


    This amateur film documents the spectacular fire that destroyed the CPR’s Pier D in Vancouver Harbour on the afternoon of July 27, 1938.  The video clip comprises edited excerpts from silent footage shot by Oscar C. Burritt (1908-1974).  Oscar was then an amateur filmmaker.  By 1943, he would be a professional, shooting and directing industrial films and NFB shorts for Leon Shelly at Vancouver Motion Pictures.  Later he worked for CBC Television in Toronto.

    In 1986, the BC Archives received a box of 16 mm film from the Burritt family.  As a research associate, I was given the intriguing job of viewing, selecting and describing the films I thought they should keep.  When I loaded this reel on the Zeiss film viewer and started looking at it, I saw right away that it was something special.  I had recently seen professional footage of the same fire (Behind the Headlines [1]); Oscar’s footage seemed just as good.  It was in sort of rough shape, from being spliced and projected over the years, and there were some obvious exposure issues.  But Oscar’s coverage, composition and camera technique are very good indeed.

    I’m a film editor at heart, and I enjoy working with archival footage.  Some time ago I digitized the fire footage from a VHS copy and starting looking at it critically, in order to clean it up a bit.  In the end, I didn’t have to do all that much.  Working with the digital file, I edited out the flash frames and bad splices at the beginning of individual shots.  I took out a few shots that were extremely short, and a few that were identical or repetitive.  And I adjusted the exposure throughout, brightening or dimming shots that were too dark or too light.  The shots remain in the same order that Oscar put them, but now we have a clearer view of what he was shooting.

    00:09       We first glimpse the fire from the south-eastern shore of False Creek, several blocks north of Oscar’s home at 132 East 10th Avenue.

    00:13       In the second shot, the Sun Tower can be seen in the distance, between the camera and the plume of smoke.

    00:19       Suddenly we’re in a moving automobile as it rushes downtown over the second Cambie Street Bridge (replaced by the current bridge in 1985).  The frenetic travelling shots of downtown buildings are quite exciting.

    00:36       At the fire, Oscar establishes his location with a nice wide shot down Granville Street toward the CPR Station, followed by good shots of the billowing smoke.

    00:49       We finally see the full extent of the fire in a very effective wide shot: smoke, flames, a fireboat.  The camera pans right to show us the crowd of spectators that has gathered, standing on roofs and atop railcars in the CPR yards.  There’s a brief shot of a steamship moving out of danger, followed by close and wide shots of the watching crowd.

    01:14       From a medium wide shot of the fire, the camera tilts up and up to reveal the size of the smoke cloud.  This is followed by more wide and medium wide shots from the same angle.

    01:39       In a 25-second shot, we start at the end of the pier and pan left to view the fully engulfed structure, ending with a good very wide view that shows more spectators in the distances, watching a firefighting hose crew.

    02:09       Oscar moves to a new vantage point which is lower and closer to the action.  We see the spectators standing on the railcars, in the yards, and looking down from an overpass.  Locomotives are in motion, and at 2:24 a group of men seem to be emptying a boxcar.

    02:35       He moves again, and captures more scenes on the ground, including an effective pan of the action in the yards, and (at 2:58) a good shot of a firefighting team through the smoke.

    It’s interesting to compare the Burritt footage with another semi-amateur film of the same vintage, also held by the BC Archives.  It’s Alfred E. Booth’s Kodachrome footage of the same fire [2], posted on YouTube by my Vancouver colleague Christine Hagemoen.  (Thanks, Christine!)

    ∇   ∇   ∇

    Some of my previous blog posts and online articles have featured other films – amateur or professional – made by Oscar Burritt or his wife, Dorothy (Fowler) Burritt:



    [1]       Behind the Headlines, an 11-minute promotional film, was made by Vancouver Motion Pictures in 1939 for the Vancouver Daily Province.  It was produced by Leon Shelly and shot by Wally Hamilton, another important Vancouver film pioneer.  The film is preserved by Library and Archives Canada.

    [2]       Alfred E. Booth, [Pier D fire] : [Booth footage], item AAAA2373, BC Archives.


    A sign on Pier D is glimpsed momentarily through the billowing smoke. (Digital frame grab from V1988:10/018.03.)


    This video clip comprises excerpts from Out of the Shadows, produced for the Salvation Army in 1957 by Lew Parry Film Productions.  The film depicts the experiences of a homeless alcoholic on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and his eventual reintegration into society through the services of the Harbour Light Corps.[1]

    These excerpts, edited from the first half of the film, show the man’s day-to-day existence on the streets of Skid Row – loitering, panhandling, drinking non-potable alcohol, sleeping rough, and finally passing out in an alley.  The second half shows his growing awareness of his condition, his struggle to give up alcohol and regain his self-respect, his acceptance of help from the Harbour Light, and his newfound faith.

    Out of the Shadows has several remarkable elements.

    • The unnamed central character is not played by an actor, but is an actual recovered alcoholic, re-enacting scenes from his own life.[2] Seen first in his new job as a commissionaire at Vancouver Airport, he then recalls his story in an extended flashback.[3]
    • The first-person narration, written by journalist Reginald M. Dagg and spoken by (uncredited) Vancouver actor Walter Marsh, is dramatic and compassionate, yet entirely believable as coming from the subject himself.
    • The film was shot on location in the streets of Vancouver, stressing the seamier aspect of the city.
    • The black-and-white cinematography, mainly using available light, emphasizes darkness and shadow. In one scene, a handheld camera is used to provide a subjective view of the protagonist’s staggering drunkenness.  Strangely, no cinematographer is named in the credits.


    Many of the above elements – the use of flashbacks, first-person narration, location shooting, an urban setting, and of course black-and-white film – are also key characteristics of film noir, the cycle of darkly poetic crime dramas made in America during the 1940s and 1950s.[4]  Were producer Lew Parry, director Bert Pullinger, and writer Reg Dagg consciously influenced by film noir?  That might be overstating the case.  Nevertheless, it’s quite true that Out of the Shadows is markedly different from any other film that Parry produced.  His legacy as BC’s most prolific filmmaker rests on 30 years of sponsored industrial films – competently made, straightforward, and mostly impersonal.  And Bert Pullinger made so many films for the BC forest industry that Parry dubbed him “Cecil B. DeSawmille.”

    Chilliwack Progress, 19 November 1958, p. 8

    Chilliwack Progress, 19 November 1958, p. 8

    Out of the Shadows probably owes much to another Vancouver film:  the CBC documentary Skidrow, directed by Allan King and written by Ben Maartman, which was broadcast nationally in early 1957.  It shares the setting of Shadows, and many of the same cinematic qualities – as well as its insight and compassion – and is one of the best Canadian films of its time.  But Skidrow is also unremittingly bleak, and its third-person narration allows us to stand outside the lives of its derelict subjects, who are portrayed as men utterly without hope.  The Salvation Army’s presence is presented as charitable and well-meaning, but largely ineffectual.

    The subject matter was not a popular choice, either.  When Skidrow was submitted to the Prix Italia broadcast film competition, a small-minded editorial in the Vancouver Sun questioned whether “Canadian cultural interests require CBC to show this city to Europe as a collection of drunks sleeping in doorways.”[5]  However, the stark realities of life on the Downtown Eastside have often captured the attention of writers and artists.  Malcolm Lowry described the area memorably in a powerful poem, written just after the Second World War:

    Beneath the Malebolge lies Hastings Street,
    The province of the pimp upon his beat,
    Where each in his little world of drugs or crime
    Drifts hopelessly, or hopeful, begs a dime
    Wherewith to purchase half a pint of piss –
    Although he will be cheated, even in this. [6]

    Shadows, on the other hand, offers the hope of recovery and self-redemption, and demonstrates through example that they are possible.  This important difference is no doubt due to the fact that the Salvation Army wanted to use the film as a promotional and fund-raising tool.  In place of the unwavering documentary eye of Skidrow and Lowry’s poem, Out of the Shadows maps a narrow path out of its urban Hell.  I’ll follow that path (with a look at the film’s second half) in a future post.



    Out of the Shadows: “Yeah, this was me. I was this man. Empty. Bleary-eyed. I was a bum, a drunk.” (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1987:18/004.01)


    [1]       The usage of “Downtown Eastside” to denote the blighted Vancouver neighbourhood centred on Main and Hastings seems to date from the early 1970s.  In earlier decades, the area was known as the city’s “Skid Road” or “Skid Row”.  The social problems connoted by that label began prior to Prohibition, and were exacerbated by the Great Depression, the Japanese-Canadian internment, and many other factors.  See “Downtown Eastside” and “Skid row: Vancouver” in Wikipedia; retrieved 8 January 2017.

    [2]       [Newspaper reference from BC Filmography Project files.]

    [3]      The opening sequence at the airport, which is badly damaged in the BC Archives’ print, has not been included in the video clip.

    [4]      The heyday of film noir is generally seen as being bookended by John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958).

    [5]       Vancouver Sun, 9 August 1957, p. 4.

    [6]       Malcolm Lowry, “Christ Walks in This Infernal District Too,” Selected Poems of Malcolm Lowry, ed. Earle Birney, Pocket Poets no. 17 (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1962), p. 64.  “The Malebodge” is a reference to Dante’s Inferno, where it is the name given to the eighth and penultimate circle of Hell.


    A scene from the 1947 film shows Dorothy Burritt in her Vancouver apartment.  At 1:41 in the clip, she is seen sitting for the portrait while artist Peter Bortkus works at his easel. 

    This video clip is an excerpt from Suite Two: A Memo to Oscar, an amateur film made in 1947 by Dorothy Burritt and Stanley Fox.  They were both members of the National Film Society (Vancouver Branch).  Inspired by avant-garde films she had seen at the society’s screenings, Dorothy made some interesting experimental shorts around 1940, collaborating with her future husband, Oscar Burritt.  When teenager Stan Fox joined the society in 1946, Dorothy also encouraged his filmmaking efforts.

    By 1947, Oscar (1908-1974) had moved to Toronto to work as a director and cinematographer for Shelly Films.  Dorothy (1910-1963) stayed behind in Vancouver for a time before joining him there.  Suite Two is an offbeat study of light and life at their apartment (#2 – 1960 Robson Street, near Stanley Park), and the circle of artistic friends they entertained there.  As Stan Fox recalled in a 1988 interview:

    Well, this was really Dorothy’s film.  She had thought it up as a memento of her apartment and a present for Oscar — and a recording of those friends, y’know, at that time — and asked me if I would film it.  That’s really how it happened . . . .  It was her idea to make Suite Two as a kind of a memento of this apartment, which was going to be destroyed.  In those days, they were just beginning to destroy the West End; and it was slated to go, to be replaced with an apartment house.  And they knew that, so that’s why the film was made. *

    Dorothy is seen tidying her home and preparing for a party, where she and her guests listen to music and watch a feature film, followed by refreshments, dancing, and lively conversation.   The butler is played by an enigmatic figure in a bird costume, a grotesquely Moderne-styled forerunner of Big Bird.  In an interlude before the party, artist Peter Bortkus (1906-1995) is shown painting Dorothy’s portrait.  Born in Tallinn, Estonia, Bortkus was active during the years 1930-1947 in Vancouver, where he was befriended and influenced by Frederick H. Varley, a famous member of the Group of Seven.  By contrast, Bortkus was a little-known figure; he painted prolifically, especially in field of portraiture, but his work was not exhibited to any significant degree.  In 1947, he relocated to Toronto, where he supported his family by working as a commercial artist.

    The original Bortkus painting of Dorothy was apparently in the Burritts’ hands until Oscar’s death in 1974; it has since disappeared.  If it still exists, the current owner may not be aware of the subject’s name, or of her significance to Canadian film history.  In 1990, however, Douglas S. Wilson, a Toronto friend of the Burritts, was able to provide the BC Archives with this colour photo of the painting.

    Anscocolor photograph of Peter Bortkus' 1947 portrait of Dorothy Burritt.

    Photo of Peter Bortkus’ 1947 portrait of Dorothy Burritt. Over time, the other dyes in this Anscocolor print have faded to emphasize the magenta. (BC Archives image J-00156)

    Dorothy Burritt sitting for the portrait in "Suite Two". (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1989:05/001.01)

    Dorothy Burritt sitting for the portrait in “Suite Two”. (Digital frame grab [detail] from BC Archives V1989:05/001.01)













    Settling in the east, the Burritts were very active in the Toronto Film Society.  Oscar went on to work on the film side of CBC Television, and Dorothy later founded the Canadian Federation of Film Societies.  Suite Two received honourable mention (amateur category) at the first Canadian Film Awards in 1949.  (Click here to read a full description of the film.)

    When asked four decades later for his own reaction to Suite Two, Stan Fox replied:

    Oh, I like it.  I’m surprised.  I think it’s a very interesting piece of film, in its way.  As you say, the atmosphere is very charming, and seems to have lasted; it says something about the era, you know.  I think people here in B.C. are particularly vulnerable to forgetting the past, or else looking at the past as being just a very quaint thing — something that was definitely not as sophisticated as the present. *

    He also provided this vivid recollection of Dorothy Burritt and her milieu:

    There seemed to be, in Vancouver, a very sophisticated group of people, most of whom knew each other, that seemed to “feed” on each other, and keep each other abreast of what was happening in the rest of the world. . . .  Dorothy herself was a very influential person, because she was very involved with the arts and had a very good sense of values about things of an aesthetic nature.  And I think that I was really in the middle of almost an “artists’ colony” — although there weren’t a great many practicing artists.  There were certainly an awful lot of people who really lived for things artistic, whether it was painting or film or books or whatnot.

    She was a very kind person.  I had the impression she was very cultured, very well-educated, and seemed to know an awful lot about a lot of things.  And she was a very supportive person.  I think that was perhaps her strongest characteristic; when she saw something that she felt had some kind of value, someone’s talent, she encouraged it.  In terms of music and art and cinema, [Dorothy and Oscar introduced me to] what you’d call “the modern era”; what was happening, and what was important, in those arts.  Plus, I think even more than that, it was an attitude to life — a sense of the importance of the arts in life, and making the arts a focus in your life that was much more important than making money.  And considering the society they were living in at the time, they were remarkable people.

    [Dorothy’s voice was] distinctive; slightly drawling, in a way.  It was a soft voice, very feminine voice.  I can hear it, quite well, and that perhaps is the best indication of its distinctiveness — that I can hear it in my head, even today, quite well. *

    Stan’s perspective on Dorothy was echoed by his childhood friend Allan King (1930-2009), a celebrated director of Canadian documentaries (Skidrow, Warrendale, A Married Couple) and feature films (Who Has Seen the Wind).

    [Dorothy was] extraordinarily cultured; Romantic, in the sense of a “Romantic Artist”; absorbed in the life of the artist, all the things that one read books about; a sort of an echo of Bohemia, of a life that was unconventional, not like bourgeois Kerrisdale or lower middle-class Kitsilano.  It was a whole world of people apart, people who did Romantic and exciting things.  And I should clarify the word “Romantic”.  By that, I mean “idealized“, in the sense that it’s not a real perception of what Dorothy was like.  I don’t know what Dorothy was like.  I knew her then as a person I thought about who represented something; an ideal kind of figure to do with the arts, to do with creativity, to do with things that were really important, not trivial things like delivering groceries or delivering newspapers, or whatever it was that one picked up one’s spare change from.

    The other thing that was very important about Dorothy and such people — but [that] I remember particularly with her and about film — was the whole notion of excellence, the whole notion of aspiring to do one’s best, to do extraordinary work.  I don’t mean in a pretentious sense, but the notion that what was important was excellence; something that was unique, something that was fresh, something that was original; to try to get at some kind of truth, or something that meant something.  Dorothy was very powerful in talking about and advocating original work, and being open to original work is really fundamental to doing good work.  It’s fundamental to keeping one’s self vital in any way.  That kind of vitality is a hallmark, and something that, for me, made her invaluable. **

    ∇  ∇  ∇  ∇  ∇

    In November 2016, shortly before I retired from the Royal BC Museum, I received a long distance call from the daughter of Peter Bortkus.  Through Google and the archives’ online AtoM search engine, she’d found our photograph of the painting, a portrait she’d never seen before.  We chatted for quite a while, and I made a few notes, pleased to learn something at last about the artist who painted Dorothy Burritt.

    * Stanley Fox, interviewed by D.J. Duffy, Victoria, 20 June 1988: BC Archives sound tape T4349.
    ** Allan King, interviewed by D.J. Duffy, Vancouver, 13 September 1991: author’s collection.

    Dorothy Burritt (second from left) with the cast & crew of the experimental film comedy"Glub" (1947), directed by Stan Fox (far right). (Photo courtesy Stan Fox)

    Dorothy Burritt (second from left) with the cast & crew of the experimental film comedy “Glub”, directed in 1947 by Stanley Fox (far right). (Photo courtesy Stanley Fox)

    The author (aged 10) admiring the fence paintings outside the future home of the Royal BC Museum and Archives, 1966. (Terry Duffy photo; private collection)

    The author (aged 10) looks at paintings on the fence surrounding the site of the BC Provincial Museum and Archives, 1966. (Terry Duffy photo; private collection)

    ∇  ∇  ∇  ∇  ∇

    It was in the summer, 50 years ago, and my family was on vacation in Victoria.  I was 10 years old.  After many camping holidays in the BC Interior, closer to our Kelowna home, we were now travelling much further afield.  With Dad at the wheel of our Pontiac Strato-Chief, we towed our new tent trailer over the Hope-Princeton Highway, caught the ferry to Vancouver Island, and made camp at Goldstream Provincial Park.  My brother Terry, who’d received an Instamatic camera for his birthday, was documenting our family adventures on 126 slide film.

    One afternoon, we visited the Royal London Wax Museum, which was still located at the south end of the Crystal Garden (now the home of the Old Spaghetti Factory).  Afterwards, we strolled over to the next block of Belleville, where the new Provincial Museum and Archives complex was being built.  The complex was taking shape behind plywood hoardings, which local artists had decorated with their paintings.


    Paintings on the construction wall around the Provincial Museum and Archives complex on Government Street, 1966; Empress Hotel in background. (BC Archives photo NA-40542)

    Paintings on the construction wall around the Provincial Museum and Archives complex on Government Street, 1966; Empress Hotel in background. (BC Archives photo NA-40542)


    On Government Street, just south of Belleville, I stopped to admire a blue high-contrast painting of a rock guitarist.  Terry snapped my picture.  I was standing at the spot where the stairs would start down from Belleville to the gardens and the reflecting pond in front of the archives building.  I wish I could say that I turned to my brother and said, “I’m going to work here some day” — but I didn’t do that.  I had no idea of the role that the archives would eventually play in my life.

    In 1977, as a Camosun College student, I walked down those stairs to research some course projects.  In 1978 and 1979, I was a summer student for the archives’ Aural History Programme.  I began picking up contract work, and for years that was how I made a living.  In between, I took some time to to study history and film at SFU.  In 1998 I returned to the BC Archives as an staff member.  (It only took me 20 years to get a real job!)

    Lately I’ve been working at the front of the 4th floor of the archives stacks, just above the top of those stairs.  My work area is under the northwest corner of the archives roof, which you can actually see in the top right corner of Terry’s slide.  50 years have passed since he took that picture, and I’m barely 15 feet from where I started.

    Yesterday I retired from the BC Archives and the Royal BC Museum.  I’m quite sure that will be coming back the archives again, to research projects of my own.  But after many decades working behind the scenes, I will once again be a visitor – pausing just outside the fence, waiting to see what happens next.



    Another fence painting outside the construction site. (Terry Duffy photo; private collection)

    Another fence painting outside the construction site. (Terry Duffy photo; private collection)



    I really like this film sequence for what it reveals about women’s roles in the paid workforce. So much footage of this period focuses on the work of men. Women, when they are shown, are invariably depicted in the domestic sphere, caring for the needs and the comfort of their families. So it is unusual to have this insight into the world of work outside the home.

    This work is obviously physically demanding; these women don’t have desk jobs. They would need to be strong, capable of standing all day operating equipment, and of working in a hot and humid environment. I was struck by how all the female workers wore uniforms to work in the laundry. I wonder if the employees were required to purchase the uniforms or whether they were supplied by their employer.

    Vancouver filmmaker Alfred E. Booth (1892-1977) shot footage of various businesses in the Kamloops area. It isn’t clear if these businesses hired him to do this or if he was working on his own initiative—shooting the footage with the hope of being able to sell it to the business owner. Loose strips of title frames attached to this compilation may indicate the titles of proposed or completed films related to this and other footage: “Kamloops – the Hub City of B.C, and on into the Spectacular Clearwater Country”; “Lake and River Fishing for the Sporty Kamloops Trout”; “By Packhorse and Canoe beyond the Scenic North Thompson River”. He may have had a larger project in mind. These segments of footage, including the White Way excerpt have been preserved in the archives as part of the Alfred E. Booth fonds. This sequence is part of the archival compilation reel “[Kamloops] : [footage and out-takes]“.

    NWp 641.5 B862 [front and back cover]

    NWp 641.5 B862 [front and back cover] CLICK TO VIEW ENLARGED IMAGE

    NWp 641.5 B862 [centre fold]

    NWp 641.5 B862 [centre fold] CLICK TO VIEW ENLARGED IMAGE

    This small undated pamphlet, 15 Favorite Recipes with Clover Leaf Pink Salmon, appears to be from the 1960s.  That’s a decade later later than the film footage we discussed in Part 1, but it carries on a similar tradition.  It is still possible today to pick up recipe sheets from grocery store displays, which is likely where this particular pamphlet would have been found.  I love the lurid pink colour of the paper, mimicking the flesh of the pink salmon it is promoting.  We can’t miss the connection between the paper colour, the words “pink salmon”, and the fish’s flesh.

    Each of the recipes is clustered around a common carbohydrate: “Take a can of Clover Leaf Pink Salmon and _____”.  You filled in the blank with your choice of carbohydrate — biscuit dough, bread crumbs, pastry, potatoes, rice, cracker crumbs, or macaroni.  They are simple recipes with few ingredients, and they rely on processed foods such as canned vegetables, canned shoestring potatoes, and the (infamous) canned cream of mushroom soup.

    I find the inclusion of the price per serving instructive.  Many of the dishes cost less than 25 cents per serving; the per-serving cost ranges from a low of 9 cents for “Salmon Potato Cakes” to a whopping 28 cents for the “Skillet Supper”.  The convenience of canned salmon, and the fact that cans could be stored safely without need for refrigeration, probably made the product attractive to the consumer.  I don’t know how many women would have prepared the more elaborate salmon dishes demonstrated in Part 1’s filmed cooking class, but my own experience in the early sixties attests to the fact that middle-class mothers really did make salmon fish cakes and salmon loaf as regular dinner offerings.

    The recipes included in this pamphlet are far more practical than those presented onscreen in the film Silver Harvest.  The Salmon Potato Cakes, for example, were probably a standard reliable main dish on many Canadian dinner tables.  They were quick to prepare and cook, utilized a common leftover (mashed potatoes), and could easily be stretched to accommodate an extra person at supper. In my childhood, they appeared for supper with astonishing regularity.  While they weren’t my favourite dish, I knew that there were far worse horrors that could appear in their place.

    When I worked in the archives’ reference room, providing access to materials like this little pamphlet, I always felt that a key value in our archival records was that they allow us to reconnect with the past.  Sometimes that past is a more general historical past — and sometimes is part of our own very personal past.

    by Dennis J. Duffy and guest Chantaal Ryane (Digital Access Specialist, Archives, Access & Digital)

    The above video clip comprises edited excerpts from the promotional film Silver Harvest, produced by Trans-Canada Films for British Columbia Packers in 1951.  The last half of the 21-minute film is devoted to a staged cooking demonstration that shows four ways of preparing and serving Clover Leaf canned salmon.


    Cooking demonstration scene from “Silver Harvest”. (Video frame grab from V1988:10/011.03 item #1)

    Margaret Henderson, Daily Province columnist and radio host of "Province Kitchen". (Video frame grab from V1988:10/011.03 item #1)

    Margaret Henderson, Daily Province columnist. (Video frame grab from V1988:10/011.03 item #1)






    The on-screen presenter, Margaret Henderson, wrote a regular cooking and homemaking column for the Vancouver Daily Province, and also hosted “The Province Kitchen”, a radio program heard on CKWX Vancouver in the 1940s and 1950s.  (The archives holds 22 episodes of the latter, preserved on audio disc or tape.)  In the film, Margaret demonstrates the preparation of four meals, each using a different variety of canned salmon.


    Salmon Loaf. (Video frame grab from V1988:10/011.03 item #1)

    Salmon Loaf. (Video frame grab from V1988:10/011.03 item #1)

    1. Baked Pink Salmon Loaf (“with swirls of whipped potato and green peas”):

    DD:  “Frankly, the word ‘loaf’ just isn’t very appealing in this context.”

    CR:  “My mother used to make salmon loaf, too, even though we lived on the prairies.  But I can tell you, she couldn’t have been bothered to pipe whipped potatoes out of a pastry bag to make it look nice.  And in the 1960s, we’d never have had a fresh lemon on hand to waste as a garnish.  And what’s with that moat of green peas?”

    DD:  “What do you think about the amount of starch here?  I mean, do we need cooked macaroni AND whipped spuds?”

    CR:  “Can you HAVE too much starch?  It’s a cold-weather meal, and it would stick to your ribs.  And probably your thighs and hips, too!”


    2. Coho Salmon a la King (in toasted bread cups) —

    CR:  “Creamed salmon in a toasted bread cup.  With hard-boiled eggs, cream sauce, and more of that delicious canned salmon.  What can I say?  ”

    DD:  “Would any woman really serve this to her girlfriends when they dropped over?”

    CR:  “Well, I wouldn’t.  But that’s because I LIKE my girlfriends.”

    DD: “But they say it’s full of nutrients.”

    CR: “If you like your nutrients mashed up and spooned over dried bread.”


    Jellied Salmon Salad. (Video frame grab from V1988:10/011.03 item #1)

    Jellied Salmon Salad. (Video frame grab from V1988:10/011.03 item #1)

    3. Sockeye Salmon in a Molded Jellied Salad —

    CR:  “Wow.  Where to start?

    DD:  “Well, maybe with the whole idea of salmon salad molded in the shape of a fish.”

    CR:  “Well, it’s in the great culinary tradition of jellied salads.  You know the type — a box of any-flavoured Jell-O; some combination of celery, chopped ham, tinned mandarin orange segments; and grated cabbage.  And a handful of Kraft miniature marshmallows.”

    DD:  “People would pile that on their Melmac plates and heap lavish praise on the woman who made it.  It looks deadly.”

    CR:  “That glistening, shining aspic, mimicking the shining scales of a salmon — it’s really kind of off-putting.”

    DD:  “So are the sliced olives, meant to be scales or eyes.  Who wants a salad that looks back at you?”

    CR:  “And it’s worse when you know that the aspic contains vinegar, salmon juice, and gelatin. Mmmm — tasty!”

    DD:  “Salmon juice — yikes.”  [shudders with revulsion]


    4. The “Bachelor’s Special” :

    DD:  “This is a “quickie” meal, which basically involves opening a can of sockeye, breaking up the contents on a plate, and throwing some vegetables at it.  Oh, and pouring the narrator a cup of coffee.”

    CR:  “Expectations were pretty low for men in the kitchen back then.  Although he did have to arrange the tomatoes on top of the iceberg lettuce.”

    DD:  “And remember to dress it up with some parsley.  Left to his own devices, he’d probably eat it out of the tin, with his head over the sink!”

    CR:  “I’m not sure that the meal was meant to be made by the man, so much as something a wife could make quickly to feed Elmer when she went out for her bridge night.”

    DD:  “Of the four meals, this is the only one I could remotely imagine eating.  Or making.”

    * * * * *

    Two more BC Packers Limited film items of considerable interest are the 1950s-era Clover Leaf TV commercials that were found spliced onto the end of this print of Silver Harvest.

    For a look at more vintage salmon recipes, see Cooking with Clover Leaf — Part 2.


    "Clover Leaf Salmon, Fraser River Sockeye Salmon, Packed at Lulu Island, BC." The Clover Leaf name and trademark -- as shown on this can label from the early 1900s -- is still familiar to 21st-century shoppers.

    “Clover Leaf Salmon, Fraser River Sockeye Salmon, Packed at Lulu Island, BC.” The Clover Leaf name and trademark — as shown on this can label from the early 1900s — is still familiar to 21st-century shoppers. (BC Archives image I-61095)





    This home movie records a Sunday afternoon film screening at the Stanley Theatre on Granville Street in Vancouver on April 14, 1940.  The occasion was the ninth screening of the fourth season of the National Film Society of Canada, Vancouver Branch.  The footage was shot by Oscar C. Burritt and Milt Holden, two members of the society.

    The Vancouver Branch of the NFSC, founded in 1936, provided Vancouverites with a precious window into non-mainstream cinema — classic silent movies, foreign films, and documentary and experimental works.  Shortly after the 1940 screening shown here, the society ceased operations for the duration of the Second World War.  In 1946, under the leadership of Dorothy Burritt (nee Fowler), Moira Armour, Vernon Van Sickle, and painter Jack Shadbolt, the screenings resumed and attracted a new generation of film lovers.  One of these was the 18-year-old Stanley Fox, whose fascination with film inspired him to make his own amateur films, and led him to a successful career in film and television.

    In later years, the Vancouver Branch of the NFSC became The Vancouver Film Society, which operated until the mid-1970s.

    Here’s a guide to the contents of this unusual film document:

    0:07 – Brief shots of the program booklet for the screening.

    0:20 – Exterior views of the Stanley Theatre and Granville Street as people arrive for the afternoon screening.

    1:41 – The camera moves inside the theatre auditorium, and we see glimpses from two 1939 documentaries:

    • Finland Speaks, which depicts that country before and during the Russian invasion.
    • The Londoners, on the work of the London County Council, founded in 1886. This film was directed by John Taylor and produced by John Grierson for the Realist Film Unit and the London Commercial Gas Association.  By the time of this screening, documentary theorist Grierson had founded and was leading the National Film Board of Canada in its important wartime information work.


    3:10 – Intermission.  Audience members move out into the lobby or out onto Granville Street for a chat and a smoke.

    4:12 – Oscar C. Burritt, who shot most of this film, shows up in front of the camera — a balding genial individual who mugs for our benefit outside the theatre.

    4:41 – Back in the theatre for the feature presentation:

    • Vi Tva (1939), a romantic drama from Sweden.


    4:54 – The rather surprising title flashed on the screen briefly is Swedish for “The End”.

    4:58 – The audience leaves the theatre and exits onto Granville Street in the late afternoon light, climbing into their cars or walking away.


    This film is part of PR-1780, the Oscar and Dorothy Burritt fonds.  For more information about the Burritts, see my November 2013 blog post:

    Chinese opera scenes (Vancouver, 1944)


    Dorothy Burritt and Moira Armour light up during intermission at the Stanley Theatre, April 14, 1940. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1989:05/002.02 item #2)

    Film Society mavens Dorothy Fowler and Moira Armour light up in the Stanley Theatre lobby during intermission, April 14, 1940. Dorothy later married Oscar Burritt, an amateur filmmaker who later worked professionally for Vancouver Motion Pictures and CBC Television. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1989:05/002.02 item #2)

    This film footage, showing aspects of the Britannia Mine operations in and around Britannia Beach, B.C., was shot ca. 1926 by mine manager Carleton P. Browning.  It is one of the 43 film reels (about 7,100 feet) which comprise the Browning family fonds at the BC Archives.

    Mr. Browning’s amateur footage, shot between 1926 and 1941, mainly documents community life at Britannia Beach, including May Day and Dominion Day celebrations, picnics, skating parties, and other recreational activities. There is also considerable footage devoted to the Browning family and their friends. One reel, “PGE Quesnel Cariboo Mines” (1933) shows various mining operations and communities in the Cariboo Region. The fonds as a whole provides an interesting glimpse into the life of a self-contained mining community during the Depression.

    This reel, which Browning entitled “Industrial Britannia”, focuses on the mine and mining operations.  The description on the original film container read as follows:
    Lady Alexandra [Union Steamship vessel]. Freight wharf – scrap scow – shipping sound. Beach camp office – store – mill. Ore train. Tunnel camp. Mr. Whitaker (Mining Cons[ultant]) and Moore (Mine Supt.). Outise mining in Glory Hole. Whitaker and Moore at Barber Camp. Top of Britannia Mine. Smoke from blast and outside work. Miners coming off shift. Joggling down the track aboard a train. Ore train and big 40-ton loco[motive]. Ore train entering mill. Inside the mill – conveyors, rollers, tube mills, filters. Munto (Mill Supt.).  In the yard – whistle time, steno[graphers].

    The Browning family film collection was transferred to the archives in 1985-1987 by the B.C. Museum of Mining.

    Miners coming off shift at the Britannia Mine, ca. 1926. (Digital frame grab from V1989:48/001.01 item #3.)

    Miners coming off shift at the Britannia Mine, ca. 1926. (Digital frame grab from V1989:48/001.01 item #3.)



    Published by the Provincial Archives of British Columbia in 1986, Archivist Dennis J. Duffy’s book, Camera West: British Columbia on Film 1941–1965, documents 1,082 films or collections of films shot in BC during that 25 year period, which was important in the history of our province, as well as information on 252 pre-1941 films.

    Present-day film production in British Columbia has attracted a lot of attention. Local filmmaking is not a new phenomenon, however, but the continuation of an activity which has gone on in the province since the early part of this century. The west coast has had an eventful filmmaking heritage — perhaps more so than any other English-speaking region in Canada. This heritage has been largely ignored until recent years, when the revitalization of the Canadian film industry has sparked interest in our new cinema and in its historical precedents.

    The early development of filmmaking in British Columbia took place largely in isolation from the rest of Canada. Cameramen first came to film the province for the sake of its novel and photogenic landscapes, and to promote immigration and tourism. The first incursion of Hollywood film crews, in the 1920s, was also drawn primarily by the varied scenery available for outdoor adventure pictures. In the 1930s, they set up a branch plant here and made features of dubious quality, taking advantage of Canada’s membership in the British Empire to exploit the British quota restriction on imported films.

    Meanwhile, domestic film production developed separately, usually growing from existing photographic or advertising concerns. British Columbia’s first locallybased commercial cinematographer was A.D. “Cowboy” Kean, who got his start in movies filming the Vancouver Exhibition and the departure of troops for Europe during World War I. Later, he shot wildlife and industrial films, as well as an original feature. Kean’s ambitious and indefatigable efforts to sustain himself as an independent producer, even financing feature production through his commercial work, are suggestive of the conditions still faced by today’s filmmakers.

    There was also considerable interest in amateur filmmaking, arising from Kodak’s introduction of the 16mm film format for non-professional use in 1923. People embraced home movies as eagerly as they had snapshot photography, recording the special and commonplace events of their domestic and working lives. Where such footage has survived, it often provides a rich and intimate viewpoint on life in British Columbia in the early decades of this century. The advent of the 16mm format also paved the way for the broader promotional use of film; it made the medium cheap enough for companies to commission short movies about their products or services. Government agencies and other public institutions found 16mm film effective for nontheatrical distribution and exhibition.

    During the years 1941 through 1965, films about B.C. were generated by a variety of institutions and producers. Agencies of the British Columbia government made promotional and educational films, largely dealing with the province’s scenic and recreational attractions and industrial versatility. The federal government’s National Film Board documented the history, economy, rural life and cultural heritage of the province, as well as preparing recreation and travel shorts. Commercial filmmakers such as Leon Shelly and Lew Parry were commissioned by local and national firms to record and promote a wide range of industries, particularly their rapid postwar development. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, through its television film unit at CBUT Vancouver, created an important body of uniquely regional social
    documentaries and dramatic films. A few theatrical features were shot locally by American companies and by fledgling domestic concerns.

    The history of filmmaking in British Columbia revolves almost exclusively around production based on the coast, usually in Vancouver. By 1941 the earlier prominence of Victoria as a film centre had clearly been eclipsed by the larger city. There were exceptions, of course: some Vancouver filmmakers went into other regions of the province for their subjects; National Film Board crews came in from the east; and the provincial government’s operations remained based in Victoria. Nevertheless, the clear majority of films were conceived and assembled in Vancouver.

    The west coast — particularly Vancouver — has emerged since World War I as a gathering place for people interested in the arts. Due to its relative isolation, the cultural life that has developed in B.C. has done so separately from, but in parallel to, that of eastern Canada. By the 1940s, the region had made noteworthy contributions to Canadian painting, literature, music, theatre, photography and broadcasting. This is sometimes attributed to a cultured English presence in the form of well-educated British immigrants, or to a cosmopolitan aspect that developed as Vancouver became a crossroads for trade to the Pacific Rim. Whatever brought it about, this cultural milieu engendered many Canadian talents; it was only natural that a film community should develop as well.

    The two decades following World War II saw the emergence of such a community, fostered in part by the industrial growth that characterized the period. The proximity of Hollywood was another key factor, for it proved an invaluable source of technical expertise. Filmmakers were inspired by the work of American and British producers. They served their apprenticeships at local studios, gaining valuable experience through work on industrial films. Some would later find a more personal voice through work for the CBC or the NFB. This would lead to a growing stream of independent filmmaking, one of the most important legacies of the period. The best films owed their quality to a small group of talented directors, cinematographers and editors. It was these individuals that made all the difference to filmmaking in Vancouver; yet it was the limitations of Vancouver that ultimately forced many to leave in search of better creative conditions. This was another legacy of the period.

    Read more.

    In June 2015, my archives colleague Katy Hughes posted a blog item with photographs of “Cranbrook Ed”, a circus elephant who escaped and was re-captured near Cranbrook, B.C., in 1926.

    This video clip, an excerpt from a home movie in the Allan H. DeWolf film collection, shows the day of Ed’s departure from Cranbook to rejoin the Sells-Floto Circus in California.

    Here’s how the day’s events were reported 90 years ago, in the Cranbrook Herald of 23 September 1926:


    With the departure of the noon train on Sunday the curtain was drawn on the elephant episode which has made Cranbrook the centre of attraction for the past six weeks. The day for the departing elephant was a most interesting one. Soon after a big breakfast at the Arena Rink in which he was quartered during his stay in Cranbrook, Charlie Ed, as he was then known, was led across the lots to the shrubbery in front of the Mount. Baker Hotel, where he was obliged to stop and have his picture taken, to the Royal Bank, where, finding Manager Marsh at home, they obtained his permission to use the front of the bank premises for the big event of the elephant’s career, his re-christening. At about 8:30 Charlie Ed took his place on the sidewalk in front of the bank and in the presence of a number of citizens Mayor Roberts poured a bottle of real honest-to-goodness champagne over his head, at the same time declaring his name to be henceforth, “Cranbrook Ed,” instead of “Charlie Ed.” This was done at the request of Mr. Orville F. Stewart, Assistant Manager of the Sells-Floto Circus Company, in recognition of the good work done by Mr. Ironsides, trainmaster of the C.P.R., for the company in connection with the recovery of the lost elephants, as well as to serve as a token of the esteem which the Sells-Floto Circus held for the people of Cranbrook generally. Doubtless when he reaches his mates in California he will take much delight in telling them of the wonderful time he had at the christening and of the events which followed.

    The christening over (as everyone thought) a presentation to the winning lady in the Cranbrook Gyro Club auto contest then took place. Mayor Roberts, having kindly consented to make the presentation, asked Miss Marie Patterson to come forward. Standing in front of Cranbrook Ed, His Worship complimented her on the excellent work which she had done, and asked her to accept with her order for the $200 wardrobe, a bouquet of flowers. In his most gracious manner the mayor was handing the flowers to Miss Patterson when the newly christened [Ed], apparently thinking that he could show His Worship how such presentations should be made, grabbed the flowers and making a pass with them to his mouth, as if to eat them, then waved the bouquet on high, much to the surprise and delight of those present, then he dropped them at the feet of the honored young lady, who picking them up made suitable acknowledgement to both His Worship and Cranbrook Ed. The next stop in the triumphal march was at the Victoria Cafe, where he was the guest of the proprietor, Mr. Geo. Anton, for breakfast. Here, standing in front of the cafe. Miss Lopeter of the Victoria staff, brought out a tray bearing some delicacies, which, judging from the manner in which he proceeded to relieve the tray of its burden, was much to his liking. This was Cranbrook Ed’s last meal in the city of his adopted name. At the cafe as well as at the other points of stop, pictures were taken of the proceedings by J. G. Bennett; these it is expected will be on view on the screens throughout the country. From the cafe the march was to the C.P.R. depot, where Mr. Ironsides purchased a ticket for Cranbrook Ed., writing a cheque for $1,200.00. For this, Ed got a whole baggage car to himself in which to ride all the way to San Francisco, where the Sells-Floto Circus is now showing. Here he will join Tillie, doubtless telling her about the sad fate of Myrtle and the wonderful send-off from Cranbrook, [and] how he stayed over with the consent of Manager Stewart to help out at the Cranbrook fall fair.

    For more home movie footage shot by Allan H. DeWolf, see Cranbrook celebrates Dominion Day (1927).

    "Ed" and his entourage, including Mayor Roberts (centre) and Miss Marie Patterson (right). (Digital frame grab from V1985:30/001.02 item #1)

    “Ed” and his entourage, including Mayor Roberts (centre) and Miss Marie Patterson (right), Sunday, 19 September 1926 (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1985:30/001.02 item #1)

    This video clip is an excerpt from a film item catalogued as “British Columbia Sketches: [reel 8]”.  It shows the Yankee Girl Gold Mine at Ymir, B.C., including the ore car rail system, dumping of tailings, the aerial tramway carrying ore down the mountainside to the concentrator, and some processing and office scenes.  The film was shot around 1940 by Lester G, Morrell, who managed the mine from 1937 to 1942.

    For more information about this film, see the BC Archives’ online description on AtoM.

    Concentrator and overhead tramway at Yankee Girl Gold Mine, Ymir. ca. 1940. (Digital frame grab from V1999:02/003.02 item #2)

    Concentrator building and overhead tramway at Yankee Girl Gold Mine, Ymir. B.C., ca. 1940. (Digital frame grab from V1999:02/003.02 item #2)

    The Webster! Show on BCTV had several opening sequences through its nine season run.

    The longest running version seems to tell a story:

    Our intrepid reporter meets his long suffering assistant, Brian Coxford, to do a little bit of ambulance chasing. Having collected the film crew they head to the scene, and then visit the hospital to interview the victim and the people that saved his life.

    Thanks to a visual cue and the information from a very helpful person, the scene can now be set.

    The 1980 season added this master shot at the end of the intro.


    Here is the screen grab:


    Webster is standing on the corner of Hornby and Georgia.

    Here is the discussion of the “tip” The Vancouver Art Gallery grounds are in the background.


    And off they go to the scene of the accident.

    Where the scene is set:

    AAAA6972_scene set

    The police control the scene.


    The patient is treated.


    And taken away.


    Afterwards, Webster interviews various people at the hospital.


    But Where Oh Where was the scene of the accident?

    My thanks to Greg Firth of Redden Net Custom Nets Limited who helped clarify things:

    “Hi Bruno

    Yes that is at 1638 W. third what you see in the background is the truck with the logo on it.

    Best regards

    Greg Firth”

    He writes later

    “That was Redden Net head office at that time. Truck was parked in the loading bay.”

    The loading bay clue was the final piece of the puzzle.

    Vancouver is renowned for its alleyways. The scene of the accident was not on West Third, it was in the alley between Third and Fourth!

    And now, the present day scene.

    Where the scene is set.

    AAAA6972_scene set_GM

    Click to view present day scene

    The police control the scene.


    Click to view present day scene

    The patient is treated.


    Click to view present day scene

    And taken away.


    Click to view present day scene

    My Thanks again to Greg Firth.

    According to Elisa Newton, another helpful person at this company, Redden Net has now expanded to three companies:

    Redden Net & Rope Ltd.

    Redden Net Custom Nets Ltd. (Vancouver)

    Redden Net Custom Nets Ltd. (Vancouver Island)

    The above video clip shows downtown Cranbrook, B.C., on July 1, 1927, when local area residents turned out to mark the 60th anniversary of Canadian confederation.  Led by three Mounties on horseback, the parade includes a marching band; a firetruck; floats representing the Native Sons of Canada, the Mothers and Daughters of 1867, and the Canadian Legion, as well as some local businesses; a contingent of First Nations (probably Ktunaxa people from the St. Mary’s Band); Cubs, Scouts and a girls’ group; and children who ride decorated bicycles or push a boy-powered flivver.

    Although footage of local parades is by no means rare in home movies, this item is unusual in two aspects.  For one, it records the parade from two different angles.  At 2:30 in the clip, where the parade seems to start over from the beginning, the camera position has changed to the other side of the street, and we see many of the same parade highlights again from this new position.  The second unusual aspect is its relatively early date.

    The Allan H. DeWolf fonds includes some of the earliest home movie footage in the BC Archives collection.  The 16-millimetre film format, which was the first practical motion picture format for amateur use, had been introduced in 1923, and Mr. DeWolf started shooting his own movies around 1926.  This footage depicts family activities, aspects of his professional work, and life in the East Kootenay Region from 1926 to 1935.

    Allan Hatch DeWolf (1887-1967) was born in Mora, Minnesota, and emigrated to Canada in 1907 or 1908.  He earned professional designations as a B.C. land surveyor (B.C.L.S.) and engineer (Canadian Institute of Forestry). In Cranbrook, with Arthur M. Ham, he formed the DeWolf and Ham Construction Company. Their work included road and mine construction and surveying. DeWolf also became recognized as a specialist in the design and construction of log flumes. Between 1919 and 1935, among other notable projects in B.C. and Alberta, he built the B.C. Spruce Mills flume in the Moyie River valley at Lumberton, B.C. Between 1935 and 1951 DeWolf lived in Timmins and Aroland, Ontario, where his activities included designing and building flumes for Abitibi Pulp and Paper in Quebec. In 1950 he returned to British Columbia as manager of Nicola Valley Sawmills in Merritt B.C., and supervised the building of its new mill. In 1957 he retired from the lumber industry and set up his own business (DeWolf and Leggett) as a surveyor, which he carried on until retiring in 1962. He was an early proponent of a new highway through the Coquihalla region. Allan DeWolf died in Merritt, B.C. at age 80, in 1967.


    Mounties lead the Dominion Day parade in Cranbrook, 1927. (Digital frame grab from V1985:30/001.01 item #5)

    Mounties lead the Dominion Day parade in Cranbrook, 1927. (Digital frame grab from V1985:30/001.01 item #5)



    In the late 1930s, Vancouver filmmaker Alfred E. Booth (1892-1977) visited the BC interior several times to record the sights and scenery for use in his travel films.  On a visit to Kamloops, he filmed the operations of Silver Tip Bottlers, a local firm at 375 Lorne Street that bottled and distributed soda pop.  The sequence shows up on the archival compilation reel “[Kamloops] : [footage and out-takes]“, one of 39 reels that make up the Alfred E. Booth fonds in the BC Archives film collection.

    Workers are shown sterilizing the pop bottles before filling them, presumably with one of Silver Tip’s two flavours — lemon and lime.  Boxes of the bottled pop are delivered to Antonio Bordignon’s grocery store, located (just down the block, apparently) at 338 Lorne Street, where two little girls look on with great interest.  At the end of the sequence, the delivery man pops the caps on two bottles and presents them to his young admirers.

    Two young ladies of Kamloops enjoy Silver Tip sodas, ca. 1937-39. (A video frame grab from )

    Two young ladies of Kamloops enjoy Silver Tip sodas, ca. 1937-39. (A digital frame grab from V1995:01/013.01)

    The BC Archives recently acquired two photographs of Yukon Joe.  They were taken around 1950 by Kenneth Katzalay on the John Hart Highway near Prince George.  Katzalay was working for the RCMP at that time and some local cabins had been broken in to recently.  Although a man walking down the highway carrying a rifle wasn’t a particular concern then, when Katzalay saw Joe, he took a few photos of him, apparently just to let him know that he was keeping an eye on him.  As this was 60 years before the invention of iphones, he used his camera loaded with ANSCO colour slide film.

    The slides and the story were handed down to Katzalay’s daughter who brought the slides in earlier this year.

    I was really excited to acquire these two photographs.  Although Yukon Joe was well known in the Prince George area for his prospecting and his painting, there are very few records either about him or created by him.  We do have his smoke scented diary, called “Prospectors diary book of the adventurs” which the BC Archives purchased in 1963 for $75. See an image of the diary here:

     In 2010 we were lucky enough to acquire one of his paintings; it was found in a thrift store by a Prince George resident and donated to the Archives.  We also have two unusual photographs taken around 1962 which, although taken outside, are strangely posed and taken for unknown reasons.

    The two slides from 1950 are the earliest photographs I’ve seen of Joe.  In them, you can see his dogs, his gold pan and rifle. Although the colour has faded over the years, the red of his cap and jacket are still apparent.

    Our photographer Shane, did a beautiful job of copying the slides and they are available for viewing in our online catalogue.  Search for “Yukon Joe” in our catalogue to see descriptions of all the records by or about him.







    Jack Webster was an icon of Vancouver and British Columbia News reporting.

    His legacy includes video recordings of his entire Webster! show which aired on BCTV (CHAN – Channel 8) for nine seasons from 02 Oct 1978 through 03 Apr 1987.

    Shortly after the last show aired, Jack Webster and BCTV* donated the videos for all his shows to the BC Archives.

    The show originally aired from 9AM through 10:30AM on BCTV. For a period of years a half hour excerpt was rebroadcast on Victoria’s CHEK Channel Six at midnight.

    The final regularly scheduled 90 minute show was broadcast on 27 Mar 1986. The last season of Webster! was reduced to one hour and moved to the 5PM broadcast slot.

    Long before then the iconic phrase that Jack Webster used to announce upcoming shows was embedded into the cultural memory of BC’s news junkies.

    The 1982 opening sequence emphasizes this by opening with an image of the Vancouver Block clock at 736 Granville Street set at “9AM precisely”.

    Putting on the show.

    Prior to each show a one hour U-matic tape began recording for the entire hour. It was swapped out at 10AM for a 30 minute tape. At the end of the show, they were labeled by the date and recording order. If special guests or events occurred during the show they were identified for possible future use.

    One such note even used Webster’s famous phrase to identify the cue .


    The Royal BC Museum is in the process of digitizing a large portion of these shows. Part of the process involves editing the original one hour and thirty minute videos and combining them into a cohesive whole.

    No-one tended to the original recordings while the show was on the air. Because of this, the recording included the off air time as the commercials were airing. In most cases, sound engineers turned off the stage microphones. On occasion they were turned on for a brief time to check sound levels and the like. In other cases, upcoming video segments or title cards were cued up for use in future segments of the show.

    The Royal BC Museum maintains digital master copies of the entire recordings as part of the Archiving process. Making these shows available to the public involves an editing process which removes the dead air time (where nothing is recorded on the original video) while ensuring that the on air portion, as well as the material recorded during the commercial breaks, is captured in its entirety.

    One example that shows how helpful this can be is in the episode that ended the 1981-1982 broadcast season. The 02 Apr 1982 show begins with an hour long interview with Premier Bill Bennett. The final segment of the interview begins with Jack Webster smiling at something before he takes a telephone call for the premier. The off air recording shows what the cause of the smile was.

    This was in preparation for the final part of the show which can be seen here.

    Another example where knowing what happened off air is useful occurred during the lead up to Expo 86. As a corporate Sponsor, BCTV was closing each Webster! Show with a “Number of days to go” countdown. It appears the recording of the announcer used for this particular day’s segment was unavailable. This clip shows the preparation and result.

    You can now watch an “ever expanding list” of Webster! episodes which includes “never before seen or heard” “behind the scenes” parts of the show. Simply visit the Royal BC Museum YouTube channel and click on the Webster! Playlist.

    *Officially donated by Jack Webster Productions Ltd. and British Columbia Television Broadcasting System Ltd. – acquisition notes.

    The above link will take you to an essay co-written by Myrna Cobb and archivist Dennis J. Duffy for B.C. Studies (no. 52, Winter 1981/82). It appeared in a special issue entitled The Past in Focus: Photography & British Columbia, 1858-1914. In the introduction, guest editor Joan M. Schwartz wrote:

    “The CPR recognized the need to populate the province and it devoted one facet of its advertising to portraying the railway as a civilizing and colonizing force. Once again, photography played a key role in these and other efforts to “sell” the province. Views of extensive orchards and abundant harvests were more than record images — they were visual arguments. Where the emigrant guides of the 1860s could offer only glowing accounts of colonial life and the occasional wood-block engraving, half-tone technology permitted turn-of-the-century advertising campaigns to publish photographic proof of their enthusiastic descriptions. [This essay] looks at the use of photographs in the boosterism of the land boom years. In an examination of illustrations of the Okanagan, Cobb and Duffy address the larger issue of image and reality in photographic depictions of the province and bring together several themes that surface elsewhere in this special issue — the persuasive power of the visual image, the manipulative effect of a selective portrayal, the Victorian faith in photographic truth, the nineteenth-century obsession with material progress, and the filtered reality of published illustrations.”

    Despite its age — 35 years! — the article makes some interesting points about how photographs of the Interior were used to present an attractive, idealized image to potential settlers.

    This research later sparked Dennis’s interest in British Columbia government travelogues of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, which are the subject of his essay “Highways and Hyperbole” and the Royal BC Museum’s first DVD publication, Evergreen Playland: A Road Trip through British Columbia (2008).

    Highways & Hyperbole: British Columbia Government Travelogues, 1940 – 1970

    From Evergreen Playland: A Road Trip through British Columbia, DVD insert.

    Evergreen Playland presents a road trip through British Columbia, based on travelogue excerpts from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. It invites you to journey through what is becoming a lost world – one of the long car trips on two-lane highways, of holidays at resorts and dude ranches, of visits to farms and orchards, of cowboys, miners and small-town beauty queens, of regattas, rodeos, soap-box derbies and (countless) parades.

    Admire the colourful scenery. Enjoy the nostalgic glimpses of period automobiles, steam locomotives and airliners. Chuckle at the overstated (and sometimes wacky) period narration.

    The DVD’s seven chapters highlight key areas of the province, including: Vancouver Island; the Fraser Valley; the SImilkameen and Boundary country; the West Kootenays and Slocan; the Big Bend Highway and the East Kootenays; the Okanagan Valley; the Fraser Canyon and Cariboo; and the Peace River, Bulkley and Skeena regions of northern BC.

    Evergreen Playland draws on 19 British Columbia government travelogues int he moving images collection of the BC Archives. The compilations were presented at the “Mighty 90 Drive-in Theatre” at the Royal BC Museum, as part of the sesquicentennial exhibition Free Spirit: Stories of You, Me and BC, March 2008 to January 2009.

    99 minutes, sound, colour
    DVD Compiled and edited by Dennis J. Duffy
    A Royal BC Museum Production
    DVD ©2008 by the Royal BC Museum
    Thanks to the Strong Cinema Products division of Ballantyne of Omaha, Inc., for permission to use the “Mighty 90” name and emblem.

    Aerial archives

    Image I-03188, Aerial view of new Archives building, ca. 1977.  “Spirit” in pond.

    In 1965 the Department of Public Works began to build the complex known as Heritage Court at the corner of Government and Belleville Streets in Victoria.  Heritage Court was built using Federal and Provincial Centennial funds to provide facilities for both the new Provincial Museum and the Provincial Archives of British Columbia.

    Early in the planning stage it was decided that the site should contain works of art by British Columbia artists done in the general design theme of “Man and Nature”.  A sub-committee chose 28 works including screens and murals, carved wooden building doors and massive works of sculpture.

    Four of the exterior sculptured pieces still stand today and I am lucky enough to be able to see one of them from my office window.

    This piece is called “Spirit” and it was created and cast in bronze by Elza Mayhew in 1964.  It was displayed at the Venice Biennale in the Canadian Pavilion and then made its way back to British Columbia via exhibits at Ottawa and Prince Edward Island.

    I haven’t been able to track down exactly when it was finally installed in the Archives pond, but it was probably around 1971.

    Before reaching the pond, “Spirit” spent some time in Elza Mayhew’s studio and was one of her many pieces that provided the basis for a paper rubbing.  The rubbings were done by Isamu Akino, a Japanese artist who created them by laying pieces of wet Japanese paper on the front, back and tops of the sculptures.  The paper was then formed around the relief portions of the sculpture and rubbed with charcoal or some other agent, to produce a raised paper cast.  Once dry, the paper rubbing was mounted onto a paper and wood frame.

    We were recently lucky enough to acquire a mounted rubbing showing the front view of “Spirit”.  This generous gift from the Mayhew family has given us a new view of the beautiful bronze sculpture more than 50 years after its creation.

    My colleagues Kay (Preservation Specialist) and Cindy (Exhibit Fabrication Specialist) have designed and created a special padded aluminum rail and clip system to safely hold the work in the art vault.

    Spirit Cindy secures the rubbing in its custom built aluminum rail and clip system

    I have described the rubbing as PDP10261 and you can see it in the BC Archives collections search here:


    The above clips are theatrical advertising trailers that would have been seen in Vancouver cinemas between about 1928 and 1937.  They were advertisements produced on film for screening to movie audiences; this was an exhibition trend during the silent film era and well into the sound era.

    The first two trailers came to the BC Archives in 1982 from the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner.  They’re on a reel of 35 mm film, which probably ended up at the Fire Commissioner’s office after someone found it and thought it might be on cellulose nitrate film stock, which is highly inflammable.  The archives received three 35 mm reels in all from the Fire Commissioner as accession F1982:10.  (The film items on those reels are described on-line in our AtoM system.)  Through careful testing by our technical staff, it was established that all of the material was on acetate (“Safety”) stock.

    [Marriage fable] and East Side vs. West Side are both printed on film stock manufactured in 1928; they came with no other documentation.  They were retained by the archives and described as representative examples of silent theatrical advertising trailers, source unknown, that had found their way to BC.  Years later, when I was taking a closer look at the original films, it occurred to me that they might have been produced locally in Vancouver.  Sure enough, both of the commercial firms mentioned in the trailers — Restmore Manufacturing Company and John Watson Limited — turned out to be the names of Vancouver companies.  That being the case, it’s safe to assume that they were made by a Vancouver production company named Motion Skeenadz Limited.

    Motion Skreenadz, originally operated by J. Howard Boothe and Harry Rosenbaum, was founded in 1920 to make advertising trailers like these.  A related company, Vancouver Motion Pictures Limited, was started in 1928 to provide film lab and technical services; both companies were based in the Film Exchange Building at the corner of Burrard and Davie in downtown Vancouver.  In 1936-37, businessman Leon C. Shelly took over both companies and began making promotional and industrial films for BC companies, the provincial government, and the National Film Board.  Many of Shelly’s employees would make important contributions to the development of the Canadian film and television industries.*

    The third trailer shown here, known as [Pacific Milk advertising trailer: “Why?”], was made by Motion Skreenadz around 1937.  It shows some progress in the Skreenadz product, since it was shot with synchronized sound on a studio set.  The design of the piece, starting with an on-screen announcer and moving to a scripted dialogue with actors, represents a more sophisticated approach than the simple, “shot-on-the-fly” stories of the earlier trailers.  The archives’ video master of “Why?” was copied from a 35 mm nitrate print loaned in 1987 by Lew Parry, who succeeded Leon Shelly as B.C.’s leading producer of industrial films in the years 1945 to 1977.  Parry directed “Why?”, and he is shown at work in a fascinating production still from the shoot (below).

    The Pacific Milk ad is followed by 47 seconds of edited silent footage of a fashion show, with women modeling expensive furs.  This may have been yet another Motion Skreenadz advertising trailer, possibly made to promote a Vancouver furrier such as Pappas Furs or G.L. Pop.

    In later decades, theatres continued to show “coming attractions” trailers as part of each movie program, but this form of advertising (i.e., for products outside the cinematic realm) gradually disappeared from the program — along with the regular newsreels, cartoons, and travelogues that used to accompany each feature film.  Theatrical advertising reappeared in the 1990s and is now a regular part of most commercial movie screenings; the ads are pretty much identical to TV commercials, and they’re something we all have to sit through before we can see the “feature presentation”.

    These vintage trailers, however, were something different.  They offered more of a “soft sell”; their makers attempted to tell little stories, and they highlighted the sponsor’s product almost as an afterthought.

    * Dennis J. Duffy, Camera West: British Columbia on Film, 1941-1965 (Victoria: Provincial Archives, 1986), pp. 11-12.

    Preparing to shoot the Pacific Milk advertising trailer “Why?” at the Motion Skreenadz Limited studio, ca. 1937. From left to right: script girl Evelyn Buckley (later Mrs. Parry); director Lew Parry; producer Leon Shelly (in the chef’s hat); cameraman Wally Hamilton. A microphone can been seen suspended over Parry’s head, just out of the view of the camera. [BC Archives photo from accession 91-1410, container 911410-0004, file 12; donated by Lew Parry]

    Another photo taken on the same set and the same day. Left to right: Lew Parry, Leon Shelly, and cameraman Mel Parry (Lew's brother). [BC Archives I-61631; donated by Lew Parry]

    Another photo taken on the same set and the same day. From left to right: Lew Parry; Leon Shelly; cameraman Mel Parry (Lew’s brother). [BC Archives photo # I-61631; donated by Lew Parry]





    Here are some more examples of Corporate Christmas cards taken from 920334-0001 (Vertical files).

    This one is from the Bank of Montreal in Nelson, B.C. The front of the card consists of the Bank of Montreal coat of arms but inside there’s a charming woodcut print showing Arthur H. Buchanan striding manfully through the snow to help bring the Nelson branch of the bank to the people.



    Next is a beautiful colour drawing of a BC Hydro generating station. I can’t tell if this is taken from a real site or if it’s more of an artist’s representation of what the new BC Hydro sites were going to look like. The card is signed by Hugh Keenleyside for BC Hydro and Power Authority and is dated 1968. Perhaps this generating station was intended for the High Arrow Dam near Castlegar? Since the dam was later named the Keenleyside dam, it’s seems fitting.

    Update January 19, 2016:

    My colleague Dennis Duffy pointed out that this is actually the Gordon Shrum generating station at the W.A.C. Bennett dam.  An Ottawa Citizen news story from last year has a nice photo, see




    Hugh Armstrong of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway sent this next card to the Press Gallery. The image on the front of the card seems to suggest that the PGE was a real people’s train, connecting with those living in the hinterland, especially at Christmas.



    And finally a local Victoria bookstore sent out some lovely Christmas cards that also worked as an advertisement. Included in each card was a piece of history, a page from a real book to enjoy at your leisure. The Haunted Bookshop moved from Victoria to Sidney a few years ago and it’s still a charming place to visit.




    At this time of year we often receive Christmas and other holiday cards from banks, shops, newspapers and other businesses.
    The BC Archives is lucky enough to have a nice little collection of Christmas cards mostly saved by the local journalist and historian James K. Nesbitt. These cards lived for a time in our vertical (clipping) files. When the files were microfilmed in the 1980s, material not suitable for filming was removed and some of that material ended up in a box of files that we have saved in container 920334-0001.

    There are some good examples of Corporate Christmas cards in the files and I’ve scanned a few to show the range.
    The Vancouver Sun cards from the 1960s and 70s were quite inventive. I like this one, partly because the RBCM has a Jack Harman sculpture on its premises but also because it’s just an amusing image. The Sun’s publisher Stuart Keate had a whimsical sense of humour and he sent Nesbitt quite a few interesting cards.



    Here’s one from the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Victoria, probably from the late 19th century. The outside is elegant and plain but inside you can see the list of staff, perhaps in order of rank, as well as a photograph of the inside of the bank. They didn’t quite grasp the concept of laying out a card with all the elements oriented in the same direction or maybe the printer was rushed.



    Another one from the 19th century. I’m not sure what business this card represents because there is nothing on the back. It’s on a small sturdy piece of card, perhaps intended for use as a beer mat after the holidays…


    More Corporate cards to come.

    THE VICTORIA GAZETTE 25 November 1858 p.1


    Installation of the Government of British Columbia.

     New Fort Langley, 20th November 1858.

    Editors Gazette: – Yesterday, the birthday of British Columbia, was ushered in by a steady rain which continued perseveringly throughout the whole day, and in a great measure marred the solemnity of the proclamation of the Colony.  His Excellency, Gov. Douglas, with a suite comprising Rear Admiral Baynes, (commanding the naval forces on the Pacific Station) Mr. Cameron, the respected Chief Justice of Vancouver Island; Mr. Begbie, the newly appointed Judge of British Columbia, Mr. Lira, and others, proceeded on board H.M. ship Satellite, Capt. Provost, on Wednesday morning by the Canal de Haro to Point Roberts, where His excellency remained during the night. On Thursday morning His Excellency and suite were conveyed by the Hudson Bay Company’s screw steamer Otter to the Company’s steamship Beaver, which was lying moored within the mouth of Fraser river.  Both vessels then proceeded in company as far as Old Fort Langley, where the Otter disembarked a party of eighteen sappers under the command of Capt. Parsons, who immediately embarked in the Recovery revenue cutter, joining the command of Capt. Grant, R.E., who had previously reached the point with a party of the same corps.  Both these gallant officers have recently arrived from England with small parties of men under their command.  The Beaver then proceeded with His Excellency aboard to New Fort Langley, where preparations were made for the ceremonial of the following day.

    On Friday morning, the 19th inst., His Excellency, accompanied by his suite, and received by a guard of honor commanded by Capt. Grant, disembarked on the wet loamy bank of the Fort, and the procession proceeded up the steep bank which leads to the palisade.  Arrived there, a salute of 18 guns commenced pealing from the Beaver, awakening all the echoes of the opposite mountains.  In another moment the flag of Britain was floating, or to speak the truth, dripped over the principal entrance.  Owing to the unpropitious state of the weather, the meeting which was intended to have been held in the open air was convened in the large room at the principal building.  About 100 persons were present.

    The ceremonies were commenced by His Excellency addressing Mr. Begbie, and delivering to him Her Majesty’s commission as Judge in the Colony of British Columbia.  Mr. Begbie then took the oath of allegiance and the usual oaths on taking office, and then, addressing His Excellency took up her Majesty’s Commission appointing the Governor, and proceeded to read it at length.  Mr. Begbie then administered to Governor Douglas the usual oaths of office, viz.: allegiance, abjuration, &c.  His Excellency being thus duly appointed and sworn in, proceeded to issue the Proclamation of the same date (19th instant) viz.: one  proclaiming the act; a second, indemnifying all the officers of the Government from any irregularities which may have been committed in the interval before the proclamation of the Act; and a third, proclaiming English Law to be the Law of the Colony.  The reading of these was preceded by His Excellency’s Proclamation of the 3rd inst., setting forth the Revocation by Her Majesty of all the exclusive privileges of the Hudson Bay Company.  The proceedings then terminated.  On leaving the Fort, which His Excellency did not finally do until to-day, another salute of 17 guns was fired from the battlements, with even grander effect than the salute of the previous day.

    On leaving the river side, in front of the town, a number of the inhabitants were assembled with whom His Excellency entered into conversation previous to embarking on board the Beaver, and by whom he was loudly cheered in very good style as he was on his way to the steamer.   VIATOR

    “Ephemera  noun :  things that are important or useful for only a short time : items that were
    not meant to have lasting value” — Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary


    These 1950s-era commercials are excellent examples of early television advertising in British Columbia.  They represent a form of audio-visual ephemera — defined in Wikipedia as “transitory audiovisual matter not intended to be retained or preserved”.  Nevertheless, we at the BC Archives have chosen to retain and preserve these items.  They were found in 1985, spliced onto the end of a print of Silver Harvest, a much more comprehensive documentary about the B.C. salmon industry.

    Keeping Silver Harvest was an obvious choice; it was a Vancouver-produced film, made in colour and with sound, about an important B.C. industry, running just over 20 minutes. (We’ll look at an excerpt from it in a future blog post.)   But why keep the TV commercials, each only 60 seconds long?

    Look at the first commercial, which relies heavily on simple drawings; basic motion has been added by zooming or panning.  I find the artwork charming, and the minimal sound effects add some gentle humour:  the “nattering” sound of the women’s tea party, the gunshots that signal a TV western, and the music-and-narrator homage to Jack Webb’s Dragnet —  “And for a quick snack, ma’am.”

    The second commercial starts with a classic musical tag:  “Favourite brand throughout the land, Clo-ver Leaf  — Clover Leaf canned seafoods!”  This ad emphasizes pictures of the salmon cans, and one of them (somewhat startlingly) “contains” the image of a smiling hostess with her serving dish and candles.  True to the gender politics of the time, the women do all the food preparation, but the sandwiches are “MAN-SIZED!”

    Like the best collectible ephemera, these two commercials show and say a lot about the time in which they were made.



    Video frame grab from commercial #1


    Video frame grab from commercial #2





    Milestone Films trailer for 2008 restored version of “In the Land of the Head Hunters”


    On Thursday, November 12th at 5:00 PM (PST), Turner Classic Movies will be screening “In the Land of the Head Hunters”, a pioneering ethnographic film shot in 1914 by Edward S. Curtis on the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island. TCM will be showing the 2008 restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and Milestone Films.  This version also features the original 1914 orchestral score in a new recording by Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble.  This will be a rare opportunity to see Curtis’ film on TV.

    Learn more about the film in this TCM programming article.

    Great resource for anyone working with various types of museum or archival collections including digital.

    On Tuesday October 27th myself and a co-worker attended our first ever BC Museums Association conference…and we also had to give a daunting 90 minute presentation! Luckily for us the attendees were a great group of supportive colleagues who seemed really engaged and at the end they asked many questions (and we were able to answer them all)! The presentation was about our Transcribe site which allows the public anywhere in the world to look at our images of old letters and diaries and transcribe them so the handwritten documents become machine readable – in other words searchable through the search function on our Transcribe page. Check out our collections online and maybe you’ll want to transcribe, but I warn you it gets pretty addictive!

    By guest blogger
    Chantaal Ryane
    Archives Access Technician

    I love this clip of the Fraser Valley bookmobile.  It reminds me of my own experiences with the bookmobile operated by the Saskatoon Public Library during the late 60s and early 70s.  Bookmobiles didn’t just service rural communities—they brought the world of books to communities on the outer edge of suburban areas.  In Montgomery Place, for example, we didn’t have sidewalks and other suburban amenities, but we could rely on regular visits from the bookmobile. It brought library services to patrons who might not be able to manage the longer trek to a central branch, and offered library outreach without the higher cost of a physical branch library.

    I always remembered which day it would visit, and I can clearly recall the warm and enthusiastic welcome of the librarian inside.  An early love of libraries and books, fostered by friendly librarians and welcoming libraries, really influenced my career path. One of the most pleasant moments of my workday is the opportunity to roam through the stacks of the library collection at the BC Archives.

    October is Canadian Library Month.

    The BC Archives also holds some photographs of the bookmobile operated in the 1940s by the Vancouver Island Union Library.

    As you may already have discovered, advanced search is not just an upgraded basic search. Basic search has features which are lacking in advanced search and which may make it a preferred option depending on your search and on your display preferences.

    Basic search is accessed from the search box (shown below) found on the top right hand corner of almost all the search pages.

    Archives search box

    Advanced search is accessed by clicking on the link below the basic search box (see above) and looks like this.


    Search logic

    When you enter more than one term into a search box, be it the basic search box or one of the advanced search boxes, the terms are searched separately, i.e. only one of the terms needs to be present in the record descriptions, although they may contain more than one or even all of the terms. This is a default OR search. To require that all terms be present the AND operator must be used between terms. For an exact match (phrase search) use quotation marks.

    Boolean operators within a search box must be in uppercase: AND, OR, NOT. Complex search logic can be used in any search box, basic or advanced, as well as wild cards (* and ?).

    Other than the Identifier field in Advanced Search, it does not matter whether upper or lower case, or both, is used.

    Search filters

    Only one filter in each filter category can be selected.

    Results display

    Fifty (50) record descriptions per page are displayed. The bottom of each page, if there are more than 50, shows what range of record descriptions is being displayed.

    When an individual record description is clicked the full display is the same regardless of whether basic or advanced search is used.



    Basic search

    •Cannot search specific fields – all searchable fields are searched
    •Cannot limit search to a specific material type (e.g. textual records, graphic material [visual records], moving images) – all material types are searched
    •Type-ahead feature shows possible matches, including those in the Names, Places and Subjects well as in the descriptions, with the option of selecting one of the matches by clicking on it. (Note: currently this does not always work for the Names, Places, and Subjects but it can be useful to see what comes up.)

    Advanced search

    •Can search by one or more pre-defined fields, e.g. Title, Name, Identifier, as well as all fields, i.e “Any field” which functions the same as a basic search (note: some searchable fields can only be searched in an “Any fields” search, e.g. the General notes field.)
    •Can limit search – before it is executed – to a specific level of description, to a specific material type, and/or to descriptions with digital images attached (see Filters below).

    Search filters

    Basic search

    •Filters only display after a search is executed, and provide a breakdown by name, with the number of search results each is linked to.
    •Clicking on a filter automatically limits search results to those meeting that criterion. Clicking on a filter in another category automatically further limits the search results.
    •Can limit to top-level descriptions regardless of level (everything that is not linked to a higher-level description such as fonds, series and even some items) as well as by specific level.
    •Can filter by name of creator (top 10 only).

    Advanced search

    •Can set search filters before a search is executed as well as after a search but must click on Search button to redo search.
    •Cannot limit a search to top-level descriptions as a category. Clicking on the box shows a drop down list of mostly fonds and some series descriptions.
    •Filters are by type. A drop-down list of all possible options is displayed for each category. Clicking on an option may yield zero results.
    •There is no post-search breakdown by for each category type.
    •Search results can be limited to descriptions with digital objects attached.
    •Subject, name and place are search fields rather than filters.

    Results display

    Basic search

    •The total number of results is displayed at the top of each display page, together with the search term(s) and the number of digital objects with an option to display only the digital objects, as shown in this example.
    •No print icon on results page but can use browser print function.

    Advanced search

    •The search box(es) with search term(s) and logic display at top of the search results on each results page.
    •The total number of search results only displays if there are more than 50 hits, i.e. more than one page. This displays at the bottom of the page.
    •A print icon appears on the results page.


    Basic search

    I find the basic search useful when I am interested in a breakdown by description level to get a sense of the number of higher or lower level record descriptions and quickly view the results for each level. The same applies, to a certain extent to the people, organizations, subjects and places involved. However, since only 10 are displayed, if there are more than 10, those of interest may not display.

    The type-ahead feature can also be useful in seeing what pops up in terms of possible search terms.

    The results display shows me right away how many results there are and how many have digital objects attached. At the moment this means primarily images but textual records, sound recordings and video is also being added. If the number of images in the filter column (Media types) is less than the number of digital objects, clicking on the images filter will quickly bring them up.

    Advanced search

    I use advanced search for the following types of searches:

    I am looking for something very specific and searching by field(s) will eliminate irrelevant results, e.g. a certain television episode such as the Webster episode on the archives.  A basic search on WEBSTER AND ARCHIVES produces 1300 hits (the same number of results as an Any field search) whereas limiting webster to the Name field and archives to the Subject field yields one.

    I am looking for only certain material types, e.g. sound recordings or moving images.

    I want to limit my search to only higher level descriptions (usually the series level to access the pdf finding aid found in many series level descriptions) or to only item or file level descriptions.

    I am searching by call/catalogue (aka Identifier) numbers and don’t want to be bothered to enclose them in quotation marks, especially if there are more than a few. I also only want the highest level description, not all the lower level descriptions which are produced when a basic search is executed, e.g. the latter yields over 3000 hits for a search on “gr-1372” while an Identifier search on GR-1372 yields only 1 record, the series level description with the finding aid.

    Ultimately the search method choice is up to you and what works best for the kind of searches you are doing.  For more information about basic and advanced searches see the Search Guide.

    Next: Photographs


    Old search engine homepage

    Some 20 years ago the BC Archives launched its first remote electronic access to information about and images of its historical visual records. Searchable textual records descriptions and vital records indexes were subsequently added, as well as a library catalogue, sound recording descriptions, moving image descriptions and a cartographic records catalogue. The site was expanded and upgraded in 2002 but ultimately it began to show its age and limitations. Technology had advanced and it was decided that a new collections management system and online interface were not only desirable but necessary.

    Now the “blue and white” search site that has served researchers around the world almost as long as Internet Explorer has been around, and longer than Google, is being retired, having hung on long enough to see its successor launched. Our tech people are surprised that the UNIX server it lives on has lasted this long. As of today, when you try to access the old site you will be redirected to the new search site. It is far from perfect, but so was the old site, especially in its first few years. Please be patient and give it a chance and if you have questions or comments do not hesitate to contact us.


    This colourful footage of the Mission Strawberry Festival shows visitors arriving in Mission by train and being greeted by a novelty band; the excitement of the soapbox derby; and the celebrated festival parade, which features girls’ drill teams, as well as children riding decorated bicycles and tricycles.  Mission hosted the Western Canada Soapbox Derby Championships from 1946 to 1973.  For more information on the history of the Stawberry Festival, see this page on the Mission Museum website.

    The above clip comprises edited excerpts from King for a Day: The Annual Strawberry Festival, Mission, BC, a promotional film produced in 1949 by the BC Government Travel Bureau’s Photographic Branch.  For a description of the complete film, see BC Archives AAAA1048.

    Excerpts from this and other BCGTB travelogues of the 1940s and 1950s are featured on the RBCM DVD release, Evergreen Playland:  A Road Trip through British Columbia.


    Cheering on the soapbox derby racers, Mission Strawberry Festival, 1949.

    Cheering on the soapbox derby racers, Mission Strawberry Festival, 1949.

    Tricycle-riding fruit in the MIssion Strawberry Festival parade, 1949.

    Tricycle-riding fruit in the MIssion Strawberry Festival parade, 1949.




    During the Second World War, the BC Government Travel Bureau launched an ambitious program of in-house film production.  The Bureau’s Photographic Branch shot 16 mm colour footage on Vancouver Island and throughout the southern Interior.  This material would be fashioned into a series of colour-and-sound travelogues highlighting the province’s major regions and local attractions.  Most of these films were finished and released in the early postwar years, when the filming program was also extended to northern and central BC, the Hope-Princeton Highway, the Alaska Highway, and the route of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.

    One of of the earliest wartime productions was The Okanagan Valley: British Columbia’s Orchard Playground (1943-47).  The edited excerpts in the above clip include scenes from Kelowna and Summerland, with glimpses of Peachland and Naramata.  They highlight the Kelowna Regatta and the packing of apples by female workers at a packing house.  For a description of the complete film, see BC Archives AAAA2464.

    Excerpts from this and the other BCGTB travelogues of the 1940s and 1950s are featured on the RBCM DVD release, Evergreen Playland:  A Road Trip through British Columbia.


    Kelowna. Aquaplaning On Okanagan Lake, 1943.

    Kelowna; Aquaplaning On Okanagan Lake, 1943. This photo was taken by the Travel Bureau crew while shooting footage for “The Okanagan Valley”. (BC Archives I-29928, detail)



    As a wise man once wrote:  “Film archivists see so much footage of parades that they can quickly lose their novelty.”

    What can I say?  I’m a film archivist, and it’s footage of a parade.

    But to be fair, there are some really clever and creative floats on display here.  A lot of thought has gone into the design of the civic and corporate entries.  And the film provides a glimpse of Canada’s beloved marathon swimmer, Marilyn Bell, riding on a very snazzy car.


    Video frame grab from V1991:29/001.03 item #2 (BC Archives).

    It was Vancouver’s first opportunity to host the Grey Cup — although the Edmonton Eskimos and the Montreal Alouettes were the the clashing titans in 1955.

    In keeping with the time of year, Santa Claus puts in an appearance.  And look — his elves are riding on outriggers, which are shaped like footballs!


    Video frame grab from V1991:29/001.03 item #2 (BC Archives).


    Video frame grab from V1991:29/001.03 item #2 (BC Archives).

    This footage was shot by Vancouver photographer and filmmaker Thomas W. Whitefoot (1891-1986).  To see descriptions of other Whitefoot films and footage in the BC Archives film collection at the RBCM, click here.


    This interesting amateur film footage, shot by Francis Barrow, shows a trip to the Kootenay Lake and Lardeau area in the West Kootenay region, around 1939.  The video copy shown here has been edited to highlight three sequences.

    The first section (0:10 – 1:16) comprises scenes from a train journey on the CPR’s Kettle Valley Express, from McCulloch (southeast of Kelowna) to Nelson.  There are good shots of winter scenery, and of some very large steam locomotives.

    The second section (1:16 – 2:28) shows glimpses of the voyage up Kootenay Lake by sternwheeler, with stops at Kaslo (1:28), a beach landing (1:33), Argenta (1:44), and Lardeau (2:21).  Waiting at the Lardeau stop is a small train pulled by Motor Car M600 (a Ford Model B Truck on flanged railway wheels), which carried passengers and freight on the CPR branch line between Lardeau and Gerrard.  Here’s a clearer image:



    Motor Car M600 at Gerrard CPR station, 1932. (BC Archives NA-10992 [detail])

     The third section (2:28 – 3:32) shows the CPR sternwheeler Moyie docked at Lardeau, and then departing for the return voyage south.

    Francis J. Barrow (1876-1944) and his wife Amy (Bradford) Barrow (1880-1962) emigrated to Canada at the turn of the century and looked for land in the Kootenays.  They lived in the Gulf Islands before settling in Sidney in 1906.  Mr. and Mrs. Barrow spent many summers cruising the West Coast in their boat Toketie.  During these trips they recorded and collected First Nations culture and artifacts, some of which they later donated to Canadian and British museums.  The BC Archives holds the diaries, logs, and movies of their coastal voyages.  To see archival descriptions of the Barrow films, click here.  The Barrow papers (on microfilm) are described here.



    S.S. Moyie on Kootenay Lake, ca. 1920s. (BC Archives D-08073 [detail])


    This unusual footage shows excerpts from a Chinese opera performance at a theatre in Vancouver’s Chinatown.  It was filmed from the audience seats (in at least three different camera positions) on February 8, 1944.  The footage was shot by Vancouver filmmaker and cinephile Oscar Burritt.

    In these edited excerpts, the first section (0:10 – 1:31) appears to have been filmed from the front row of the theatre.  The major characters are recorded, along with some telling facial expressions — but the the lens is almost too close to the action.  The actors often crowd the edge of the frame, and when they work downstage, they tower over the camera.  Because of the low light levels, the lens’s depth of field is extremely shallow, resulting in some rather soft-focused shots.  Burritt changes position, taking a single too-brief shot of the view from the balcony seats (1:32 – 1:35).  He then moves to the right side of the auditorium, where he has a better angle on the action.  The film ends abruptly as two of the actresses seem to step out for their curtain call (2:14).  The onstage orchestra is seen briefly (at 0:53 and 1:50), and there are a few glimpses of people looking on from backstage (at 0:40 and 1:41).

    Besides shooting this unique footage, Mr. Burritt also processed the exposed film himself, probably using a homemade rack in his bathtub.  He recorded the processing details on the original film container, shown below:  “Chinese Theatre Negative / Dupont 300 / Exposed Feb. 8, 1944 / Developed Feb. 19 / in buffered borax D76 / time 30 minutes Temp 69 deg[rees].”


    Original container of the Burritt film, F1986:38/001 (from photocopy)

    Twenty-five years later, when Mr. Burritt was working for CBC Toronto, he presented classic film screenings on the program Cinema Six.  In his introduction to Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1948), he recalled his personal interest in Chinese theatre:

     “One of the things in this film which you will find unique, because it doesn’t seem to exist anymore:  when the sailor escapes from the courtroom and runs away, he runs into San Francisco’s Chinatown — which is, like that of Vancouver, gradually receding into the past.  And so the sailor hides in the theatre, and you see the performance on the stage.  Now, this was of particular interest to me because, when I grew up in Vancouver, we had three theatres in the Cantonese tongue.  I have here a few pictures which you might like to see, of some of the great stars of the past of the Chinese opera. . . .”

    Actors and orchestra on stage (from V1990:06/001.02 item #2)


    Actor (from V1990:06/001.02 item #2)


    Actress (from V1990:06/001.02 item #2)


    Details of stage makeup (from V1990:06/001.02 item #2)


    The opera audience (from V1990:06/001.02 item #2)

    “These were taken in the theatre at the foot of Columbia [Avenue] in Vancouver, which no longer exists, of course.  So, when we look at Lady from Shanghai, we can remember that it shows things that are even now disappearing. . . .” *

    * Note:  These comments, like the above images (which show still photographs taken by Mr. Burritt) are from our video copy of the film clip [Oscar C. Burritt introduces The Lady from Shanghai] (CBC, 1969), V1990:06/001.02 item #2, description AAAA2510.

    * * *

    Oscar Chamberlin Burritt (1908-1974) began making creative and interesting amateur movies in the late 1930s, often collaborating with his wife, Dorothy (Fowler) Burritt (1910-1963).  Keen enthusiasts for the art of cinema, the Burritts were very active in the Vancouver Film Society, which brought foreign and “art” films to local audiences.  By 1943, Oscar was steadily employed as a cinematographer for Vancouver Motion Pictures Limited, one of the city’s pioneering production companies.  Before long he was directing industrial films like The Herring Hunters (1945), as well as shooting and directing the documentary shorts that VMP produced under contract for the National Film Board.  (For example:  Tomorrow’s Timber, 1944; Salmon Run, 1945; Of Japanese Descent, 1945.)  In 1947, Dorothy and Oscar moved to Toronto, where Oscar initially worked for Shelly Films before joining the staff of CBC Toronto in 1950.  The Burritts were also active in the Toronto Film Society, and Dorothy helped to found the the Canadian Federation of Film Societies.  At the Canadian Film Awards in 1963, they shared a special award for their “pioneering work over three decades” in promoting film appreciation in Canada.

    The BC Archives holds other films and footage by Oscar and Dorothy Burritt.  To see archival descriptions of these items, click here.


    Oscar C. Burritt on "Cinema 6", Toronto, 1969

    Oscar C. Burritt on Cinema Six, Toronto, 1969
    (from V1990:06/001.02 item #2)



    To commemorate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, here’s an ideal piece of film from the BC Archives collection.

    On Tuesday, May 8, 1945, citizens of the the allied powers celebrated V-E Day, which marked the final victory over Nazi Germany.  The plans for Victoria’s local observances had been finalized in mid-April, in anticipation of the German surrender.  At 6:36 AM on Monday, Victoria residents tuned to CJVI Radio had heard the official news of the end of  the war in Europe.   The following afternoon, amateur filmmaker George F. Lowe went out to take part  in the festivities, and took along his 8 mm movie camera.

    He arrived at the corner of Douglas and Fort Streets some time before 2 pm.  People would soon be lined up “ten deep” all along the route of the victory parade.  Eventually, he picked a spot on the east side of Douglas — between Fort Street and View Street, across from the David Spencer department store — and captured scenes from the parade.  Afterwards, he followed the crowds to Beacon Hill Park, where an outdoor service of thanksgiving would take place.

    My description of Mr. Lowe’s footage has been supplemented with details from coverage in The Daily Colonist and the Victoria Daily Times.

    0:10   The camera looks on as people gather to watch the parade.  Some (who may also have cameras) are already standing on car bumpers or stepladders.  (Initially, Mr. Lowe’s view is obscured by the backs of heads; by 0:53, however, he has found a better vantage point.)

    0:36   Several minutes later, the parade is well underway, and the Victoria Girls’ Drill Team marches by.  Each member of the team is carrying a small flag — either Canada’s Union Jack, or the Stars and Stripes of the U.S.A.  Three months later, this very popular drill team would also march in Victoria’s V-J Day Parade.

    0:53   Two girls in traditional costume, carrying Norwegian flags.  Immediately behind them is a contingent of Russian Canadians, with banners for three ethnic cultural groups: the Ukrainian Canadian Association, the Russian Canadian Federation, and the Workers Benevolent Association.

    1:08   More flags precede a unidentified marching band.  (Can anyone tell us who they might be?)

    1:22   A large delegation (“more than 100”) from Victoria’s Chinese community, carrying flags of the allied nations.

    1:38   A cluster of vehicles marks the end of the formal parade.  The camera pans right to show the huge press of people, as onlookers surge onto Douglas Street to join the procession.  According to the Colonist‘s report of the day’s events, this was the largest crowd ever seen on a single Victoria street.  City Hall and the Hudson’s Bay store can be seen in the distance.

    1:54   Two fragmentary street shots, possibly showing friends encountered in the crowd.

    1:57   At around 3 pm, a crowd is gathering in Beacon Hill Park for the thanksgiving service.  In a single 23-second shot, the camera pans from the flagpole at the top of Beacon Hill, down the hill to the football grounds at the end of Niagara Street; some houses at Douglas and Dallas are visible in the background.  Here the footage ends.



    Another view of the Beacon Hill Park service on V-E Day.  (BC Archives I-20522 [detail]; Frank Boucher photo)


    Mr. Lowe had only part of a 50-foot film roll (about 3.75 minutes per roll) to capture the day’s events; he had already used about 1.5 minutes worth to shoot images of the local apple blossoms.  His footage provides an intriguing but incomplete picture of the victory parade.  While it includes some definite highlights, it misses out on a few scenes one might really wish had been recorded:

    1.  The 33-piece Royal Canadian Navy Band, marching in a “V” formation at the head of the parade.
    2.  Representative units from all branches of the armed forces — including the women’s division from each service.
    3.  Hundreds of First World War veterans, who joined the parade at Humboldt Street, falling in behind the Victoria Girls’ Pipe Band.
    4.  A contingent of Victoria’s Girl Guides and Brownies.
    5.  The actual start of the Russian Canadian group, “led by two marchers holding high a picture of Joseph Stalin”.  (!!!)

    These “missing” shots notwithstanding, Mr. Lowe’s 2 minute and 11 second glimpse of V-E Day in Victoria is a unique and valuable record of a key moment in local (and world) history.  We are fortunate to have it in our collection.



    This poster was displayed by Victoria area merchants who closed for the V-E Day holiday.  (BC Archives I-01070; Duncan Macphail photo)


    George F. Lowe (1888-1978) worked from 1936 to 1951 as a construction foreman on marine radio installations for the federal Department of Transport.  While on his field visits to D.O.T. facilities on the B.C. coast, Lowe filmed the construction of radio masts, buildings, and lighthouses, as well as coastal communities, shipping, and other maritime activities.  The George F. Lowe fonds at the BC Archives, Royal BC Museum, comprises 26 reels of 8 mm footage (totaling about 204 minutes), largely focused on the above subjects.  For an example of this material, see my previous blog post, Visiting a Shipwreck (near Pachena Point, 1944).  For a full list of the films in the George F. Lowe fonds, click here.


    Front page of The Daily Colonist, May 7 1945, Extra edition

     Front page of The Daily Colonist, May 7 1945, Extra edition. (Reproduced from microfilm)


    On the west coast of Vancouver Island, folks from the community around Pachena Point Lighthouse walk east along the Pacific shore to visit the wreck of the Russian freighter Uzbekistan.  On April 1, 1943, it was en route from Portland to Seattle to pick up war supplies for the USSR, and went off course due to a sizable navigational error.   The Uzbekistan ran aground on a reef near the mouth of the Darling River and had to be abandoned.  The area’s rough seas and frequent storms gradually battered the ship to pieces.  The deterioration of the hulk was already quite advanced when this film was shot in mid-1944.

    The story of the shipwreck is told in the book Stranding of S.S. Uzbekistan, U.S.S.R., on the West Coast of Vancouver Island by Richard E. Wells (Courtenay, B.C.:  E.W. Bickle, 1974).

    This 8 mm footage was filmed by George F. Lowe (1888-1978), who worked from 1936 to 1951 as a construction foreman on marine radio installations for the Department of Transport.  While on his field visits to D.O.T. facilities on the B.C. coast, Lowe filmed the construction of radio masts, buildings, and lighthouses, as well as coastal communities, shipping and other maritime activities.  For another post based on footage by Lowe, see Victoria celebrates the Victory in Europe.  To see a full list of the films in the George F. Lowe fonds at the RBCM/BC Archives, click here.


    (Digital frame grab from V2012:01/013.02)

    (Digital frame grab from V2012:01/013.02)


    This newsreel contains three vignettes covering various aspects of Canadian life.  The first and third items are about British Columbia, and here are the NFB descriptions:

    Ball Stars Start Young [first item]: In Vancouver’s Little League, baseball players, diamond and equipment are junior size, but not the boys’ coaches or the eagerness of teams and fans.”

    A Railroad Goes to Sea [starting at 6:56 in the above clip]: Swapping steel rails for ocean waves is routine for British Columbia’s Pacific Great Eastern Railway, travelling the forty-mile leg between Vancouver and Squamish by railway barge.”

    NOTE:  The rail barge journey shown in the third item was replaced by a train trip in 1956, when the PGE completed its rail line from North Vancouver to Squamish.


    Film archivists see so much footage of parades that they can quickly lose their novelty.  However, this particular example is full of interesting and unusual sights.  It’s a wartime military parade in Vancouver, showing Canadian and U.S. troops, women’s military units, civil defence personnel, and propaganda floats — as well as tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, and examples of munitions.

    The above clip consists of edited excerpts from the source film.  Some of the highlights include:

    0:17        A military band –- not marching, but riding in jeeps!

    0:36        American M3 Medium Tanks zip through the frame.

    0:51        A large mobile searchlight, no doubt used in Vancouver’s anti-aircraft defences.

    1:10        A women’s military unit, probably from the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.

    1:54        Trailers bearing various types of aerial bombs.

    2:02        Another women’s unit –- possibly “WDs” from the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division, or “Wrens” from the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service.

    2:11         Propaganda floats with portraits of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    2:20        Banner for “North Vancouver Shipyard Workers”.  (Are they the musicians in blue coveralls in the next shot?)

    2:28        ARP (civil defence) personnel, followed a Victory Loan banner.

    The film ends with a very brief shot (at 2:35) of a propaganda display.  Led by a banner that reads “Do you want this?”, the display depicts “slaves” towing a chariot marked with a swastika and guarded by “German soldiers”.  (In this edited version, the shot has been repeated in slow-motion, so these details can be better seen.)

    The footage excerpted here was shot by local photographer and filmmaker Thomas W. Whitefoot (1891-1986).  To see descriptions of other Whitefoot films and footage at the RBCM/BC Archives, please follow this link:

    A thoughtful documentary about the role of a weekly newspaper, and its relationship with the community that it serves.   The paper is The Vernon News, and the town depicted is Vernon, in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley.  The film shows how the newspaper’s contents are fashioned from the atmosphere, incidents and concerns of a small town.  22 minutes.

    “Following the weekly editor of one such hometown paper for a day, the film tracks the local events that will be news tomorrow.  In town, we meet the people whose names are scattered through the pages: the mayor and his hope of a new city hall, the local angler who breaks a record, and even the lacrosse team, sharing spectators with the band concert in the park.” (from the NFB’s online catalogue description)



    “Ice?  Curling?  Watermelon?

    A light-hearted (if not downright surreal) look at Nelson’s Summer Curling Bonspiel, as featured in the travelogue Kootenay West (BC Government Travel Bureau, 1944-1945).  The clip concludes with an homage to Okanagan watermelon — a sequel, of sorts, to the sequence shown in a recent blog post, “Different Melons”: Osoyoos, B.C. (ca. 1945).

    Incidentally, all of these BC government travelogue clips are included in the DVD Evergreen Playland: A Road Trip through British Columbia (RBCM, 2008).

    For an archival description of the Kootenay West film, see


    “Ice? Curling? Watermelon?” (Digital frame grab from the RBCM DVD Evergreen Playland)












    Summer Curling Bonspiel parade, Nelson, BC, 1945.  (BC Archives I-27280, detail.)


    This unusual sequence is an edited excerpt from an 8 mm silent amateur film, shot in 1933 by Arthur S. Sutcliffe.  Entitled A Flying Visit to Garibaldi: A Story of Modern Mountaineering, the source film shows members of the BC Mountaineering Club flying from Vancouver to Garibaldi Lake, where they climb Mount Garibaldi, rest at the summit, and descend back to the lake.

    In the sequence excerpted above, the aircraft takes off from the lake and flies the club members back to RCAF Station Jericho Beach, which then served as Vancouver’s seaplane base.

    The climbers’ day trip to Garibaldi was made possible by the Sikorsky S-38, an amphibious flying boat.  This particular S-38, registered as “CF-ASO”, was operated on the west coast by Canadian Airways from 1932 to 1934.

    For an archival description of A Flying Visit to Garibaldi, see


    CF-ASO, the Sikorsky S-38 amphibian owned by Canadian Airways, parked on land, 1932. (BC Archives G-00308, detail.)

    CF-ASO, the Sikorsky S-38 amphibian featured in the above clip, is shown here parked on its retractable landing gear, 1932.  (BC Archives G-00308, detail.)


    The most interesting part of this wartime NFB documentary starts at 11:52 in the above clip, and deals with air-raid and civil defence preparations in Canada, focusing on the example of Vancouver.  The Vancouver segment (about 6 minutes long) includes footage of blackout precautions, the local ARP headquarters, the role of air raid wardens, emergency planning, first aid classes, warning sirens, air raid and gas drills, fire-fighting exercises, and RCAF defence aircraft.

    Here’s the NFB’s on-line catalogue description of Banshees: “This newsreel documentary made during WWII was used to illustrate Britain’s preparations for an air attack. Scenes depict destruction wrought by enemy planes, the efficiency of retaliation by the Royal Air Force and the precautions taken in Canada against possible air attack.”

    The B.C. footage was filmed by Vancouver Motion Pictures, a locally-owned production company that shot or produced a number of NFB titles during the 1940s. The Vancouver crew included director Ed Taylor and cinematographer Oscar Burritt (1908-1974).  The BC Archives at the RBCM holds other films and footage by Oscar Burritt and his wife Dorothy.  Keen enthusiasts for the art of cinema, the Burritts were very active in the Vancouver Film Society, and also made some creative and interesting amateur movies.  Oscar later worked for CBC Television in Toronto.  To see archival descriptions of the Burritt’s films, click here.

    Frame grab from the NFB film, found on-line.

    Vancouver fire-fighting drill from “Banshees Over Canada”.



    This eye-popping tribute to melons (both modest and monstrous) is an edited excerpt from the BC Government Travel Bureau travelogue Okanagan Valley: British Columbia’s Orchard Playground (1943-1947).  To read a description of the whole film, click here.

    The BC Archives also holds some Travel Bureau photos of zucca farming and processing.  These b&w stills were taken when the film was being shot, and show some of the same scenes.  The archival photos can be viewed via this link.

    Incidentally, this and many other BC government travelogue clips are featured in the DVD Evergreen Playland: A Road Trip through British Columbia (RBCM, 2008), which is available for purchase at the Royal Museum Shop.


    Melons_still_0001          Melons_still_0003

    An interesting documentary snapshot of British Columbia at the end of World War II, Gateway to Asia also includes a segment on the wartime internment of Japanese-Canadians, and the confiscation of their property.  The contributions of other Asian-Canadian groups are also mentioned.  In addition, there is good archival footage of Vancouver, Victoria, and various critical B.C. industries.  The stentorian tones of narrator Lorne Greene (later Pa Cartwright on TV’s Bonanza) help put the message across.  10 minutes.

    “This short film highlights the province of British Columbia and its position after World War II. Located on the Pacific Coast, it is the gateway for those travelling to Asia and Russia and a vital link between the rest of Canada and its neighbours in the Far East. The film looks at British Columbia’s population, natural resources and industries along with some of its social issues.” (NFB online description)


    On its way to becoming the first jet airliner to circumnavigate the globe, this De Havilland Comet 3 visited Vancouver International Airport in December 1955.  Local filmmaker Alfred E. Booth captured its arrival.  Booth’s film collection is held by the BC Archives at the RBCM; the Comet footage was identified within a reel of unrelated film, described here.  [Video of Booth’s raw footage has been edited to create this clip.]

    Earlier versions of the Comet had a disastrous susceptibility to metal fatigue, due to fuselage cracks that started at the corners of the large square windows used on those versions.  The fatigue cracks were exacerbated by the craft’s repeated pressurization for high-altitude flights.  In early 1954, two Comets came apart in mid-air, with the loss of all souls on board.  The Comet 3, which featured smaller oval windows and other improvements, was sent on its round-the-world promotional trip to reassure the public of the jetliner’s safety.  But the accidents had permanently damaged the plane’s reputation, and it was soon supplanted by other jetliner designs, especially the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8.


    De Havilland Comet 3 jetliner at Vancouver Airport, 1955. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1995:01/011.02 item #1)

    De Havilland Comet 3 jetliner at Vancouver Airport, 1955. (Digital frame grab from BC Archives V1995:01/011.02 item #1)









    Off to School (NFB, 1958):  In the first item of this news magazine film, children from isolated fishing hamlets on BC’s Sunshine Coast travel to school via the Romany Chal, a sea-going school bus.  The stops shown include Pender Harbour and Whiskey Slough.

    “This Oscar®-nominated documentary short tracks the shift in the relationship of an individual to his work between the 19th century and today. Focusing on how nails are made, we first see a blacksmith laboring at his forge, shaping nails from single strands of steel rods. The scene then shifts from this peaceful setting to the roar of a 20th century nail mill, where banks of machines draw, cut, and pound the steel rods faster than the eye can follow.” (NFB online description)

    Phillip Borsos (1953-1995) was one of Canada’s best-known filmmakers.  His too-brief but eventful career produced some notable documentary shorts, including Cooperage, Spartree, and Nails.  He is well-remembered for his feature film debut, The Grey Fox (1982), as well as later features like One Magic Christmas (1985), Bethune: The Making of a Hero (1990), and Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog (1995).  The Phillip Borsos fonds, preserved by the BC Archives at the Royal BC Museum, includes many of his films, as well as his papers, scripts, storyboards, photographs, and film production records.  For an overview of this material, see PR-2086: Phillip Borsos fonds.

    For a useful short biography of Borsos, see The Canadian Film Encyclopedia.

    Eye Witness No. 63 (National Film Board of Canada, 1954):  This newsreel begins with a four-minute story on the final voyage of the Arrow Lakes sternwheeler Minto.  She is shown stopping at Robson West, Renata, and Halcyon Hot Springs.

    In spring and summer 2013, The Burnaby Village Museum is presenting a exhibit on the early days of radio in British Columbia.  The exhbit features a closed-circuit radio station (“Radio BVM”) that can be heard at various locations around the village, as if the sound is coming from the vintage radios displayed in the shops and homes.  On the exhibit’s opening day (May 4), I was interviewed by BVM curator Lisa Codd, and talked about early radio stations in the Vancouver area.  This BVM-produced YouTube video combines the audio from the interview (37 minutes) with still photos of the radio exhibit and other museum attractions.


    Vancouver filmmaker A.D. “Cowboy” Kean (1882-1961) was the first British Columbian to make a feature film.  89 years ago, on 7 May 1924, he shot the opening scene in downtown Vancouver.  His historical epic Policing the Plains was three and a half years in the making, plagued by financial and technical difficulties.  Sequences were shot around Vancouver, in the Cariboo, and at several locations in southern Alberta.  The film finally had its Toronto premiere in December 1927 — but it never went into general distribution, and is now considered lost.


    The RCMP’s “E” Division, grouped in front of the Vancouver Courthouse for the opening scene of Policing the Plains, 7 May 1924 (BC Archives H-01266)


    Margaret Lougheed as the symbolic figure “Britannia” (BC Archives H-01225)