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Rare film archive returned to Canada

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A rare collection of Hudson's Bay Co. (HBC) films has been returned to Canada from England.

The silent films are being added to the permanent holdings of the Hudson's Bay Co. Archives (HBCA) in Winnipeg, Culture, Heritage and Tourism Minister Flor Marcelino announced Monday.

"These extraordinary films bring to life records already held at the Hudson's Bay Co. Archives and help create a more complete picture of HBC's long history in the Canadian North," said Marcelino. "The motion pictures provide a unique glimpse into Inuit and First Nations communities and HBC operations across northern Canada from 1919 to 1939."

The bulk of the donation consists of what was once part of a two-hour silent film called Romance of the Far Fur Country. The film was commissioned in 1920 by the Hudson's Bay Co. to celebrate its 250th anniversary.

The original full-length feature film premiered in May 1920 in Winnipeg's Allen Theatre, known today as the Metropolitan, and was also shown in movie theatres across Western Canada.

Footage includes segments shot from the HBC supply ship the Nascopie on its voyage from Montreal to the eastern Arctic and Hudson's Bay. Along the way, HBC personnel and buildings, indigenous peoples and activities associated with the operations of the HBC were filmed. Also included in early footage are sequences of pageants and parades in Winnipeg, Calgary, Victoria and Vancouver.

The return of the films from England was possible through funding support from the Hudson's Bay Co. History Foundation and the Hudson's Bay Company Archives Trust Fund.

"The survival of these films is remarkable. Only a small amount of Canada's silent film heritage has survived due to the fragile nature of the nitrate film base," said Marcelino.

Until the recent transfer to the HBCA in Winnipeg, the films were preserved for the past several decades by the British Film Institute National Archive in London.

The entire collection, about 40 reels of original footage, was digitized prior to the films leaving London. Copies will soon be available for researchers, film makers and anyone interested in Canadian history. The fragile originals are carefully protected in the Archives of Manitoba storage specifically designed for film records.

Screenings of a selection of the footage to celebrate this new acquisition for the Hudson's Bay Co. Archives will take place on three consecutive Wednesday evenings, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. at Cinematheque, 100 Arthur St. and Feb. 22 and Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Archives of Manitoba, 200 Vaughan St. For more information please contact the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, 204-945-4949 or hbca@gov.mb.ca.

On the web:

Hudson's Bay Company Archives

Return of the Far Fur Country Project

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