60th anniversary of CBUT, Part 4 – Drama from the left coast

On this 4th and final installment celebrating the 60th anniversary of CBUT, we take a dramatic turn and look at a few interesting stories in the “long and honourable” history of television drama on CBUT (CBC Vancouver).

The recent series of CBC cutbacks and layoffs announced by CBC-SRC’s dispassionate president, Hubert Lacroix, were essentially the fatal blow at the end of a long slow death for all original (non-news) programming on CBC TV. There was a time (long, long ago) however, when the CBC was at the forefront of original programming.

Many Canadians (especially those of a certain age) will be familiar with the history of CBC-TVs documentary and music programming, however many may be unfamiliar with the history of its dramatic programming.

Production still from the set of Spectrum's - Some Days You Have To Hit Somebody (1958).

Production still from the set of Spectrum’s – Some Days You Have To Hit Somebody (1958). Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

Like much programming on the CBC, drama had its start on CBC’s radio service.  In it’s early years, CBC radio’s national and regional drama series featured the best of both domestic and international drama. This dramatic tradition continued on the small screen when CBC started its television service.

CBUT played a very important role in the early history of Canadian TV drama. In his publication for the BC Provincial Archives, Camera West: British Columbia on Film 1941-1965, media archivist Dennis Duffy notes that “Vancouver had nurtured important elements of the Canadian radio drama tradition, and there was considerable interest in television drama there”.

Mary Jane Miller states in Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Television Drama since 1952,  that “CBC television drama in Vancouver has [had] a long and honourable history, starting with good children’s programming like Hidden Pages“. The establishment of CBUT’s Film Unit in 1956 allowed CBUT to produce a number of significant documentaries and dramatic programs alongside the many studio shot productions. By 1957, CBUT was producing its own drama anthology series like, Spectrum, Pacific 13 and Studio Pacific, as well as contributing to the CBC network anthology of regional drama, Playbill.

Some readers may be familiar with CBUT produced dramatic series like Cariboo Country and The Beachcombers, but may not be familiar with (or have long forgotten) some of its earlier one-off dramatic productions. The story of CBUT television drama is so rich and full that one little blog post could hardly do it justice, I present instead the stories of four interesting notables:

Mercedes McCambridge and John McDonald in a scene from 'Some Days You Have To Hit Somebody'. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Still Photo Collection.

Mercedes McCambridge and John McDonald in a scene from Some Days You Have To Hit Somebody. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Still Photo Collection.

“Some Days You Have to Hit Somebody”, Spectrum, air date: July 17, 1958.  Writer – Len Peterson. Cast – Mercedes McCambridge, John McDonald, Rosemary Malkin, Ian Thorne, Sally Campbell and Gary Rogers.

The sensational title already makes this teleplay noteworthy, the addition of Hollywood actress Mercedes McCambridge is just the icing on the cake.

Writer Len Peterson said in an interview in CBC Times that “he liked to explore in dramatic form the relationship between the people involved”. For instance, one of his plays, he said “was a study of a man generally considered unworthy of her, but who yet finds something in him that she needs”. The name of that play was Some Days You Have to Hit Somebody which aired on the CBUT series Spectrum and starred Academy Award winning actress Mercedes McCambridge.  It is the tense story of a former New York newspaperwoman who has set aside her career for domesticity is married to a man (John McDonald) her visiting friends think is beneath her, both socially and intellectually. Rather modern themes for 1950s Vancouver television.

Mercedes McCambridge came to star in this CBUT production via her then husband, ex-Vancouver actor/producer/director Fletcher Markle who starred in the 1958 CBUT Spectrum drama, Joe Faceless.

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Patrick Macnee and Glenyss McDiarmid on the set of 'The Child Wife'. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

Patrick Macnee and Glenyss McDiarmid on the set of The Child Wife. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

“The Child Wife”, Pacific 13, air date: July 31, 1957.  Writer – Ian Thorne. Cast – Glenyss McDiramid, Patrick Mcnee.

The Child Wife, produced by Andrew Allen and starring local actress Glenyss McDiramid and Patrick Macnee (most famous for his role on The Avengers), aired on CBUT’s Pacific 13, Wednesday July 31, 1957.

According to an anecdote in an article of the July 1957 issue of CBC Times, Vancouver actor and writer Ian Thorne wrote a dramatic teleplay called The Child Wife, but he wasn’t happy with the dialogue so he was reluctant to show it to CBUT producer, Andrew Allen. He did, however, outline the plot to Allen, who thought it sounded like a good comedy. So, though originally conceived as a drama, The Child Wife, was later reworked into a comedy.

The two main actors in The Child Wife are Glenyss McDiramid as the ‘child wife’, whose school teacher husband won’t let her grow up and Patrick Mcnee as the famous young writer of lurid covered novels who arrives to live close by. Unfortunately, that is all we know about the plot, as a copy of the production no longer exists.

Five kinescope (or kine) prints were made on the telecast night to be distributed to the various stations.  Kinescopes were used to distribute copies of TV productions to the regions and affiliates which lay outside of the extent of the Mt. Seymour transmitter prior to the launch of the Anik satellites. Unfortunately, the distribution card indicates that at some point the kine negative was destroyed and only one positive print was kept. However, it also reveals that the final print was out “on permanent loan”, as authorized by CBUT’s then regional director, Len Lauk.

“Permanent Loan” is the bane of the CBC Vancouver Archives. As a primarily production based institution, once the prints were distributed and returned (in the days before satellites), they lost their production value and were occasionally were given away (“on permanent loan”) to interested parties. Back in the day when many people had access to a 16mm projector, this was a gesture, I suppose, of goodwill, as many permanent loans seem to have gone to participants or subjects of the various productions. My hope is one day these permanent loans will make their way back, and in some manner become accessible to Canadians again.

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'Moose Fever' cover of CBC Times featuring Don Crawford and Margot Kidder. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

‘Moose Fever’ cover of CBC Times featuring Don Crawford and Margot Kidder. Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

“Moose Fever”, Studio Pacific, scheduled air date: March 20, 1967.  Writer – Paul Wayne. Cast – Don Crawford, Margie [Margot] Kidder.

Moose Fever, a drama written by Montreal playwright Paul Wayne was produced and directed by Len Lauk for the CBUT drama anthology, Studio Pacific.  According to the March 1967 write-up in the CBC Times, Moose Fever tells the story of Larry Fraser (Don Crawford), a 35-year-old railroad porter who, while resting in his apartment one afternoon, is startled by a young woman who is attempting to enter his room through the window. After helping her in, he learns that her name is Bonnie Merrick (Margie Kidder) and that she and her father occupy an apartment in the building directly across from Larry’s. She also confesses that she has been secretly watching him for two weeks. At first, Larry is slightly amused by the young woman’s intrusion, but his amusement later turns to annoyance and finally terror [!] as she relates events from her past and her actions of the previous day. [Isn’t that plot outline intriguing?]

Moose Fever was Margot Kidder’s first major role, she was 18 years old. According to a an account from producer Len Lauk, [Margot] was “a natural actress and a truly great theatrical find”. While videotaping the play Lauk found that “Margie’s performance completely captivated everybody on the set – a rare thing among seasoned television crews”. Margot also appears in another Studio Pacific production called The Club Man before it seems she left Vancouver for Los Angeles via Toronto. It is interesting to note that none of her online biographies ever mention her acting debut in Vancouver on CBC.

Margie Kidder and Don Crawford on the set of the CBUT's 'Moose Fever', March 1967. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

Margie (Margot) Kidder and Don Crawford on the set of the CBUT’s ‘Moose Fever’, March 1967. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

Moose Fever was videotaped in the CBUT studios and, as was customary practice at the time, kinescopes of the production were made at the same time. The original 2″ videotape was long since wiped and reused (again, as was customary practice) and the kinescopes were never found. Since a copy was never found (thought destroyed), but the production was known, the CBC rumour mill was all a buzz. One such story was that at the last minute the production was deemed too racy to be shown, due to the age and race differences between the two leads.

Moose Fever was scheduled to air on CBUT on Monday, March 20 1967. However, despite all the rumours, a recent serendipitous discovery in binder labelled “CBUT Dramas” reveals that it did not air due to a dispute with the writer.

Further research in the CBC Vancouver archives produced a film production card, which indicated that one kine print and one videotape was made from the studio production which was filmed March 15 (or 16), 1967 (4 days prior to its scheduled air date). That print (#1) was sent to writer Paul Wayne on (or about) March 15, 1967. It was returned to Vancouver on March 19th.  The print was then sent to “Outside Broadcasts” in Toronto (presumably a department at the CBC), it was returned to Vancouver on July 18th, 1967.

A year later, the print was sent back to Toronto on May 23, 1968, to Don Crawford (the lead actor) c/o his management company, ostensibly for screening and then return. A bold note on the bottom of the film production card states that the Post Office in Toronto informs them that the management company moved and it’s “present address unknown”. Additionally, the film production card reveals that, “print #1 therefore not recovered after request for return to Don Crawford”. It ends with an enigmatic reference to “see Sept. telexes”.

So what really happened to Moose Fever? Is it still languishing somewhere in the bowels of Canada Post in Toronto? Did it get lost in transit? No one may ever really know. Like The Child Wife, hopefully it will just appear one day, until then we can be satisfied with the production stills shot by Alvin Armstrong and Franz Lindner.

Margie Kidder and Don Crawford on the set of 'Moose Fever', March 1967. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

Margie Kidder and Don Crawford on the set of ‘Moose Fever’, March 1967. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

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“Night Music”, Studio Pacific, air date: April 17, 1967.  Writer – George Robertson. Cast – Jackie Burroughs, Terence Kelly, John Sparks, Rae Brown.

Terence Kelly and Jackie Burroughs on the set of 'Night Music' (1967). Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Still Photo Collection

Terence Kelly and Jackie Burroughs on the set of ‘Night Music’ (1967). Photo: Franz Lindner, CBC Still Photo Collection

Night Music is a “poignant story set in an all-night Laundromat, where a naïve waitress (Jackie Burroughs) discovers a strange young man (Terrence Kelly) sleeping in one of the dryers”. He is a “callous” junior advertising executive, spending the night there on a bet. However, his strangeness and flattery captures the heart of the vulnerable young woman.

Night Music was written by Vancouver writer/producer George Robertson. ”The play,” Robertson said in a 1967 CBC Times article about the production, “resulted from a true story about a Toronto actress named Jackie Burroughs”.  According to the story, one night she walked into an all-night Laundromat on DuPont Street where she found a young man asleep in a dryer.  She later became his girlfriend. Robertson explains that “this bizarre fact set me to considering the possibilities of the incident for a short TV play – and, of course, Jackie Burroughs should play the part of the girl”. That young man was Zalman Yanovsky, of the folk-rock band The Lovin’ Spoonful. And the actress? None other than Canadian acting icon, Jackie Burroughs,  who stars in this play as the young waitress. Talk about an extraordinary example of art imitating life!

In Robertson’s version of the story, the young man is not a member of a folk-rock band, but “is a member of that faceless generation of bright young men in their twenties on the road to executive success”. Robertson explains that the young man is in the dryer on a prank, “an event as unmotivated as the nocturnal entertainments his friends devise for themselves”. The plain and vulnerable waitress who discovers the young man, Robertson reveals, “becomes slowly and surely victimized by the young man’s virtuoso display of verbal flattery. Or is it really just flattery?”

“There are ambiguities in Night Music because so much of life is ambiguous. When Night Music is over, it has been just that – a tune heard in the sleeping recesses of the heart, the melody difficult and painful to recall.” – George Robertson

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With up and coming Canadian actors like Margot Kidder, Jackie Burroughs and Terrence Kelly appearing in well written CBUT dramas along with established international actors like Patrick Mcnee and Mercedes McCambridge, it appears that the dramas CBUT produced at the time were part of a very significant and exciting scene. Brock University television studies Professor Emerita, Mary Jane Miller, further explains that “television drama from Vancouver has been a distinctive voice from a distinctive region of the country… Vancouver has frequently been ignored and underfunded, yet it has enjoyed the freedom to go its own way”.

For a more insightful and in depth investigation into the history of CBC television drama (at least its first 25 years), I recommend Mary Jane Miller’s book: Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Television Drama since 1952, UBC Press (1987). Especially chapter 10 – Regional or “What Toronto doesn’t know!”, a regional look at CBC television drama. Also recommended is Dennis Duffy’s: Camera West: British Columbia on Film 1941-1965, Provincial Archives of BC (1986).

Fun Fact: You can see examples of some of CBUT’s early dramas at the Cinemathque in a history of film in BC series curated by Harry Killas of ECUAD’s film studies department. On Monday, January 26, 2015 two episodes of Cariboo Country will be screened.

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Rose Marie the Riveter

Two images of women (1943 & 1945) on the back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder.

Two images of women (1943 & 1945) on the back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder.

I found these great photographic images of these women serendipitously while doing another task at the City of Vancouver Archives. [Isn’t that the best way to discover interesting new things?] Though both images essentially depict the same thing – an attractive woman – despite being taken only two years apart, I was intrigued by how differently these women were portrayed. Especially since these images appeared on back covers of the same publication, Wallace Shipbuilder. The side by side juxtaposition of the two images piqued my interest.

Wallace Shipbuilder covers.

Wallace Shipbuilder covers. An employee magazine for the Burrard Dry Dock workers during WWII.

Wallace Shipbuilder was the company newsletter for the Burrard Dry Dock workers during WWII. Sharing news of production, health and safety and social activities, Wallace Shipbuilder was published monthly, running from July 1942 to September 1945.

Wallace Shipyards from the water,  ca.1910. Photo: Out P1164 , CoV Archives.

Wallace Shipyards from the water, ca.1910. Photo: Out P1164 , CoV Archives.

First, a brief history of Burrard Dry Dock. Originally called the Wallace Shipyards, Burrard Dry Dock had its humble beginnings in Vancouver in 1894. It was a one-man yard, in the backyard of Alfred Wallace. He started with one contract – lifeboats for the C.P.R. and one helper – his wife. In 1906, Wallace moved the operation to North Vancouver on the north shore of the Burrard Inlet. Over the years, despite a destructive fire in 1911, the shipyard business grew. In 1921, Wallace Shipyards was renamed the Burrard Dry Dock Company. Alfred’s son Clarence took over the business after the death of his father in 1929. It was Clarence Wallace who was at the helm of the business during WW2.

In the pre-war years, only the North Yard existed and the nature of the work was mainly repairs with the occasional small ocean vessel built. The maximum number of employees was about 500 men – no women.

During the war years, 1939-1945, Burrard Dry Dock Company expanded tremendously – extending the North Yard and adding the South Yard. During this time, the “Yards of Burrard” produced a combined 109 ships. The workforce also expanded tremendously during this time with employment peaking at 14,000 workers, including 1,000 women.

Burrard Dry Dock, November 6, 1942. Photo:  Air P21 , RCAF, CoV Archives.

Burrard Dry Dock, November 6, 1942. Photo: Air P21 , RCAF, CoV Archives.

The first women came into North and South Burrard Shipyards in September of 1942. According to an article in the Wallace Shipyard, foremen and yard men were initially less than receptive and “cold shouldered the intruders into a man’s world”. Imagine coming into a situation like that? But these women persevered, buckled down and went to work and they soon won the respect of their male colleagues.

Burrard Dry Dock - Miss Heddy Brunkel, Jitney Driver, 1943. Photo: CVA 586-1152, Don Coltman, CoV Archives

Burrard Dry Dock – Miss Heddy Brunkel, Jitney Driver, 1943. Photo: CVA 586-1152, Don Coltman, CoV Archives

By Spring of 1944, there were 1000 women in the shipyards helping to build ships. Not just delegated to office and menial custodial jobs, these women excelled in the precision detail work of the Electrical, Sheet Metal and Machine Shops. The women also pulled their weight alongside the men in the Pipe, Plate and Blacksmith Shops, as shipwrights and reamers helpers, as welders, burners and bolters. Women were also employed in the Steel Yard, Mold Loft, at the lathes, driving trucks, lagging pipes and sweeping hulls. And in a nod to their American sister in arms, ‘Rosie the Riveter’, some worked as riveters or “passer girls” tossing and catching hot rivets with “skill and accuracy”.

Two of these pioneering working women were our Wallace Shipbuilder back cover models, Evelyn Moore and Rose Marie Yzerman .

Safety was the ultimate priority for the women (and men) working at Burrard Dry Dock, as evidenced by the numerous pages devoted to the topic in the Wallace Shipbuilder. Many articles, promotions and even cartoons reiterated this concern. It was the workers job to keep fit, healthy and safe, so that they could continue to work to support the war effort overseas. Evelyn Moore’s photo showing her looking glamourous in her practical and comfortable bandana-cap combination epitomizes how workplace safety was conveyed to the women of the Burrard Dry Dock.

"Glamour and Safety" !  Back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder 1943.

Glamour and Safety! Evelyn Moore on the back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder 1943.

The message here? Smart “girls”, like pipe lagger Eveyln Moore, don’t let vanity interfere with their work. This next example, in the form of a cartoon and verse, shows what happens to women who let vanity trump over safety:

Bessie Burrrad cartoon by S. Coble from Wallace Shipbuilder.

“Bessie Burrrad” cartoon by S. Coble from Wallace Shipbuilder.

Benny Burrard’s a whistling wolf,
Luring women to his lair.
Bessie Burrard’s a playful vamp,
Letting the drill get in her hair.
Now Bessie has gone to the hospit-al
And Benny is after another gal.

The message here? Following safety regulations (like keeping your hair tucked in) not only saves your neck, but allows you to attract men [Yikes!] . Though seen as sexist through modern eyes, this type of cheeky advice would have appealed to both male and female Burrard workers.

In stark contrast to Evelyn’s mid-war image of working women, is Rose Marie Yzerman’s back cover photo:

Back cover of July 1945 issue of Wallace Shipbuilder.

Back cover of July 1945 issue of Wallace Shipbuilder . “Rose Marie Yzerman interprets Holiday Spirit for Wallace Shipyard readers. Sunshine and freedom… the warmth of sandy beaches…the lick of waves… a week of carefree happiness in the outdoors, built on the knowledge of a job well done, a holiday well earned”.

This image that appeared on the back of the July 1945 issue of Wallace Shipbuilder was used to promote the then new Vacation-with-Pay Plan (authorized by the National War Labour Board on April 17, 1945).

A brief biography on cover model, Rose Marie found inside the issue reads:

Rose Marie Yzerman, who posed for our back cover this month, does and outstanding job in Sheet Metal on ships’ communication systems. She makes all the speaking tubes and assembles the fittings, has been with North Burrard for two years, come July, and says it’s more fun than being a stenographer, which she was before the war. She swims, plays tennis, is centre fielder for the Burrard Girls’ Fastball Team, and plans to do on her holidays just what she’s doing on the back cover.

With the white towel in her hand, to me, it looks like she is surrendering up her job in a man’s world and leaping right back to her traditional role as a woman in a man’s world. In many ways that is exactly what happened.

During the war, women in the workforce experienced equality for the first time. At Burrard Dry Dock, women were paid the same wages as men and earned the same medical and housing benefits. But this employment equity was fleeting, at the end of the war the women of Burrard Dry Dock were forced to give up their ship yard jobs to men returning from the war.

When the male workforce was severely depleted due to the war, companies willingly built separate women’s facilities (washrooms and change rooms) to accommodate their new female employees. However, after the war, employers (like Clarence Wallace) argued that it was that it would be impossible to maintain these separate facilities. In fact, women in the workforce faced public criticism (from both women and men) if it looked like they were taking work away from an able bodied man.

Post war society was telling them – OK ladies, the war is over, time to go back to being women!  And perhaps for some women that was OK, but I suspect for others the work experiences at the shipyard opened up some new desires for a little more from life…

This thought made me wonder about whatever happened to these two women after the war? After a little research, I found out that after leaving her job at the Burrard Yards, Rose Marie was a student at UBC and graduated Law in 1952. According to her 2007 obituary, Rose Marie married [no children] and spent most of her working career as an executive at Woodward’s Department Stores.

The post war life of Evelyn Moore was much more vague. A 1943 local city directory listing revealed that Evelyn’s husband, Walter Moore was in active service. The 1948 listing for the Moore’s indicated that Walter was employed as a cabinet maker. After that, listings under “Moore – Walter N (Evelyn M)” no longer appear and the trail runs cold. It is very possible that they simply moved out of the area and lived a happy and full life in another city. At least that is what I would like to believe.

 

On this Remembrance Day it is important not only to remember the important contribution women like Rose Marie and Evelyn made towards the war effort, but to also acknowledge the contribution these pioneering women made towards the possibility of women’s equality in the workplace. In many parts of the world, the struggle continues today.

 

Fun fact: One of the most famous ships to be built at the Burrard Dry Dock was the RCMP Arctic patrol vessel, St. Roch, in 1928.

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The cure for writer’s block: molded gelatin salad!

I have been suffering recently with a case of writer’s block. I have several drafts of future posts for Vanalogue in various stages of completion, but have been unable to complete any of them. It has been very frustrating. In order to relieve the tension of uncompleted tasks and release the writer’s block, I decided it was time to try something creative, fun and a little daring – making a molded gelatin salad.

About a year ago I wrote the following in a post titled Cooking Up the Past:

My ultimate vintage recipe goal is to make a gelatin salad or aspic – there is something truly otherworldly about them. However,  first I need to procure a nice gelatin mold… and perhaps a little courage!

Though it took me about a year, I’m pleased to announce that I conquered my fears, found a vintage gelatin mold and made my first molded gelatin salad. In fact, I made two. Here’s the full story:

Vintage jelly mold. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Vintage jelly mold. Photo: C. Hagemoen

For months I have been scouring second hand stores and garage sales for a vintage gelatin mold. I finally found this 6″ tall one for $3 this summer. I thought it would make a very elegant looking gelatin salad (and would also be excellent for making a fancy ice cream bomb!).

I really wanted to make a gelatin salad with “things” suspended in it, so I scoured my collection of vintage cookbooks and the internet for suitable recipes. During my research I discovered that Jell-O once produced vegetable flavoured gelatin’s specifically for gelatin salads. Apparently the the possibilities were endless for what one could suspend in gelatin!

Vintage ad for vegetable flavoured Jell-O for salads.

Vintage ad for vegetable flavoured Jell-O for salads.

 

My mold holds about 6 cups of liquid so I purchased 4 boxes of lemon flavoured gelatin. I figured lemon (or lime) would be the most neutral flavour for my salad. Most of the recipes I found seemed to favour those two flavours when combining fruit and vegetables.

Photo of a melon molded salad from Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, J.G. Ferguson Publishing Company, Chicago, Revised edition, 1958.

Photo of a melon shaped molded salad with grapefruit and avocado from Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, J.G. Ferguson Publishing Company, Chicago, Revised edition, 1958.

In order to suspend pieces of fruit, vegetables (or other objects) in gelatin you have to carefully incorporate them into the gelatin after it has set for a bit. Timing is critical, if you add them too soon, they will simply float to the top. If you add them too late you compromise the integrity of your gelatin. Since I had grapes and and carrots on hand (and it seems for most of these recipes anything goes) I decided to suspend them in the lemon gelatin.

My first attempt immediately after release - a leaning tower of yellow jello.

My first attempt immediately after release – a leaning tower of yellow jello. Photo: C. Hagemoen

I seemed to have master the art of suspension, but my gelatin salad didn’t seem to have the strength needed to hold itself up. About a minute after I released my salad from the mold, this happened:

Complete gelatin failure! Photo: C. Hagemoen

Complete gelatin failure! Photo: C. Hagemoen

It looked like one of those red jellyfish you sometimes find washed up on shore on the West Coast.

There were two things I discovered with my first attempt. First, the gelatin to liquid ratio has to be adapted in order to get a stronger gelatin. Second, no matter how cute they looked, bits of carrot in lemon-flavoured gelatin is a very unpleasant flavour combination.

Aspic Recipe and another exemplar example of gelatin suspension.

Aspic Recipe and another exemplar example of gelatin suspension from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, Revised Edition, 1962.

For my next attempt, I decided to move away from the sickly sweetness of fruit-flavoured gelatin towards something more savoury and elegant – tomato aspic.  As I was perusing the ingredient lists of recipes for tomato aspic, I was constantly reminded of the flavours found in a Bloody Caesar (minus the vodka).

Eureka! Instead of a regular tomato aspic, I would make a Bloody Caesar aspic. I figured if I’m going to have to eat another molded salad, I might as well enjoy myself ( I hate wasting food).  Since I already had a bottle of vodka, celery and some Worcestershire sauce on hand, my investment would be limited to a bottle of Clamato juice and some plain gelatin. Since I’ve previously had good success with gelatin sheets, I decided to use them instead of powdered gelatin to set my aspic.

Bloody Ceasar Aspic. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Bloody Caesar Aspic. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Success! Look at that beauty!

View as seen from the aspic heavens! Photo: C.Hagemoen

View as seen from the aspic heavens! Photo: C. Hagemoen

With no sign of imminent collapse, I had plenty of time to try some food styling for these photographs.

The next step was to taste my creation. As I cut myself a slice of Caesar, I noticed the texture was quite different from a regular gelatin. I began to get a little concerned.

A slice of Bloody Ceasar Aspic. Photo: C.Hagemoen

A slice of Bloody Caesar Aspic. Notice the bits of celery that didn’t successfully suspend in the gelatin. Photo: C. Hagemoen.

The flavour of a traditional Caesar was certainly there (vodka and all), but the texture wasn’t what I expected. It is rather hard to put into words the exact nature of the texture, suffice it to say my aspic had a rather awkward mouth feel. Did I over compensate and add too much gelatin this time? Quite possibly. Even after cutting out a second slice, my aspic showed no signs of structural failure.

A bite of the Ceasar aspic. Photo: C. Hagemoen

A bite of the Caesar aspic. Photo: C. Hagemoen

The question is then do I want to eat a Bloody Caesar, or drink one? I think the latter is my preference.

I think I might make this recipe again (with slightly less gelatin) if I ever was invited (or hosted) a retro cocktail party. Otherwise, in the future, I think I will give molded gelatin salads a pass. For historical culinary context, I’m glad I tried making molded gelatin salads. However, I think they are best left alone in the annals of gastronomy.

If anyone out there has successfully made and enjoyed a molded gelatin salad, I would love to hear about it.

 

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60th Anniversary of CBUT- Part 3 – CBUT and the 1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games

This Wednesday, July 30th, marks the 60th Anniversary of the opening of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games (BE&CG) held in Vancouver –  at the time “the most spectacular event of its kind in Canada’s history and the greatest Empire and Commonwealth sports meet ever staged”. It also marks the 60th anniversary of CBUT’s (and the CBC network’s) first national (and international) live television broadcast.

The CBC purchased exclusive world rights for complete coverage of the 1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games in Vancouver (July 30 to August 7) for $50,000. Jack McCabe, a CBC sports producer, was appointed by the CBC to co-ordinate radio, television and film coverage of the event. In the early days of television, before communications satellites, it was one of the most ambitious enterprises ever undertaken by Canadian radio and television.

The Commonwealth looks to Vancouver. Graphic promoting CBC's TV and Radio broadcast of the 5th BE&C Games from Vancouver.

The Commonwealth looks to Vancouver. Graphic promoting CBC’s TV and Radio broadcast of the 5th BE&C Games from Vancouver.

The 1954 BE&C Games marked the first time Eastern and Western Canada were linked for a simultaneous live telecast.  This unique feat was made possible by a circuitous route totaling some 2,750 miles (4,425 km) across the United States from Seattle to Buffalo (via Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, Des Moines, and Chicago), thus linking CBUT, Vancouver, with CBLT, Toronto, and the microwave-connected television stations of Eastern Canada. In connecting the Vancouver production centre with the eastern network stations, CBC television coverage of the Games was made available to Canadians the same day.

Rear Screen slide of CBUT graphic created for the television broadcast of the 1954 BE&C Games.

Rear Screen slide of CBUT graphic created for the television broadcast of the 1954 BE&C Games.

Television coverage was provided to those stations not connected by microwave facilities through the use of kinescope recordings that were made available from Toronto the following day. In addition, in the event of possible technical failure during closed-circut telecasts, arrangements were made to fly television recordings from Vancouver to Toronto for processing, printing and distribution.

CBUT’s first official “live” mobile telecast was on Air Force Day, June 12th, 1954. A mere 6 weeks later, CBUT put its new mobile unit to the test for the broadcast of the 5th BE&C Games. Equipped with 3 portable electronic TV cameras and a crew of 10, the Vancouver mobile unit, along with one on loan from another CBC centre, traveled around the various BE&CG venues making it possible for the TV viewer at home to see many BE&CG events broadcast live.

CBUT (Channel 2) Mobile Unit. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

CBUT (Channel 2) Mobile Unit. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

One mobile unit was stationed close by the broadcasting centre at Empire Stadium to cover the track and field events with three “electronic” TV cameras. One camera was located at the finish line, the second was for interviews with the athletes as they made their way back to the dressing rooms, and a third was mounted on a jeep – providing full general coverage of track and field events and infield activities.

CBC "electronic" television camera mounted atop a jeep at Empire Stadium covers the Track and Field action, August 7th 1954. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

CBC “electronic” television camera mounted atop a jeep at Empire Stadium covers the Track and Field action, August 7th 1954. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

The 2nd mobile truck unit, on location at Empire Pool at the University of British Columbia, concentrated on the swimming and diving events.  CBC film cameramen covered the other sporting events at the seven different locales (the mobile unit provided coverage for the cycling and boxing finals). Film footage of events, such as rowing at the Vedder Canal venue, was edited in Vancouver and integrated into the daily cross-country “live” telecasts.

CBC television camera at Empire Pool, August 2, 1954. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection

CBC “electronic” television camera at Empire Pool, August 2, 1954. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection

According to a 1954 edition of the CBC Times, more than 700 miles (1,126 km) of lines were used for the CBC’s radio and television coverage at the nine BE&CG venues. The farthest away was the Vedder Canal at 45 miles (72 km) and the nearest one was Empire Stadium right next to the CBC broadcasting centre at the Exhibition Grounds – master control for the CBC’s entire operations. Lines from all the venues terminated at the broadcasting centre, making possible inter-communication at any time during the Games.

Roger Bannister being interviewed by a CBC reporter after the "Miracle Mile", August 7th 1954. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

Roger Bannister being interviewed by a CBC reporter after the “Miracle Mile”, August 7th 1954. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection.

Not only was equipment brought to Vancouver for the Games, but also much of the broadcasting staff. Since CBUT was only 7 months old, the majority of the CBC staff and technical crew that worked to broadcast the Games came from Toronto and other regions in Canada.

The greater part of the CBC BE&CG crew. Includes inserts of the local CBUT executives involved. Photo from the "CBC Times" special supplement for teh 1954 Games.

The greater part of the CBC BE&CG crew. Includes inserts of the local CBUT executives involved. Photo from the “CBC Times” special supplement for teh 1954 Games.

John W. Hughes, on loan to the CBC from the National Film Board in Ottawa, served as liaison officer between the public relations committee of the BE&CG and CBC television cameramen. His task was to see that the film reel, still photographers and TV cameramen were free of obstructions in order to provide viewers the best pictures possible.

Four sports commentators covered the Games for CBC television, working under the direction of George Retzlaff. Producers for the television broadcasts were Peter Elkington from Vancouver; Jack Lingman and Wilf Fielding from Toronto; and Gerard Renaud from Montreal.

"CBC Times" Special Supplement for the 1954 BE&C Games in Vancouver.

“CBC Times” Special Supplement for the 1954 BE&C Games in Vancouver.

As the host broadcaster for the Games, the CBC provided individual coverage for all parts of the Commonwealth save for the the U.K. and New Zealand who had their own representatives in Vancouver.

The setting up of Canada’s first direct East-West TV link was made in co-operation with the four American TV networks. Negotiations began in January 1954 and were carried out with the assistance of the National Broadcasting Company [NBC], whose officers took a personal interest in the CBC project, applying on behalf of the CBC for the necessary allotments of time on the network.

On August 7th 1954,  the final day of the British Empire Games, NBC carried the CBC’s “live” telecast of the arrival of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh at Empire Stadium (for the closing ceremonies), as well as the “miracle mile” race. These events were seen by NBC viewers throughout the United States.

In Canada, TV coverage of the Games was sponsored by the Northern Electric Company.

The "CBC Times" local Vancouver television schedule for the Games.

The “CBC Times” local Vancouver television schedule for the Games.

 

The final day of events of the Games, August 7th, provided stadium spectators and television viewers (to quote the intro for ABC’s Wide World of Sports) “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”.

First, the “agony of defeat”. English marathon runner (and world record holder), Jim Peters collapsed repeatedly during the final 385 metres of the BE&C Games marathon. He entered Empire Stadium 17 minutes ahead of the field, however the effects of severe dehydration and heat-stroke took over and he never completed the race. CBUT staff photographer, Alvin Armstrong, captured the following photos with his Leica camera.

AA-220-4 AA-220-5 - Alvin Armstrong AA-220-6 - Alvin Armstrong

Jim Peters entering Empire Stadium, he stumbles around the track before completely collapsing, August 7th, 1954. Photo: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Still Photo Collection

Jim Peters entering Empire Stadium, he stumbles around the track before completely collapsing, August 7th, 1954. Photos: Alvin Armstrong, CBC Still Photo Collection

CBC TV cameras also captured Peters’ heartbreaking marathon finish.


BE&CG – Vancouver, Jim Peters, August 7th 1954 – excerpts – YouTube.

The “thrill of victory” is best exemplified by the Men’s 1-Mile Final, which saw the only two sub-4 minute mile runners (Roger Bannister and John Landy) compete against each other. Dubbed the “Miracle Mile” this race is still considered one of the most exciting moments in sports history. CBC television cameras captured the entire event live.

▶ “Miracle Mile” August 7th, Vancouver – Live television footage – YouTube.

 

For more information about the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games I suggest you check out the new exhibit at the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum called “A Week You’ll Remember a Lifetime”, it opens July 30th. The Vancouver Sun is also marking the 60th anniversary of the Games with some interesting features.

 

Fun fact: At the time, the 35,000 seat Empire Stadium was the largest stadium in Canada.

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The Electric Company

As I sit writing at my computer, with two fans oscillating the warm air of my top floor apartment around me,  I can’t help to think how lucky we are to have access to reliable (and relatively inexpensive) electricity. Which reminded me of a photo I discovered online in the catalogue of the Vancouver Archives – this month’s vintage photo of the month.

Power lines and supporting structure in lane west of Main Street at Pender Street. March 10 , 1914. Photo: British Columbia Electric Railway Company, CoV Archives, AM54-S4-: LGN 1241,

Power lines and supporting structure in lane west of Main Street at Pender Street. March 10, 1914. Photo: British Columbia Electric Railway Company, CoV Archives, AM54-S4-: LGN 1241.

How crazy is that photograph? And we think there are too many overhead wires today! I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to service those power lines. It made me wonder when did electricity first come to the city of Vancouver?

I decided to check with one of the best general reference resources penned by the late, great Chuck Davis. According to Davis, electricity first came to Vancouver on August 8, 1887 when “the first electric lights [were] turned on in Vancouver”.

Another source, Major J.S. Matthews (via the Vancouver Archives) confirms this fact. According to Matthews (the City’s first Archivist), The Vancouver Electric Illuminating Company (great name, eh?) “started operations in July 1887 with 53 street lights, and about three hundred lights in private homes and offices”.  The narrative from Matthews continues:

The first electric lights in Vancouver (not on Burrard Inlet) [were] turned on August 8th 1887… the lights were carbon filament bulbs of weak power, such as 8, 12, or 16 candle power [100 watt incandescent bulb = 120 candlepower ]. The power station stood on the lane between Hastings and Pender St., and about sixty six feet east of Abbot St.

The city directory for 1887 features the following write up about The Vancouver Electric Illuminating Co. Ltd.:

Page 10/11 of the 1887 Williams’ City Directory tells the story of the Vancouver Electric Illuminating Co.

Page 10/11 of the 1887 Williams’ City Directory tells the story of the Vancouver Electric Illuminating Co.

So, thanks to the Vancouver Electric Illuminating Company, a year after the Great Fire of 1886, electricity came to this growing metropolis.

View of Cordova Street looking east from Cambie Street. July 12, 1893. Photo: Bailey Bros. CoV Archives, AM54-S4-: Str P301.

View of Cordova Street looking east from Cambie Street. July 12, 1893. Photo: Bailey Bros. CoV Archives, AM54-S4-: Str P301.

The photograph (above) of an 1893 Loyal Orange Lodge parade on Cordova St., is a good illustration of the carbon arc street lamps that were the first widely-used type of electric light. According to a note that Matthews made on the print of this photograph, the “electric arc street lamps [were] lowered daily to insert new carbons”. Evidently, electric lights were initially a lot more work than just flipping on a switch.

It seems, however, that 1887 Vancouver wasn’t the the first time electricity was used in the Province.

That honour goes to the Moodyville sawmill on the north shore of Burrard Inlet. Where on February 4th 1882, the first electricity came to B.C. On his History of Metropolitan Vancouver website, Chuck Davis noted that “these were the first electric lights on the Pacific Coast north of San Francisco”. This was such a momentous moment, that the mayor and council of Victoria made a special trip over to see the electric lights being turned on.

 

Fun electric fact: The first traffic light was installed in Vancouver on October 18, 1928 at Main and Hastings.

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Beveridge, Vancouver and the Great Fire of 1886

Today a new regular (hopefully) feature debuts on vanalogue – vintage photo(s) of the month. This month I’m featuring the work of Scottish amateur photographer, Erskine Beveridge and some of his photographs of early Vancouver a year before the Great Fire of 1886.

1885 view of street in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. Copy of photograph titled “Main Street, Granville.’  [Looking East on Water Street near Carrall] From "Wanderings with a Camera" by Erskine Beveridge. Photo:  Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP042683

[June] 1885 view of street in Granville, now Vancouver, BC.  Copy of photograph titled “Main Street, Granville.’ [Looking East on Water Street near Carrall] From “Wanderings with a Camera” by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP042683. [Compare this view with the 1886 H.T. Devine (COV Archives )photo below.]

This Friday, June 13th marks the 128th anniversary of one of the greatest calamities in the history of Vancouver.  A year earlier, wealthy Scottish businessman, Erskine Beveridge was in Vancouver [then known as Granville] documenting a rough and tumble township on the cusp of becoming a city.

Erskine Beveridge (1851-1920) was not only a successful textile manufacturer  (specializing in the production of fine table and bed linen), he was also an enthusiastic historian, archaeologist and talented amateur photographer.  Beveridge was fascinated by landscapes, seascapes, buildings and archaeological monuments.  He traveled extensively across Scotland, taking hundreds of photographs that captured Scotland’s rural heritage. [A collection of his photographs can be seen on the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) website.]

In March 1885, Beveridge sailed to New York on a business trip to visit a distribution warehouse that had been set up in support of his flourishing textile business. From New York, he traveled extensively around the U.S. and Canada, taking photographs throughout his “wanderings”. A two-volume collection of Beveridge’s photographic reproductions was published (posthumously) in 1922 as Wanderings with a Camera, 1882-1898 (edited by John H. Beveridge). Recent advancements in photographic processes gave Beveridge the freedom to travel with his camera without the burden of transporting a darkroom and chemicals – pre-sensitized glass plates could be easily purchased and processed later. A precursor to roll film, the gelatin dry plate process used by Beveridge was first developed in 1871, and by the 1880s was widely manufactured.

Around June of 1885, Beveridge traveled to British Columbia and took the following photos of the rugged beauty of Vancouver (then Granville) – a city (literally) being carved out of the forest.

View of Burrard Inlet and Moodyville from Granville, now Vancouver.Copy of photograph titled 'Burrard Inlet, Moodyville, from Granville (now Vancouver)' . Photo:

1885 view of Burrard Inlet and Moodyville from Granville, now Vancouver. Copy of photograph titled ‘Burrard Inlet, Moodyville, from Granville (now Vancouver)’ . Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050374

 

1885  view of Burrard Inlet and Hastings Mill from Granville, now Vancouver, BC.  From "Wanderings with a Camera" by Erskine Beveridge Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050375 .

1885 view of Burrard Inlet and Hastings Mill from Granville, now Vancouver, BC. From “Wanderings with a Camera” by Erskine Beveridge Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050375 .

 

1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. Copy of photograph titled “clearing for a new city (Vancouver) at Granville.’ . From "Wanderings with a Camera" by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.

1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. Copy of photograph titled “clearing for a new city (Vancouver) at Granville.’ . From “Wanderings with a Camera” by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.

Compared to the photo of Vancouver in 1886 (below) much progress had been made since Beveridge’s visit a year earlier. True, there was much to be done on the C.P.R. townsite lands that surrounded the small city, but Vancouver had grown significantly in that short year:

  • On April the 6th 1886, the township of Granville officially became incorporated as the City of Vancouver.
  • Later the official notice calling the first civic election, on May 3rd 1886, is nailed to the “Maple Tree” in the spot today known as “maple tree square” at the intersection of Water and Carrall streets in Gastown. Vancouver held its first civic election in the “Court House” on Water Street. [In actuality a small wooden cottage in which Provincial Constable Jonathan Miller and his family lived].
  • A week later, on May 10, 1886 the first Mayor of Vancouver, Malcolm Alexander MacLean, delivered his inaugural address at the first meeting of the City Council.
  • On May 28, 1886 Vancouver’s first fire department, Volunteer Hose Company Number One, is formed armed initially with only shovels, axes and buckets. A fire-fighting steam pump had been ordered by the City of Vancouver, but would not arrive until August 1886!
Photograph shows the Maple Tree at the corner of Carrall Street and Water Street - June 7, 1886. Photo: attributed to H.T. Devine,  City of Vancouver Archives - AM54-S4-: Str P83

Photograph shows the Maple Tree at the corner of Carrall Street and Water Street – June 7, 1886. Photo: attributed to H.T. Devine, City of Vancouver Archives – AM54-S4-: Str P83

However, that all changed on Sunday, June 13, 1886. 16 days after it’s first Fire Department is formed, one month after its first Civic Election, and 2 months after its official incorporation, the City of Vancouver virtually burns to the ground in less than 45 minutes – though some accounts say it was closer to 20 minutes.

The forested land around the townsite of Granville ( the area which is now downtown Vancouver) was being cleared by the C.P.R. and there were great piles of slash. [As is depicted in Beveridge’s photo (above) “clearing for a new city (Vancouver) at Granville”.]

"The Great Vancouver Fire" from 1932 sketch by J.S. Matthews, Archivist Vancouver.  (Print by Art Engraving Co.). City of Vancouver Archives, AM1562-: 75-54

“The Great Vancouver Fire” from 1932 sketch by J.S. Matthews, Archivist Vancouver. (Print by Art Engraving Co.). City of Vancouver Archives, AM1562-: 75-54

In order to clear the land from this mass of debris, controlled slash fires were set. It was one of these fires that at 10:00 am on Sunday, June 13 1886 got away from the C.P.R. men. The day started out calm, but a “freakish squall” from the west changed everything, fanning the “smouldering embers of the clearing fires into flame”.

In 1931 Vancouver pioneer, W.H. Gallagher [then 72] recalled the scene that was set:

“people of today may gather some conception of the general appearance of all that tract mentioned if they will imagine brush, limbs, and timber to a depth of ten feet or more lying strewn over the ground in an almost solid mass in every direction; a dry spring, and especially with a little wind, an ideal setting for a gigantic fire”.

 

The death toll from the fire is uncertain (there were many transients in the city at that time), but it is believed that as many as 28 people died in the fire. In 1886, the population of the city was about 1,000.

Vancouver after fire. Photograph shows George R. Gordon's tent among debris at Cordova Street and Carrall Street and the Regina Hotel in the background. Photo: Vintage print attributes photograph to J.A. Brock and Co. Photographers, H.T. Devine was likely the photographer. City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: LGN 455

Vancouver after fire. Photograph shows [Merchant] George R. Gordon’s tent among debris at Cordova Street and Carrall Street and the Regina Hotel in the background. Photo: Vintage print attributes photograph to J.A. Brock and Co. Photographers, H.T. Devine was likely the photographer. City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: LGN 455

By the next morning Vancouver was already beginning to re-build. Tents and building frames were erected and a temporary City Hall was open for business. A month later, armed with a seemingly unending supply of timber, Vancouver, like the mythical phoenix, was reborn out of the ashes.

4 Weeks after Fire. Photograph shows a view looking east from Richards Street toward the intersection of Water Street and Cordova Street, plank roads, buildings including the Greyhound Hotel under construction and Princess Louise Tree. Photo: J.A. Brock and Company, City of Vancouver Archives, AM54-S4-: Str P129.

4 Weeks after Fire. Photograph shows a view looking east from Richards Street toward the intersection of Water Street and Cordova Street, plank roads, buildings including the Greyhound Hotel under construction and Princess Louise Tree. Photo: J.A. Brock and Company, City of Vancouver Archives, AM54-S4-: Str P129.

Much has been written about the Great Fire, for more information I recommend you check out the following accounts:

Museum of Vancouver (MOV) – 2 Great Vancouver Fire Stories.

Past Tense – The Great Vancouver Fire.

Vancouver Exposed: A History in Photographs – The Great Fire of 1886 by Jacqui Underwood.

Fun Fact: June 13 is also known as Vancouver Day (proclaimed by the city in 1929).  It marks the day in 1792 that Captain George Vancouver first sailed into Burrard Inlet.

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NFB celebrates 75 years!

Documentary films and filmmakers are currently being celebrated in Vancouver at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival (May 2- May 11, 2014). DOXA is presented by The Documentary Media Society, a Vancouver based non-profit, charitable society “devoted to presenting independent and innovative documentaries to Vancouver audiences”.

Screen still from "Creative Process: Norman McLaren" - NFB.

McLaren demonstrating his creative process. Screen still from “Creative Process: Norman McLaren” – NFB, 1990.

Canada’s oldest documentary film institution the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is also celebrating this month. The public film producer and distributor turns 75 this year. Started in 1939, the NFB has in the past 75 years produced over 13,000 productions and has earned 72 Oscar nominations. The NFB has won more than 5,000 awards, including 12 Oscars and 90 Genies. An agency of the Government of Canada the NFB/ONF reports to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Representing Canada’s two official languages, the NFB has English language and French language (ONF) production branches. Though the NFB is known for much more than just documentary films, documentaries are truly the backbone of the institution.

Screen capture from the NFB documentary, Soccer, 1974.

Commercial Drive , Vancouver. Screen still from the NFB documentary, Soccer, 1974.

So, what characterizes a film as a ‘documentary film’? There are three broad classifications of motion pictures: fiction, documentary, and avant-garde. A documentary film, in the simplest terms, is defined as a non-fiction motion picture – a document of facts and reality (real people, places and events). In this sense, we could easily say that documentary films have been made since the beginning of moving images themselves. These films were initially known as “actuality” films. However, this is a very broad definition and it doesn’t speak to the continually evolving and expanding world of documentary filmmaking.

Screen shot of children playing on a beach in Vancouver from "Gateway to Asia", NFB, 1945.

Screen shot of children playing on a beach in Vancouver from “Gateway to Asia”, NFB, 1945.

A film that examines the birth of the NFB and documentary filmmaking in Canada had its world premiere this weekend at DOXA. Shameless Propaganda (Robert Lower, 2013) is the story of the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada under the direction of its first Commissioner, John Grierson. The NFB was founded in part to create propaganda in support of Canada’s involvement in the Second World War, Shameless Propaganda highlights this period (1939-1945) using archival footage.

Appointed by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King the National Film Board’s first commissioner was documentary pioneer John Grierson. Under his leadership, the NFB documented the Canadian experience in the Second World War both at home and abroad. As the driving force of the NFB, Grierson was “charged with interpreting Canada to Canadians”.  Though he appreciated the art of technical filmmaking, Grierson wasn’t interested in film as art per se.  He was captivated with the social effect of film – the social impact it had on a people. This was his vision for the NFB.

Screen still of John Grierson's infamous penetrating gaze from the NFB film Grierson.

Screen still of John Grierson’s infamous penetrating gaze from the NFB film Grierson, 1973.

When Scotsman John Grierson was starting out as a young filmmaker in England in the 1920s there was no name for the type of film he wanted to make, so he invented one – he called it the documentary film. Though he didn’t ‘invent’ the documentary film genre, he certainly developed and advanced it. Grierson was acutely aware of the cinema’s unexplored possibilities. He wanted to document and to “bring alive with penetrating vividness” the daily lives of ordinary working men and women and the new world that was growing up around them. He initially worked in the film unit for the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), a governmental agency which had been established to promote British world trade and British unity throughout the empire.

Still screen from Where You Goin' Company Town?

Cominco Smelter in Trail, BC. Still screen from Where You Goin’ Company Town? – NFB, 1975.

Eventually Grierson stopped directing documentary films himself and instead focused his energies on building the new Documentary Film Movement. He wanted to create a film unit that would create films under his guidance, making the documentary style films he wanted to make.

During this period Grierson also developed the idea of having film screenings not only in traditional theatres but in schools, train stations and other public buildings – he brought the films to the people where they were (he eventually brought this system to Canada with the NFB). His documentary film production and distribution processes were refined during the 1930s while he worked for the EMB, General Post Office (GPO) and private sector industry.

In 1938, he was invited to Canada to advise the Canadian Government on the use of film for promotional purposes.  It was during this time that a curious alignment between Grierson and Prime Minister King developed (a Scottish simpatico, perhaps?). The results of Grierson’s study were included in the National Film Act of 1939, which led to the establishment of the NFB with Prime Minister King appointing John Grierson as its first commissioner. [ I strongly recommend viewing both Shameless Propaganda (2013) and Grierson (1973) for a more comprehensive look at John Grierson and his association with the NFB.]

The NFB’s 75th Anniversary by ONFB, National Film Board of Canada

Starting May 2, the NFB site will feature content celebrating its 75 years – including the NFB Moment of the Week,  a special birthday programming initiative.  Every week, the NFB will “post a different iconic NFB film with some info about why it’s a must-watch for all Canadians”.  More details about this initiative and other birthday activities coming up can be found on the NFB blog. The NFB is also asking Canadians to tell them about their favorite NFB moments via social media. Using the hashtag #NFB75 Canadians can participate and celebrate the NFB’s 75th birthday via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

In collaboration with Canada Post, the NFB has selected stills from five of its film favourites – Flamenco at 5:15 (1983), The Railrodder (1965), Mon oncle Antoine (1971), Log Driver’s Waltz (1979) and Neighbours (1952) – to appear on a series of limited-edition NFB 75th birthday postage stamps .

And to prove that the NFB is changing with the times, artist Stan Douglas in collaboration with the NFB’s Digital Studio have created an interactive app called Circa 1948. It is an immersive art app, reconstructed from historical records, set in post was Vancouver. Circa 1948 is a free app optimized for iPad and iPhone, and you can download it from iTunes here.

Fun Fact: The National Film Board of Canada  was the inspiration for the name of the Scottish electronic music duo the Boards of Canada. An example of their work can be found here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVWcptE6UAI .

Here is my personal playlist of NFB films available to view on the their website:

Creative Process: Norman McLaren (https://www.nfb.ca/film/creative_process_norman_mclaren) – Donald McWilliams, 1990, 116 min 32 s – This feature length documentary is a journey into Norman McLaren’s process of artistic creation. A cinematic genius who made films without cameras and music without instruments, McLaren produced 60 films in a stunning range of styles and techniques, collecting over 200 international awards and world recognition. Drawing on McLaren’s private film vaults, a gold mine of experimental footage and uncompleted films, this film explores McLaren’s methods, including his celebrated “pixillation” technique.

Screen capture of clip from

Screen still from Creative Process: Norman McLaren -  NFB, 1990.

Grierson (https://www.nfb.ca/film/grierson) – Roger Blais, 1973, 97 min, 50 s – This feature film is a portrait of John Grierson, the first Canadian Government Film Commissioner and founder of the National Film Board in 1939. Interweaving archival footage, interviews with people who knew him and footage of Grierson himself, this film is a sensitive and informative portrait of a dynamic man of vision. Grierson believed that the filmmaker had a social responsibility, and that film could help a society realize democratic ideals. His absolute faith in the value of capturing the drama of everyday life was to influence generations of filmmakers all over the world. In fact, he coined the term “documentary film.”
Neighbours - (https://www.nfb.ca/film/neighbours_voisins) – Norman McLaren, 1952, 8 min 6 s – In this Oscar®-winning short film, Norman McLaren employs the principles normally used to put drawings or puppets into motion to animate live actors. The story is a parable about two people who come to blows over the possession of a flower.
Keep Your Mouth Shut (https://www.nfb.ca/film/keep_your_mouth_shut) – Norman McLaren, 1944, 2 min 20 s – This animated short from Norman McLaren features a human skull cautioning Canadians to “keep their mouths shut” in an effort to end gossiping during World War II.

And some lesser known British Columbia-themed films:

Gateway to Asia (https://www.nfb.ca/film/gateway_to_asia) – Tom Daly, 1945, 10 min 5 s – 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 traveling 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.[Lorne Greene narrates this war-time propaganda film].

Screen still from Gateway To Asia.

Chinatown in Vancouver. Screen still from Gateway To Asia, NFB, 1945.

Red Runs the Fraser (https://www.nfb.ca/film/red_runs_the_fraser) – E. Taylor, 1949, 11 min – This short documentary looks at the deep gorge of the Fraser River, shadowed by the mountain ranges of British Columbia. It is a highway for the mysterious migration of the Pacific salmon. The river shallows appear red with the flailing fish as they push up-river to spawn and die. A natural wonder puzzling to the scientist, the fish migration of spring and summer provides renewed activity for fishermen and cannery workers.

Screen still from Red Runs the Fraser.

Traditional salmon fishing on the Fraser River. Screen still from Red Runs the Fraser – NFB, 1949.

The Zoo in Stanley Park (https://www.nfb.ca/film/zoo_stanley_park) – Bernard Devlin, 1953, 14 min, 47 s – In this documentary short, a superintendent at Vancouver’s Stanley Park Zoo discusses issues related to feeding and acclimatization of birds and animals from other zones.
Whistling Smith (https://www.nfb.ca/film/whistling_smith) – Marrin Canell & Michael Scott, 1975, 27 min 20 s – This film is a revealing portrait of a tough cop with a big heart. Sergeant Bernie “Whistling” Smith walks the beat on Vancouver’s Eastside, the hangout of petty criminals, down-and-outs and a variety of characters. His policing is unorthodox. To many drug users, petty thieves and prostitutes in this economically depressed area he is more than the iron hand of the law, he is also a counsellor and a friend.

Screen still from Whistling

The streets of Vancouver. Screen still from Whistling Smith – NFB, 1975.

British Empire and Commonwealth Games (https://www.nfb.ca/film/british_empire_commonwealth_games) – Jack Olsen, 1954, 11 min – This short documentary presents highlights of the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. In Vancouver, top-ranking athletes from the far corners of the British Commonwealth competed for new records. The film records outstanding feats in racing, jumping, pole-vaulting, swimming as well as the “miracle mile” duel between John Landy and Roger Bannister.
The Big Swim (https://www.nfb.ca/film/big_swim) – Gilles Carle, 1964, 9 min 24 s – This short documentary shows Canada’s top swimmers in training for the 1964 Olympic Games. Under the critical eye of coach Ed Healy, they practice long hours in the gym and in the pool to build strength and stamina. Filmed entirely at Empire Pool at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Soccer (https://www.nfb.ca/film/soccer) – Shelah Reljic, 1974, 27 min 20 s - This documentary short shines a light on British Columbia’s soccer culture. With a special focus on the successful Vancouver Italia team, the film celebrates the province’s most popular sport.

Screen still from Soccer.

Screen still from Soccer – NFB, 1974. Italian Restaurant on Commercial Drive.

Pen-Hi Grad (https://www.nfb.ca/film/pen_hi_grad) – Sandra Wilson, 1975, 27 min 14 s – This documentary short is about Penticton, BC, and what happens when students from the only high school in town graduate. Most know that job opportunities and higher education lie elsewhere, most likely in Vancouver. So, for one memorable week, they go through a whirlwind of formal ceremonies, wild celebrations, hi-jinks and farewells that involve the whole population of this Okanagan Valley community. [ A BC version of Dazed & Confused].

Screen still from Pen-Hi Grad.

Screen still from Sandra Wilson’s Pen-Hi Grad, NFB, 1975.

Bella Bella (https://www.nfb.ca/film/bella_bella) – Barbara Greene, 1975, 27 min 20 s – This documentary short is an introduction to the Bella Bella Indians of Campbell Island, 500 km North of Vancouver on the Pacific Coast. Since the coming of settlers, these fishing people have watched their ancient Heiltsuk culture and their independence all but disappear. Today, in an energetic attempt to become self-sufficient, they are regaining both – successfully combining economic development with cultural revival.
Bill Reid (https://www.nfb.ca/film/bill_reid) – Jack Long, 1979, 27 min 54 s – This documentary follows Haida artist Bill Reid, from British Columbia. A jeweller and wood carver, he works on a traditional Haida totem pole. We watch the gradual transformation of a bare cedar trunk into a richly carved pole to stand on the shores of the town of Skidegate, in the Queen Charlotte Islands of B.C.
Where You Goin’ Company Town? (https://www.nfb.ca/film/where_you_goin_company_town) – Stephen W. Dewar, 1975, 27 min 32 s – This short documentary examines the changing relations between labour and management in the long-established company town of Trail, BC, in which 90% of the workforce is employed by Cominco, the world’s largest lead-zinc smelter. The metal workers in the town are outspoken about the health risks associated with their line of work, and a debate about unionization ensues. The days of paternalistic management are gone, and the emphasis is now on participation and involvement. An eventual strike over dissatisfaction with labour relations turns violent when management, union executives, and workers clash over competing interests.
That’s The Price (https://www.nfb.ca/film/thats_the_price) – Michael Scott, 1970,40 min 45 s – What happens to two dying coal towns in British Columbia when an American corporation provides a contract for millions of tons of coking coal? The film follows the consequences for the towns of Natal and Michel, suggesting that industrial growth has its price, especially with regard to the environment.
Canada Vignettes: Logger – (https://www.nfb.ca/film/canada_vignettes_logger) – Al Sens, 1978, 1 min – This very short film from the Canada Vignettes series offers an animated history of logging on the British Columbia coast.

Screen still from Logger. Al Sens animated short.

Screen still from Canada Vignettes: Logger, NFB, 1978.  An Al Sens animated short.

This is not a comprehensive list, by any means, of my favorite NFB films.  Just a few old favorites and some  I recently discovered that I thought may be of interest to my readers. What is your favourite NFB/ONF film?

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