A montage of images from the 1919 Hudson's Bay Company film

A montage of images from the 1919 Hudson's Bay Company film

Archival Hudson’s Bay Co. film restored, tours Canada

The Romance of the Far Fur Country, a silent documentary shot by filmmakers hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1919

Dr. Peter Geller visited London in 1996 on a hunch. Lucky for both him and his research, his gut feeling turned out to be correct.

“While most people go to London to see the sights and watch the theatre, I sat in an archive and watched a film,” he says with a laugh.

That film was The Romance of the Far Fur Country, a silent documentary shot by filmmakers hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). The silent documentary was filmed in 1919, premiered to a Winnipeg audience in 1920 in honour of the HBC’s 250th anniversary, but then fell out of the public eye.

However, Geller, the Vice Provost and Associate Vice-President Academic at University of the Fraser Valley, suspected the reels might be housed in the National Film and Television Archives at the British Film Institute. Sure enough, upon his arrival in London, he was able to track down the film in the archives. The only problem? It was far from a finished film: the footage was completely out of order.

Geller’s research has long revolved around the visual history of the Canadian North, which this film fit into perfectly. After watching and studying the footage in London, he included a chapter about The Romance of the Far Fur Country in his 2004 book, Northern Exposures: Photographing and Filming the Canadian North, 1920-1945.

Spurred by the interest of Geller and filmmaker Kevin Nikkel, the footage was returned from Britain to the HBC Archives in Manitoba earlier this year. The footage was digitized prior to its return to Canada in the fall.

But their work didn’t end there. Now captivated by the film footage, Geller and Nikkel have been working together to piece the film back into some kind of order so it can once again be shown to a Canadian audience.

“There is eight hours of raw footage, which the original filmmakers edited into a two-hour-long documentary,” Geller notes. “The footage we found in the London archive isn’t the final film — it’s a jumble of images and out of order captions. There’s a lot of work to be done to piece it back together.”

The team has now assembled the footage into a 30 minute film, which is being shown across Canada in the coming months. It’s already played in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton and several communities in northern Alberta, including Fort Chipewyan, and is coming to Vancouver on July 31. After that, it will travel to Victoria and onto Alert Bay.

Geller says he hopes to help bring the film to as many communities as possible — especially the communities the original film team visited in 1919.

“We’re basically retracing the steps of the film. We’re making an effort to return the footage to the communities, since it was never screened in the communities it was shot,” Geller explains. “It’s this huge, cross-Canada odyssey, and we want to connect that back to its roots.”

The original film crew started in Montreal, travelled up the St. Lawrence to Labrador, up to what is now Nunavut, into northern Ontario, and then over to northern Alberta, and finally over and up the sunshine coast to Alert Bay. Geller and Nikkel hope to follow at least some of that journey.

“It’s a fascinating film that helped to draw Canada together,” Geller says. “The HBC hoped to show how they, as a company, had helped bind Canada together — connecting Inuit and other northern Aboriginal peoples to traders and city dwellers like the original Winnipeg audience. For the Hudson’s Bay Company, it was a celebration of its history and showed the audience the variety of culture across Canada. And as a document of its time, it is important to recognize how the film is a part of the history of colonization, and both presented and shaped stereotypical views of Aboriginal people.”

The film will be showing at Vancity Theatre in Vancouver on Tuesday, July 31 at 7 pm. Geller and Nikkel will both be attending, and will offer a short Q & A period after the screening.

A spokesperson for Dr. Geller said, “Dr. Geller hopes to screen in as many places as possible, and we might see screenings in the Fraser Valley in the near future.”

For more information about the project and some clips from the film itself, visit www.returnfarfurcountry.com

Just Posted

Raeya Evie Duncan was the 100th baby born at Chilliwack General Hospital for the month of May. She is seen here with her parents Alysha Williams and Andrew Duncan on June 12, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Baby boom in Chilliwack as record number of infants born at CGH in May

‘COVID babies are coming out,’ says dad of 100th baby born at Chilliwack General Hospital last month

Syringes prepared with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Long Beach, Calif., Friday, March 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Walk-ins welcome at upcoming G.W. Secondary vaccine clinic

Second consecutive Saturday Fraser Health has scheduled a same-day clinic in a Chilliwack school

Migrating sockeye in the Fraser River August 7, 2007. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
First Nations, commercial, and recreational harvesters join forces to save Fraser River fish

‘We have to work together to rebuild these stocks while there is still time,’ says delegate

Vancouver courthouse. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Man loses bid to appeal conviction for 1999 rape at Abbotsford music festival

James Redden, 53, formerly of Nanaimo, was found guilty in 2019 following six-day trial

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in March at the Hope Station House, showing support for preserving the 1916 building. (Photo/Christian Ward)
New reports breathe life into efforts to save the Hope Station House

The documents were presented to District of Hope Council at a meeting June 14

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

Most Read