A Brief History of Film in Nova Scotia
When the Holland brothers released their Vitascope pictures to a curious audience in Ottawa on a hot July day in 18961, few in Canada had the perspicacity to see how profoundly this technology would change the way we communicate with each other.2 Within a few years, however, film made the transition from novelty to permanence and the cinematic revolution had begun. Nova Scotia felt the affects of this technological revolution as deeply as other parts of the country. Indeed, Nova Scotia possesses an enduring moving image heritage which dates from the earliest years of film production in Canada. Moreover, from the ground-breaking Canadian Bioscope Company (1912) to the avant-garde cooperatives and independent studios of the 1970s,3 Nova Scotia film-makers have been in the forefront of innovative production. Even through the vehicles of national institutions, such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Nova Scotian films and film-makers have made a lasting mark in cinematography.4
The cinema first came to Nova Scotia in 1897, when Edwin Porter brought his Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Theatre to Halifax.5 As was the case in the rest of North America, moving images (in this instance Edison films) comprised a part of the vaudeville attraction, alongside the jugglers, singers, musical monkeys and dancing dogs. Audiences in Halifax were as astounded by the life-like pictures as those in other parts of the country. However, as elsewhere, little did the unsuspecting theatre-goers realize that they were witness to an avatar of immense change.
During the nascent years of film-making, the entrepreneurial possibilities and entertainment potential of cinema caught the imagination of enterprising Canadians. Long before Hollywood existed and dominated the North American film industry, film companies were incorporated across Canada.6 Most of these companies existed for only brief periods, but the optimism and excitement engendered by such ventures remained part of the Canadian economic and cultural scene well into the twentieth century. Nova Scotia shared in the enthusiasm and adventure, though prior to 1912, moving pictures of Nova Scotia were created primarily by "folks from away," American and European companies such as Edison, Bioscope and American Mutoscope. These films tended to be scenics and newsreels. Canadian railway companies also captured Nova Scotia on film for their promotional campaigns, aimed primarily at British and European audiences.7
These developments were essential for the conception and birth of a film industry in the province and reflected the trends in other parts of the country. Nova Scotia's indigenous film history commenced with the formation in 1912 of the Canadian Bioscope Company of Halifax, followed in 1920 by the Maritime Motion Picture Company of Sydney. Both companies were greeted with enthusiasm and celebrated in the local press. Nova Scotians looked forward to seeing their own stories, told by Nova Scotians, on the silver screen.
Founded by British-born Captain H.H.B. Holland, Canadian Bioscope established offices in Halifax and New York City.8 A pioneer in the Canadian film industry (it was only the second such company established in Canada), this Maritime-based firm, employing both Nova Scotians and Americans, sought to develop an international distribution network from the outset, in order to ensure economic longevity and provide Nova Scotian films to the world.
Canadian Bioscope's signature piece, Evangeline (1913), was the company's first project and the first commercially-produced, full-length motion picture in Canada.9
Based on Longfellow's poem by the same name, adapted by Marguerite Marquis, it told once again the tragic story of the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia, framed within the love story of Evangeline and Gabriel. Shot on historically relevant sites at Grand Pré, Annapolis Royal, Cow Bay, and Eastern Passage, Evangeline achieved further authenticity through period costume. The leads were played by American actors Laura Lyman and John F. Carleton, but local actors such as R.J. Leary and Rhea Rafuse held supporting roles (Morris, p. 50). Evangeline opened in February 1914 in Halifax to rave reviews. The Halifax Evening Mail declared it to be a "masterpiece...a splendid representation of the immortal poem in moving pictures."10 Popular and critical acclaim was also abundant from audiences across Canada and in the United States. The New York Dramatic Mirror, for example, asserted that the production was "a breath of fresh air from the green fields of Arcady [sic]."11
This "great artistic and financial success" (Morris, p. 50), enabled Canadian Bioscope in 1914 to produce three more shorter dramas (Saved From Himself, Mariner's Compass and In the Enemy's Power/ The Mexican Sniper's Revenge)12 and three one-reel comedies (A Neglected Wife, Willie's Birthday Present, and Thou Shalt Not Steal). Prolific as this output was, these films did not have the same impact as Evangeline. When World War I broke out the company was disbanded and its films were auctioned (Morris, p. 51). The fate of Canada's first motion picture feature is a mystery. A copy of Evangeline was last seen leaving Halifax with some of Canadian Bioscope's American production crew. All that remains in Canada are a few stills of the production and the advertisements and reviews published in contemporary newspapers.
The second private motion picture company established in Nova Scotia was the less prolific but equally important Maritime Motion Picture Company (MMPC). Founded in March 1920 by Sydney-born Wallace W. MacDonald, the MMPC could boast a board of directors comprised mainly of local businessmen. MMPC was optimistically Canadian in its philosophy but less so in its practice. While most of the productions were filmed in Cape Breton and Atlantic Canada and told Canadian stories, the company imported most of its directors, casts, and crews from the United States. This practice was not uncommon across the country during these early years of film production when trained personnel were hard to come by.
MMPC's first film was the short travelogue, A Ten Day's Trip Through New Brunswick (1921), followed quickly by its first major film Big Timber (1921), later retitled Clansman of the North (Morris, p. 86). The latter was a drama about northwoodsmen, the lead played by American Richard C. Travers.13 Local men were invited to appear as "burly lumberjack" extras, providing they supplied their own axes! MMPC produced two more feature-length films, a travelogue about Newfoundland, Port aux Basques (1922), and a drama, Sea Riders (1922).14 Faced with lawsuits in the United States, filed by one of its American directors and some of its shareholders, failing in two attempts to syndicate, and struggling with an attempt to reincorporate, MMPC dissolved by 1925. Its properties were sold in 1936. Despite this unfortunate demise, MMPC deserves admiration for its strong ideals of establishing a principally Canadian film company, a fact which early advertising and commentary exploited.
A report to shareholders in 1922 stated,
- It [the newly-released Sea Riders] has been well received wherever screened [and] the returns have been unexpectedly big ... outstanding evidence of the fact that the Canadian people will, if given the opportunity, support and give a preference to Made in Canada products.15
MMPC officials believed that its financial success (of which it was initially convinced) would benefit not only its shareholders, but would also "materially assist with the industrial development of the whole Dominion by keeping in circulation in Canada a portion of this large annual outlay" of profits.16 As laudable as this dream was, it could not be fulfilled. The Canadian Bioscope Company and the Maritime Motion Picture Company illuminate a period in Canadian motion picture history when entrepreneurial excitement was high, but economic stability tenuous.
The Canadian Bioscope Company and the Maritime Motion Picture Company were important experiments in the early history of film production in Nova Scotia and Canada. Though short-lived, their cinematic projects contributed significantly to the burgeoning film industry in this country. With varying degrees of success, these Nova Scotian companies sought to create more authentic depictions of local stories, than the steady fare of highly romanticized views of Maritime landscape, people and culture proffered by American or British film-makers. Despite such goals, the precedent set by foreign film-makers to present Nova Scotian (and Canadian) subjects in stereotypical and sentimental images was too well-entrenched by the first decades of the twentieth century for local film-makers to resist. Even Evangeline, created with as much attention to historical detail as was possible at the time, relied on the text of an American poem that romanticized one of the darkest moments in Nova Scotian history.
From the beginning of film production in North America, Canada and its provinces were seized upon by American and British film-makers as valuable visual commodities. Offering vast, wild panoramas and a cast of colourful stock characters (lumberjacks, Mounties, French- Canadian trappers, and lovely Indian maidens), Canada was perfect for the melodramatic fictions which abounded in early feature films. Nova Scotia was simply another component of this appetite for the picturesque, providing film-makers with captivating ocean scenes, quaint fishing villages or rustic farm communities. Indeed, one of the earliest American-made dramatic films, An Acadian Elopement (1907), a saccharine adventure story about a Quaker maiden living in Nova Scotia,17 established a practice which would prove difficult to inhibit.
This type of stilted portrayal of Nova Scotia remained standard well into mid-century. One of the worst offenders was the award-winning American film, Johnny Belinda (1948), a love story about a young doctor and his Halifax bride, starring Jane Wyman. Wyman's performance of the mute heroine garnered her an Oscar, and provided Halifax advertisers with the slogan "Nova Scotia's first Oscar!". The movie's stereotypes prompted Pierre Berton to remark that "the Hollywood view of Nova Scotia as a quaint province with horse-drawn buggies and oxen ... has not changed since that first, awkward one-reeler [An Acadian Elopement]" (p. 77).
A preoccupation with such stereotyping was not limited to foreign directors and producers. It was also evident in many of the early films produced under the aegis of the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau (CGMPB) and, later, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), begging the questions who created, perpetuated and benefited from such limited and erroneous portrayals. By the 1950s, however, the Nova Scotia government was taking a more proactive role to curb or discourage these worn-out and limited images. When the British-produced motion picture High Tide at Noon (1957, Arthur Rank Productions) began filming in the province, the government responded with negative firmness to a request for financial assistance:
- From the scenario, it is apparent that this is another dramatic film of the "Johnny Belinda" type, emphasizing the ancient Maritime aspect of Nova Scotian and frontier type of community. While we thoroughly understand the producer's box office reasons for presenting Nova Scotia in this way, we cannot agree that it is of assistance to the province in its promotional work.18
After the demise of the Canadian Bioscope Company and the Maritime Motion Picture Company, it was independent film-makers who principally carried Nova Scotia cinematography through the late 1920s to the end of World War II. This group of professionals, semi-professionals, and amateurs (many of whom were also professional still photographers) included W.G. MacLaughlan, Allan Fraser, E.D. Bollinger, Alexander Leighton, W.R. MacAskill, Sam Short, C.C. Foster, and Harold Weir. Many of these men had operated prosperous photography studios and turned their ever-curious minds to the emerging 16mm technology. They produced travelogues, documentaries, and personal visual reminiscences on silent film, with and without subtitles.
A few, such as Bollinger, created audio tracks to be played simultaneously with the films. Bollinger, along with MacAskill, also experimented with colour, both the hand-tinting method and early Kodachrome. Some, like MacLaughlan, were hired by newsreel companies to provide visuals of local news events. It is believed MacLaughlan shot the footage of the aftermath of the Halifax Harbour Explosion in December 1917.
Others, like Short and Foster, were members of the Halifax Camera Club or the Halifax Chapter of the Amateur Film-makers' Association. In many cases the work of these independents remains the best source for pre-1945 moving image footage of everyday life and special events in Nova Scotia.
One of the most prolifically produced film genres during the first half of the twentieth century was the newsreel, a compilation of current events intended to inform, educate, and entertain. Indeed, their production was a virtual industry unto itself, especially during wartime, and many independent film-makers were able to earn a living shooting live or recreated scenes for newsreels. Newsreels were shown before and/or after a dramatic feature, but during wartime they often comprised the bulk of a showing.
Newsreel production in Canada during the early decades of the century was dominated by American and European (British and French) companies. Canadian news event coverage was sporadic, except for local footage shot specifically for projection in local theatres. Early domestic newsreels of Nova Scotian subjects were typical of those being filmed elsewhere in Canada. Nova Scotia was entitled to its requisite share of topical events, people and places, which had both provincial and national interest. Such subject matter included beauty pageants, parades, highway construction, royal visits, and nature.
It was Nova Scotia's prominence on the international military scene (as a centre for naval activities, a principal point of training and embarkation for troops, etc.), which attracted the domestic and foreign newsreel companies. Canadian-based and subsidiary companies, such as British-Canadian Pathé News, Fox Canadian News, and Canadian Kinograms, were formed in response to a wartime demand for news. From the Boer War (1899) to World War II, cameras extensively recorded newsworthy military activities in Halifax Harbour and other locations in the province. It was the demand by the public for information during war which gave the strongest impetus to the development of a domestic newsreel industry.
Foreign companies, such as Vitagraph, American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, Edison, Paramount, Universal, Fox and Hearst, also recorded a number of important Nova Scotian disasters, among which were the aftermath of the 1917 Halifax Harbour Explosion, caused by the collision of the ammunition ship Mont Blanc and the Belgian relief ship Imo, the Moose River Mine Disaster, a dramatic ten-day rescue of three trapped miners, and the 1945 VE Day riots, a victory celebration in Halifax which got out of hand.
Being itself a new, rapidly changing technology, film producers were cognizant of the value of documenting other new and advancing technology. To that end, Alexander Graham Bell's activities were also a focus of newsreel production. Bell's Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, residence was the testing ground for many of his inventions, including the maiden flight of the Silver Dart in 1909, and the trials of the hydrofoil in 1919. Finally, other significant Nova Scotia events captured on newsreel included royal visits to the province, the construction of the soon to be world-renowned fishing schooner the Bluenose, the International Schooner Races at Lunenburg, and the well-attended bluefin tuna fishing contests held off Wedgeport.
During the 1910s and 1920s, newsreels contained a disproportionately large amount of American content. In the 1930s, Nova Scotia and Ontario were the only provinces in Canada to establish a minimum Canadian content requirement in newsreels screened in local theatres (Morris, p. 323n16). This legislation was partly responsible for the financial successes of Canadian-based branch companies, such as Associated Screen News of Canada and Canadian Fox Movietone. These firms were also sustained by supplying their American mother-companies with Canadian footage (Morris, pp. 223-4).
This awareness of the desirability of indigenous production is also reflected in the early involvement of the Nova Scotia government with film production. Recognizing the growing popularity of film and its value as a propaganda medium, the government began to use the moving image both to promote the province abroad and to educate its citizens. In 1920, for example, the Department of Agriculture produced its first two educational films: Cream Grading, Why? and Cow Testing in Nova Scotia. Annual reports of the Department of Industry and Publicity in the 1920s regularly refer to departmentally-sponsored film production and the distribution of purchased films on the topics of agriculture, natural resources, public health, and education. Film production often occurred in conjunction with independent Canadian film-makers and American film companies, such as Twentieth-Century Fox.
During the 1930s, the Nova Scotia Tourist Information Bureau (NSTIB) engaged "the Mandeville Press Bureau [MPB] of New York City to publicize Nova Scotia through the media of newspapers, magazines, motion pictures and radio."19 MPB was hired not only to make "possible the compilation of motion picture travelogues and other short subjects," but also to "make arrangements for newsreel coverage of many public celebrations."20 As a result, films were circulated at fairs and exhibitions and shown to special interest groups and organizations across the United States in order to encourage tourism. The NSTIB Annual Report for 1939 stated that the Nova Scotia exhibit at the National Sportsmen Show in Boston and New York in 1938 boasted "A young Nova Scotia piper and ... a beautiful coloured film of Nova Scotia, the famous travel film Land of Evangeline and a film of the Babe Ruth hunting expedition to this province."21 This type of publicity, through travelling film exhibits, became an increasingly important means of promoting Nova Scotia tourism during the 1930s and 1940s.
Such early provincially-sponsored film production set a precedent for politicians and bureaucrats, which substantially contributed to the establishment of the government's own film production facilities. In 1945 the Department of Industry and Publicity hired a Film Officer, Margaret Perry, to head the newly-created Nova Scotia Film Bureau. These developments, moreover, set a precedent for the rest of the country. In her first Annual Report, Perry observed:
- The production of Nova Scotia films in an entirely new development of this Bureau. It is designed to satisfy the photographic requirements of each Department of the Nova Scotia government. The trend all over Canada is that each Province will eventually have its own Board for the production of films to fit its own particular needs: tourist, agriculture, education, etc., but as yet this is the first province in Canada which has made a start in this direction.22
The Nova Scotia Film Bureau (later the Film Unit) quickly sprang into action.23 With meagre equipment resources ("one camera, one tripod"), three films were begun: Land from the Sea, Craftsmen at Work and Halifax. These and many other films were initiated in consultation with representatives of various government departments. Aside from such films, the Film Unit also created Televisits for the NFB, television commercials and special events coverage and promotion. The Film Bureau employed many talented individuals including cameramen/directors Ned Norwood and Rod MacEachern, writer Martin Alford, director Les Krizsan, and underwater photographer Charles Doucet.
Under Perry's 24-year creative direction, the Nova Scotia Film Bureau produced over 50 films, including Nova Scotia Sage (1960), The Cape Islander (1961), The New Nova Scotia (1962), Woodland Wealth (1963), Royal Province (1967), Orison (1968), and Artists (1970), many of which were award-winning (Beattie, p. 211). Upon Perry's retirement in 1970, Norwood became Director. Norwood had begun his career as a photographer in the Still Photography Division of the Department of Industry and Publicity. The Film Bureau hired him as a cameraman/director in 1959 and he remained a part of the bureau until his retirement in the early 1990s. Notable Norwood films include: Free From Care (1964), Bluenose Shore (1969), Ologies and Isms (1970), A Summer for All Ages (1972), and the award-winning Discover Nova Scotia (1972) (Beattie, p. 212).
Two other important films produced by the Film Bureau were Bluenose Ghosts (1973), which recounts ten ghost stories collected by folklorist Helen Creighton, and Glooscap Country (1961).
In the latter, Margaret Perry dramatized the Mi'kmaq myths of Glooscap entirely without benefit of people, using the elements of nature, animals and landscape found in the areas frequented by the legendary deity. Perry's creative and unique approach earned her and the film critical recognition.
While film bureaus in other provinces gradually collapsed under departmental wranglings and budget cuts, the Nova Scotia Film Bureau survived. Its longevity and successes have been attributed to the creative freedom granted its staff from its inception. Moreover, while other provincial film bureaus made exclusively promotional/propaganda films, the Nova Scotia Film Bureau produced both documentary and artistic works. Glooscap Country is an example of the creative freedom allowed this provincial government agency.
Before the existence of provincial government film production facilities, Nova Scotia did receive a certain amount of attention in productions of the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau (CGMPB). Characteristic of much of the bureau's early output about Nova Scotia were standard scenics and travelogues, or films about the region's fishing and lumbering industries. Early titles include: Lumbering in Eastern Canada (n.d.); City by the Sea (1926-27), a travelogue featuring Halifax; and Battling the Tuna (1937), a humorous look at tuna fishing.
In 1939 the CGMPB (under the aegis of the newly created National Film Board) produced The Case of Charlie Gordon,24 a short film about a Glace Bay, N.S., youth who receives training through a federally-initiated Youth Training Program. This film is noteworthy for several reasons. Directed by Stuart Legg, it was the first sound film produced by the CGMPB. Moreover, it has been called the first "sensitive documentary" to respond to "the official concern with the number of Canadian youths who were untrained and unemployed" (Backhouse, p. 32). The bureau had not hitherto been known for creating issue-oriented productions, but with The Case of Charlie Gordon, a new trend began, which reflected an NFB-inspired "attitude of rapid response to selected areas of concern" (Backhouse, p. 32).
The National Film Board, formed in 1939, eventually absorbed the CGMPB, but the new agency continued to feature Nova Scotia in its documentary films. Fuelled by the war and the need to promote patriotism and the war effort, the propaganda series Canada Carries On and the succeeding series The World in Action frequently focussed on Nova Scotia's participation in the great conflict. In Freighters Under Fire (1942), Fighting Ships (1942), and Action Stations (1943), naval activities along the Atlantic coast and in Halifax Harbour were recorded. In Coal Face Canada (1942), a young Cape Breton veteran realizes the importance of coal to the war effort and becomes a miner.
With the end of the war and the departure of its first commissioner, John Grierson, NFB producers returned to Canada's landscape and people for their subject matter. NFB films about Nova Scotia from the post-war period were similar to those in other provinces. Dennis Duffy describes this era in British Columbia,
- ...[after] the departure of Grierson, the Board's output become more diverse and somewhat more pedestrian — British Columbia's industries, natural resources, and geography were featured in a number of conventional documentaries and in items for the post-war newsreel series Eye Witness. More importantly, Board films began to explore, with mixed success, some elements of the province's unique character and cultural heritage (p. 9).
Paralleling this general direction in Nova Scotia, the series Eye Witness, for example, featured films about the province's tuna, swordfish and lobster fisheries, as well as weir fishing practices. The post-war series Canada Carries On focussed on the fisheries and the coal industry through productions such as Famous Fish I Have Met (1949), Salt Cod (1954) and Diggers of the Deeps (1954). The Canadian Geography and Social Geography series produced The Atlantic Region (1957) and Fishermen (1959) respectively, films which dealt (too optimistically, as it turned out) with the future of Atlantic Canada's fisheries and natural resources. In 1947 the series Peoples of the Maritimes produced a number of films on cultural groups in Nova Scotia: i, The Gaels of Cape Breton and The Men of Lunenburg. These films exhibit mid-century's chauvinistic definition of culture: "white" and "male." Works on Nova Scotia's African-Canadian and Mi'kmaq communities and on women were noticeably absent.
Moreover, there was a decidedly rural orientation to the NFB's films about Nova Scotia during the 1940s to 1960s. Little attention was given to urban, industrial growth, a process which was changing the economic face of the province. In an unpublished paper, "Interpreting Canada to Canadians: Government Sponsored Films of the Atlantic Canada Region, ca. 1920-1970," archivist Mary Ledwell analyzes this situation:
- There is a prevailing image of the Atlantic region as a pastoral society, steeped in tradition, and far removed from the mainstream Canadian society. In almost all the films, particularly those prior to 1960, rural and natural beauty is over-emphasized. Farm houses, quaint fishing villages, and beach scenes are the dominant images ... It is true that Atlantic Canada remained predominantly rural-based long after the rest of Canada shifted from a rural to urban-based society, but thriving urban centres did exist in cities like Halifax, Fredericton, St. [sic] John and Charlottetown. [But] images of urban progress are rarely seen (pp. 1-2).
Ledwell argues further that the focus of the NFB, under the tutelage of Grierson, "mythologized" the people and culture of Atlantic Canada. In 1943 Grierson stated that the NFB's production mandate would be to create "War films, yes, but more films, too, about the everyday things of life, the values, the ideals which make life worth living" ("John Grierson," p. 3). For Nova Scotia and the Atlantic region this meant focussing on the folkloric and bucolic way of life.
The Acadians (1947) exemplified the NFB approach to Nova Scotia, emphasizing, as Ledwell notes,
- [the] quaint backwardness of the people by showing men in the traditional roles of farmer and fishermen, and women spinning wool and rug hooking ... the film obviously exoticizes some aspects of Acadian culture.25
Similarly, Laura Boulton's The Gaels of Cape Breton (1947) emphasizes the Scottish love of solitude, the church and sheep farming. Boulton was escorted through Cape Breton by Helen Creighton during the filming of this production. Creighton had previously attempted, without success, to produce her own provincially-funded "folk films."
Boulton's film, and the NFB philosophy towards the Maritimes in general, may be described as an anti-modern yearning "for something outside the bleak world of 20th-century capitalism" (MacKay, p. 20).26 As Ian MacKay notes, for conservative intellectuals "the spectre of labour unions and radical politics was a terrible one indeed." Moreover, viewing the films made about Nova Scotia in the post-war era, one might be convinced that no such phenomena as politics and protest existed in the province. At the time of the filming of The Men of Lunenburg, these contented "fisherfolk" were actually "militants in a communist-influenced union, using their musical traditions to inspire labour solidarity rather than dreams of an older and better day" (MacKay, p. 20).
Comparing the films produced by Nova Scotia's Film Bureau for the same post-war period (1940s and 1950s) with the NFB series Peoples of the Maritimes demonstrates that the provincial agency had more economically and socially (if not ethnically) relevant and innovative practices. Duffy theorizes that the characteristic "remoteness of view" endemic in NFB films of this era can be explained by the agency's centralization, which hindered a true understanding of the people and places being interpreted, especially when they existed on the periphery of the central Canadian psyche. Film Bureau films, on the other hand, were produced in the region by local directors and technical personnel with a vested interest in presenting their own world accurately.27
Fortunately for Atlantic Canada, the NFB began responding to requests for regional studios, and offices were established in Halifax by the late 1970s. Thus, a new era began in which local screen-writers, directors, and producers directly influenced the form and content of productions. This trend allowed for more sensitive and realistic treatment of relevant subjects and issues. Though it would still take some years to redress imbalances, such as ethnic biases, increasingly films were produced which reflected the complex economic and cultural realities of Nova Scotia. By the early 1990s films such as Sylvia Hamilton's award-winning Speak It (1993), focusing on Nova Scotia's African-Canadian youth, had begun to reclaim lost stories for the cinema.
As significant as the regional growth and development of the NFB was for Nova Scotia and the Atlantic region, much of the film produced in the province from the 1950s to the 1970s originated from the studios of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Halifax - the CBHT. The advent of television created a huge demand for film to fill the hours of broadcast time and consequently a boom in local production. Film from these years is primarily 16mm kinescope, a highly stable format with poor visual quality.28 However, while some original "kines" were retained by the CBC archives, producers and individual collectors, few complete programmes remain.29 Thus, little actual footage exists to evidence a once vibrant regional production and broadcasting system.
CBHT broadcast material falls roughly into two main categories: segments shot in Nova Scotia (and the Martimes in general) for insertion in nationally-broadcast series, and film shot for regional programming. Prior to the establishment of the CBHT studio in 1955, the national studio shot extensive footage in Nova Scotia for current affairs, cultural, historical and natural resource-based series such as: Across Canada, Explorations, Country Calendar, Heritage, Inquiry, This Land, Telescope, and 20/20. The national CBC studio focused principally on Nova Scotia's natural resource industries (agriculture and fishing), rural life, history and culture. The emphasis was to deliver a rural and maritime image of Nova Scotia to the nation — in effect, there was little departure from what the NFB was doing.
This thematic scope expanded considerably with the opening of the regional studio. CBHT programming during the late 1950s and 1960s may be characterized as ambitious, experimental and creative. Designed specifically for Nova Scotia and Maritime viewers, CBHT utilized a burgeoning community of local performers, writers, directors, producers, and technicians. These talented individuals were given unfettered creative input into all aspects of production. Though landscape and natural resource-based information series remained the mainstay of the studio's output, it was balanced by variety, music, education and current affairs programming. CBHT production facilities were self-sustaining during this period, and Maritimers received the regional productions with great enthusiasm.
A good deal of CBHT's informational programming was produced in cooperation with the CBC National Farm and Fisheries Division. Such programmes were designed to provide information on relevant agricultural and marine issues. Series such as Country Calendar, Countrytime, Life and the Land, Maritime Gardener, Our Farm Business and This Business of Farming were devoted to following agricultural trends, business management issues and innovations of interest to Maritime farmers. Country Calendar broadcast a weekly Maritime edition dealing with issues specific to the region. With a lengthy run from 1954 to 1970, Country Calendar provided information and education for "the practical farm[er] to the armchair farmer" for nearly a generation (Farm News, p. 1).
Fisherman's Log was a fifteen-minute programme which had its origins in a popular radio series, Fisherman's Broadcast. Fisherman's Log was "designed to do about the same job for the fishermen of the Atlantic provinces as Countrytime [did] for the farmers. It [was] one of the first programs to be produced on television especially for the fisherman." In 1971, the nationally popular Land and Sea picked up where the Log had left off. Cancelled by CBHT in 1990, Land and Sea was subsequently revived because of public protest. Its popularity was due to the practical, topical and controversial approach to issues taken by the programme's producers and directors. Another national series which appealed to Atlantic Canadian fishermen was The Seafarers, which looked at the Maritimes' culture and traditions in interviews and through storytelling.
Two locally-produced and nationally-aired music series during the 1960s, Don Messer's Jubilee and Singalong Jubilee, profiled the region's renowned musical heritage and helped launch the careers of many Atlantic Canadian musicians, singers, and song-writers. The cast of Don Messer's Jubilee became as familiar as family to most Canadians of the era and a virtual institution in the Maritimes.30
Don Messer and his group, "The Islanders," entertained Canadians for sixteen years before the series was cancelled, a move which provoked a vociferous public outcry. The summer replacement during the Messer years was Singalong Jubilee, a folk variety series featuring Anne Murray, Jim Bennet, Katherine MacKinnon, Fred McKenna, Shirley Eikhardt, Gene McLellan, and many others. Singalong aired for ten years, its popularity sparking years later a retrospective series, The Singalong Years, which was part of CBC fall programming for 1992-93.
Other locally-produced series in the music or musical variety genre were One for the Show (1955), Journey into Melody (1958 - 59), Sounds of Jazz (1959), Souvenir/ Reflections (1959 - 60), The Downeasters (1959 - 61), i, and the popular Frank's Bandstand (1963 - 67). The latter, inspired by American Bandstand and hosted by local media personality, Frank Cameron, featured Maritime singers, musicians, dancers and the house band, "The Offbeats."
Until the 1950s using television to supplement elementary and secondary education remained a largely unexplored possibility. CBC National conducted its first forays into experimental educational television in 1954 and 1956, and Nova Scotia became the first province to provide educational programming to schools, with a series of nine half-hour programmes on a variety of subjects, prepared and delivered by teachers. A generation of Maritime school students remember having to sit quietly in front of television sets in their classrooms watching the black and white instructors conduct experiments, instruct in French, and explain algebra. In addition, CBHT provided general programming for young people with an educational twist, series such as At the Back Fence (1967 - 70), Let's Look (1958 - 63) and Max Museum (1968 - 69). Educational television has evolved by leaps and bounds since those early years of static tutelage. A current CBC programme for teenagers, produced in Halifax, is the popular and dynamic Street Cents.
Regional current affairs series were dedicated to presenting significant and newsworthy events and issues from an Atlantic Canadian perspective. Such series included Interrogative 3 (1963 - 68), Perspective (1968 - 71) and Focus (1970 - 71). Perhaps the most memorable weekday supper hour CBHT programme was Gazette, which ran from 1954 to 1973. Adopting a rather lighthearted approach to people and events in the Maritimes, Gazette often featured interviews with unusual and interesting individuals, conducted by hosts Max Ferguson and Don Tremaine, personalities in their own right.31
Programmes were filmed without scripts, which contributed to their "lively and humorous" flavour (CBC Times, p. 12). Unfortunately, no complete Gazette programmes exist, only fragments survive. Gazette was succeeded by Here Today which shifted focus towards "a more serious current affairs and news show" in an extended one-hour format.32
The early years of CBHT are notable for a remarkable creative freedom for its employees. Cross-over from one side of the camera to the other and from one medium (radio) to another (television) was common. Frequently individuals participated in researching, writing, producing, performing and even designing sets for a variety of programmes. This multi-disciplinary practice allowed for innovative and unexpected results.
Outstanding in this group of multi-talented staff was Bill Langstroth, a self-described "Emcee, self-accompanied vocalist, host, interviewer, producer and performer."33 Langstroth was the "singing host" of Singalong Jubilee and Barb and Bill; a writer/producer of Gazette and Don Messer's Jubilee; a producer of Kingfisher Cove, Ballades et Chansons, Chorale and Sounds ‘66, ‘67, ‘68; and a producer/performer in a variety of CBC's musical series for radio. Langstroth epitomized the wearing-many-hats practice, which allowed for so much creativity in the early years of regional broadcasting in Nova Scotia.
Other notable and equally versitile personalities were Max "Rawhide" Ferguson, another cross-over personality, known best for his popular radio shows The Rawhide Show and The Max Ferguson Show; Don Tremaine, host of Gazette and Singalong Jubilee; Manny Pitson, producer and director of Singalong Jubilee and Frank's Bandstand; Jim Bennet, host of The Downeasters and Homebase, and writer/host of The Seafarers; Marylin MacDonald, host of Gazette and Homebase, and frequent guest on Singalong Jubilee; and Glenn Sarty, producer of The Downeasters and Gazette. These names mark but a few of the more well-known pioneers in television production and broadcasting in Atlantic Canada, reflecting the kind of depth and breadth CBHT had during its initial decades. Such individuals and their work contributed to the immense popularity of television and paved the way for the astounding proliferation of broadcast signals, which are being developed in the futuristic "500 Channel Universe."
In 1996 cinema and film reached a century of broadcasting and production in Canada. The national history of this medium is marked by many firsts and pioneering achievements, and no less so in Nova Scotia than in other parts of the country. The successes of the early independent film companies and film-makers, the Nova Scotia Film Bureau, and the regional studios of the NFB and CBC may be attributed to a tradition of risk-taking which was established from the cinema's inception in the region.
This is not to say that difficulties did not exist or that problems did not persist in film production about and in eastern Canada. Nova Scotia, and the Atlantic region in general, laboured under the seemingly fixed stereotyping of its people and way of life as pastoral, quaint, even backward. Such images were offered not only for local consumption but were proffered to the world as the defining portrait of the province. Moreover, much of Nova Scotian film-making (both from outside and from within) was landscape-driven, from the earliest days to well past mid-century. However, it is clear from the small amount of footage which remains for researchers to analyze that the best representations and interpretations of Nova Scotia's people, geography, and events were done by local film-makers.
Quite a difference in tone and intent exists, for example, between Edward Bollinger's Lumbering in Nova Scotia and Shooks, produced for the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests, and Ontario folklorist Laura Boulton's The Gaels of Cape Breton, produced by the NFB in association with the National Geographic Society. Bollinger's documentaries depict life at a lumber mill in Halifax County and Nova Scotia's box wood industry; Boulton's film is a selectively whimsical look, in the documentary style, at quaint Gaelic Cape Bretoners and their ox-drawn daily lives. Each film was produced in the late 1940s. All these films were designed to inform and educate the public about life and work in Nova Scotia. While Bollinger's films were part of the almost obsessive preoccupation with natural resources (after all they were produced by the government department responsible for them), these Nova Scotia-made films manage to remain outside the serious stereotyping which Boulton's film perpetuates. Indeed, Bollinger's early films helped to establish a tradition of practical and realistic handling of natural resource topics which the CBC programme Land and Sea drew upon for over twenty years. Boulton's romanticized record of Cape Breton life helped to justify the production of foreign films such as Johnny Belinda.
Geography and natural resources were and remain quintessential and germane topics for Nova Scotian film-makers, however, the tradition of film-making in the province was much broader than these preoccupations suggest. Nova Scotia has much to be proud of when reviewing its film-making history: Canada's first feature-length film in 1913, Evangeline; Canada's first, longest-lived and most prolific provincial film bureau, which produced award-winning films about Maritime history and culture from the 1940s to the 1960s; Canada's first comprehensive elementary and secondary educational programming in the 1960s; and an innovative regional television studio, which created some of Canada's most-loved variety and current affairs programmes in the 1950s and 1960s. This film-making was both the cause for and the result of a general creative atmosphere which comprised cinematic development and production in Nova Scotia. This creativity manifests itself today in a variety of busy independent studios and film cooperatives, operating in spite of government funding cutbacks and the continued dominance of Hollywood on film production around the world. Moreover, the NFB and CBC, struggling themselves under significant (perhaps even crippling) budgetary reductions, continue to play major roles in film production in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.
New technologies, such as digital and computer imaging and generation, expanding satellite resources and the Internet, are changing the moving image almost daily. As the new millennium approaches, the future face of cinema and television is only limited by the imagination. With the long and distinguished tradition of film production in Nova Scotia, there is ample reason to assume that the innovative and enduring legacy which this filmography documents will be added to in novel and lasting ways.34
1. The Holland Brothers were not the first entrepreneurs to exhibit moving pictures in Canada. On 27 June 1896, in Montréal, Louis Minier and Louis Pupier screened the first motion picture for a paying audience. They used the Lumière Cinématographe. See, Sam Kula, "Letter to the Editor," Archivaria, No. 41 (Spring 1996), p. 5.
4. CBHT Halifax, one of CBC's regional studios, has long been recognized for its contribution to local and national programming, and the NFB's Atlantic Studio had offered, and continues to offer, Nova Scotia's many voices to the world.
5. Gordon Parsons resurrected the name of Porter's theatrical show when he established Halifax's first alternative movie cinema in 1976. The theatre operated until 1998, offering Halifax movie-goers high-quality, non-commercial, avant-garde Canadian, American, and European films (MacDonald, p. 21).
7. The Canadian Pacific Railway launched one such campaign just before the turn of the century, sending James S. Freer on tour in Europe with a collection of film footage he had shot across Canada, including one film entitled Pacific and Atlantic Mail Trains (Morris, p. 30). This type of film was designed to promote settlement along the railway lines and in other unpopulated areas. The majority of these early promotional and propaganda films were commissioned or produced by British or American companies.
8. Canadian Bioscope's Halifax office and studios were located at 108 Pleasant St. (now Barrington St.), at the south end, property now occupied by the "Foundry" building ("Have You Seen Evangeline?" p. 1).
9. Evangeline's rendering of Longfellow's version of Acadian history was not the first or last time the poem was committed to film. The American company Selig had filmed a version in 1911 and twice more would it grace the silver screen in 1919 and 1929 (Morris, p. 50).
11. New York Dramatic Mirror, 28 January 1914, quoted from "Have You Seen Evangeline?," p. 5. Evangeline had premiered in New York City a few days before Halifax audiences were given the pleasure if its authenticity and romanticism.
12. Morris states of In the Enemy's Power, "[it] was somewhat unusual for Canadian producers of the time in that it was set in Mexico, a three-reel drama of an American who falls in love with a Mexican woman and gets caught up and dies in the revolutionary war between President Modero and Porfirio Diaz," (pp. 50-51). However, international preoccupation with Mexico as a result of the Spanish-American War and various civil conflicts perhaps explains this unusual subject for a Canadian film.
13. Morris states that Big Timber was never released: "John W. Noble [the film's American director] sued the company in the United States for breach of contract and a receiver was appointed to take over the film. That was the last anyone heard of it." (p. 86)
17. This film was produced by the Biograph Company (American), and was often referred to as An Arcadian Elopement. The promotional literature stated that An Acadian Elopement featured the Quaker maiden in "a neolithic buggy," set in "the Normandie [sic] of the New World," with "novel scenes" such as an "Arcadian [sic] sight-seeing equipage [:] an ox-wain heaped high with rusting salt hay." (Biograph Bulletin, p. 306)
18. Correspondence, Clark to Crowell. A synopsis for the film reads: "The story of a young girl who learns fancy ways on the mainland and then returns to the strong and simple fisherfolk of her island home." (Globe & Mail, p. 4)
23. Adrian Alexander Willsher examines the Nova Scotian Film Bureau in a recent M.A. thesis, "'Where Are the Roads?': The Tourist and Industrial Promotion Films of the Nova Scotian Film Bureau, 1945-1970," Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S., 1996.
24. In 1938, under the direction of John Grierson, the federal government established the National Film Board, an agency which would eventually absorb the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau. In 1939, when the Charlie Gordon film was made, the CGMPB was still producing under its own name. Eleanor Beattie states, however, that The Case of Charlie Gordon was "the Board's first film." (p. 7)
26. For a more in depth discussion of these issues see, Ian MacKay, The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994).
27. MacKay examines the problems of Atlantic Canada's interpretation and commemoration of its history and cultural heritage to the outside world during the post-war era in "History and the Tourist Gaze: The Politics of Commemoration in Nova Scotia, 1935-1964," Acadiensis, XXII, 2 (Spring 1993). MacKay's analysis demonstrates that the government had its own "anti-modern" agenda in practices of commemoration. Even the innovative Film Unit could not have escaped perpetuating pastoral images of Nova Scotia, especially when producing films for tourist promotion for a government intent on feeding a nostalgic portrait to the world.
29. The introduction of videotape technology in the 1970s made kinescope obsolete. As a result, much of the 16mm film which had accumulated over the years was put in storage or discarded, to make room for the new technology. However, much of the original film, which required large storage facilities and expensive maintenance, was eventually destroyed.
30. Again, CBC adapted a popular radio programme for television. Don Messer had been broadcasting his music over the airwaves, as well as touring in concert nationally, for a number of years before making the transition to television.
Annual Report. Tourist Information Bureau, Nova Scotia Dept. of Highways, 1936 and 1939, Public Archives of Nova Scotia (PANS).
Annual Report of the Film Officer. Nova Scotia Dept. of Industry and Publicity, 1945, (PANS).
Backhouse, Charles. Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, 1917-1941. Ottawa: Canadian Film Institute, 1974.
Beattie, Eleanor. The Handbook of Canadian Film. 2nd ed. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates Ltd., 1977.
Biograph Bulletins: 1896-1908. Los Angeles, 1971.
Berton, Pierre. Hollywood's Canada: The Americanization of Our National Image. Toronto: Pierre Berton Enterprises, 1975.
Cash, Alan. "A Really Incomplete History of the Maritime Motion Picture Company." Unpublished paper, n.d., (PANS).
CBC Farm News. Halifax: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1962-63.
CBC Series Level Descriptions. Sound & Moving Image Division, PANS.
CBC data sheet on Bill Langstroth, n.d., RG 76, 3, 3, PANS.
"CBHT's 'Gazette' is Back from Holidays with Max and Rube." CBC Times. Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 16-22 September 1956, p. 12.
Correspondence. Earl Clark, Nova Scotia Dept. of Industrial and Tourist Promotion, to A.A. Crowell, Office of the Premier of Nova Scotia, 9 August 1956, PANS.
Duffy, Dennis J. Camera West: British Columbia on Film, 1941- 1965. Victoria: Provincial Archives of British Columbia, 1979.
"Fisherman's Log for Sydney & Antigonish." CBC Television press release, 14 February 1966, RG 76, 2, 4, PANS.
The Globe and Mail Magazine. The Globe & Mail. Toronto, 8 June 1957.
Have You Seen Evangeline? Motion Picture Heritage Fund of Nova Scotia, 1988.
"John Grierson - Three Statements." The National Film Board of Canada: The War Years. Ed. Peter Morris. Ottawa: Canadian Film Institute, 1965.
Ledwell, Mary. "Interpreting Canada to Canadians: Government Sponsored Film of the Atlantic Region, ca. 1920-1970." Unpublished paper, 1987, PANS.
MacDonald, Cathy. "Treasure Hunt: Gordon Parsons' Celluloid Search." Halifax Sunday Daily News, Sunday Matinee Section, 5 February 1989, p. 21.
MacKay, Ian. "He Is More Picturesque in His Oilskins: Helen Creighton and the Art of Being Nova Scotian." The New Maritimes, 12, 1 (September-October 1993), pp. 12-22.
Morris, Peter. Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema 1895-1939. Montréal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1978.