Category Archives: Amateur film

May 1, 1938: Vancouverites march for a better world

Shot by amateur filmmaker Oscar C. Burritt, this fascinating footage shows Vancouver citizens and organizations marching in a mass May Day parade through downtown Vancouver and the West End on May 1, 1938. An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 people participated in the parade, which marked International Workers’ Day.

The parade began at the Cambie Street Grounds (at Cambie and Dunsmuir) and followed the route Cambie – Hastings – Burrard – Georgia. Burritt seems to have shot his footage along West Georgia where it nears Coal Harbour and Stanley Park.

A variety of BC labour unions, political associations, ethnic and fraternal organizations, and other groups are represented, and can be identified by their signs and banners. Agitprop floats, displays, and signs reference current social conditions (including poverty, substandard housing, and high mortality in the forest industry). Some also reflect the current world situation, including the Spanish Civil War and the spread of Fascism in Europe. Of particular interest is a banner for the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (Canadians fighting for the Republican cause in Spain), a float for the Communist Party of Canada, and a briefly-glimpsed depiction of Nazi repression.  

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The parade ended at Lumberman’s Arch in Stanley Park, where an estimated 20,000 people gathered to hear speeches and songs. The marchers sang “Hold the Fort,” “The Red Flag,” and “The Internationale.”

Despite the marchers’ hopes for international solidarity and peace, the world situation continued to darken. Sixteen months later, Canada would be at war.

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Additional information about the parade can be found in “Peaceable May Day Throngs Vaunt Solidarity of Workers,” Vancouver Daily Province, May 2, 1938, p. 6, and “Thousands in May Day March to Stanley Park,” Vancouver Sun, May 2, 1938, p. 20.

NOTE: The video clip presented here combines related footage from two different sources at the BC Archives/Royal BC Museum. [May Day parade, Vancouver] (V1990:06/001.01 item #3), Oscar Burritt’s edited version of the event, was loaned to the archives for copying by Douglas Wilson of Toronto in 1990. [Burritt miscellany, reel 2] (F1986:38/006.02), found in a collection donated by the Burritt family in 1986, includes what appear to out-takes of the event.

Snapshot 3 (02-05-2020 11-25 AM)

 

Placer gold mining at Dease Lake, BC, ca. 1933-35

When playing this video, please make sure that you have the CC (closed captioning) feature turned on to see identification of people, places, and activities.

Amateur footage of a gold mining operation near the mouth of Thibert Creek, Dease Lake, BC, by Three Js Placer Miners, Inc. It was filmed ca. 1933-35 by Joseph J. Jackson, source of the three Js in the company name.

The footage excerpted here shows the shipping of supplies up Dease Lake from Dease Landing to Porter Landing; the company’s property near the mouth of Thibert Creek; and Jackson’s crew of miners at work. One especially interesting feature of the footage is its depiction of the unique and often jerry-built equipment used on-site.

 

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Joe Jackson at his Thibert Creek placer claim, ca. 1934. (Digital frame grab)

 

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Taking mats from the sluice box. (Jackson photo from MS-2954)

 

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Panning out material from a rocker box. (Jackson photo from MS-2954)

 

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The main Three Js cabin at Thibert Creek. (Jackson photo from MS-2954)

Hydraulic Monitors at the Bullion Mine (Cariboo, early 1940s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pier D Fire (Vancouver, 1938)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Victoria celebrates the Victory in Europe (May 1945)

On Tuesday, May 8, 1945, citizens of the the Allied Powers celebrated V-E Day, which marked the final victory over Nazi Germany.

The plans for Victoria’s local observances had been finalized in mid-April, in anticipation of the German surrender.  At 6:36 AM on Monday, Victoria residents tuned to CJVI Radio had heard the official news of the end of  the war in Europe.  The following afternoon, when amateur filmmaker George F. Lowe went out to join the city’s V-E Day celebrations, he took along his 8 mm movie camera.

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

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

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Parade watchers on the east side of Douglas Street at Humboldt, Victoria, May 9, 1945. (BC Archives I-20520 [detail]; Frank Boucher photo]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another view of the Beacon Hill Park service, May 9, 1945.  (BC Archives I-20522 [detail]; Frank Boucher photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Sudbury II” and the Flattops (1959-60)

This film clip shows the Victoria-based deep-sea salvage tug Sudbury II dealing with two former US Navy Casablanca-class escort aircraft carriers from WWII—the tow of the USS Cape Esperance, and the recovery of the USS Guadalcanal on the open Pacific. At the end of the clip, Sudbury II is shown returning to her home base in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

Edited excerpts from the promotional film Saga of the Sudburys, produced by Parry Films Ltd. for Island Tug & Barge in 1960. BC Archives film item AAAA2659 at the Royal BC Museum.

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USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) off Hampton Roads, Virginia, Sept. 28, 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph from collections of Naval History and Heritage Command (# NH 106567, detail).

The Tale of an Ill-Fated Fokker

By the mid-1930s, airplanes were being used frequently in northern BC to transport men and freight. Bush pilots had become quite adept at landing their single-engine craft on the small lakes that dotted the landscape. In July 1935, prospector Joe Jackson (1895-1972) traveled by airplane from Dease Lake to McDame Lake (near Cassiar) to check out some mining prospects. The BC Archives has Mr. Jackson’s amateur film of that trip, which turned out to be a different experience than he’d bargained for. The plane shown is a Fokker F-11AHB amphibian—one of only six built.

I’ve edited the footage and added some historical details about the plane itself. The timings below indicate the location of a sequence in the clip above.

0:25 – Photo of the Fokker in service with Air Ferries Ltd. of San Francisco, early 1930s.

0:55 – Here’s the amphibian on Dease Lake, with crew members paddling it up to the dock. I think this must be at Dease Landing.

1:05 – Here’s our friend Joe disembarking, in a posed shot; he actually got on the plane there.

1:19 – These first aerial shots show the full 23-mile length of Dease Lake.

1:46 – This open area coming up ahead is the delta (or flood plain?) at the mouth of Thibert Creek, where Jackson’s Three J’s Placer Mines company was prospecting for gold. [The subject of another video based on his film footage.]

2:09 – The plane passes over many lakes and rivers on its way northeast.

2:43 – Now we’re approaching McDame Lake (large lake at centre), where the amphibian landed and Joe disembarked.

2:55 – This is what happened next, as Joe filmed the plane trying to take off from McDame Lake. The story was reported in the Wrangell Sentinel, and other Alaska papers, as follows:

3:10

Four men…were injured Saturday, but none fatally, when William Strong’s plane crashed at McDame Lake. … The accident occurred when the plane, a Fokker amphibian, taking off from McDame Lake at 7 p.m., failed to gain altitude.  The plane ploughed 100 yards through timber and is totally demolished. Word was sent out by R. Latimer, who has an amateur radio broadcasting set, and by Tuesday pilot Everett Wasson, operating his private plane, made two trips to place the men in a hospital in Whitehorse. … [i]

Joe Jackson, a cameraman, standing by to record the take-off, attempted to cross the river to help the men, but the current was too strong and he was carried half a mile down stream and thrown against some snags.  Jackson sustained six broken ribs, and now all five men are in the hospital. [ii]

It looks like Joe had considerable stamina and presence of mind to go on and film the wreckage, even after breaking six ribs.  If so, he was a tougher man than me.

4:28 – This colour photo, which I found on the internet, shows the recovered fuselage of CF-AUV when it was briefly on display at an aviation museum in the Netherlands.

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Joseph J. Jackson and the Fokker F-11AHB amphibian CF-AUV, probably at Dease Lake, BC, on July 13, 1935. (digital frame grab from V1987:68/002.01)

 

NOTES:

[i]       “Four Injured in Plane Crash at McDames Lake,” Wrangell Sentinel, July 1935; undated clipping in Box 1 File 2, MS-0528.

[ii]       “Man Hurt in Effort to Help Passengers in Airplane Wreck.”  Undated clipping (from unidentified newspaper) in Box 1 File 2, MS-0528.

“Sudbury II” joins the IT&B fleet (1958-59)

Here’s another clip from Saga of the Sudburys.

These excerpts from the Island Tug and Barge promotional film feature the powerful deep-sea salvage tug Sudbury II (ex-Caledonian Salvor), which joins the IT&B fleet in Victoria in 1958. In the summer of 1959, she undertakes her first assignment: towing the Liberty ships Carole Lombard and Henderson Luelling to Japan and the breaker’s yard.

The SS Carole Lombard was launched in January 1944, two years after the death of her namesake, the popular American film actress and comedienne. Lombard, aged 33, was killed in a commercial airplane crash while returning from a War Bonds promotion tour.

This is an edited excerpt from Saga of the Sudburys (Parry Films ltd., 1960), BC Archives film item AAAA2659 at the Royal BC Museum.

For an earlier post from the same film, see The Last Voyage of the “Straits Maru” (1956).

The Last Voyage of the “Straits Maru” (1956)

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

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

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

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

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

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