Category Archives: BC film history

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.  


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.

* * *

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)


This Week in History: The Hope-Princeton Highway

On November 2, 1949—70 years ago—the Hope-Princeton Highway was officially opened, providing a new and long-awaited direct car and truck route between the Lower Mainland and the southern Interior. The new highway was important for commerce, but also played a  critical role in the postwar development of automotive tourism in the province. The BC government travelogue Peachtime in the Valley (1949-1951) promoted the Hope-Princeton as a route to the Penticton Peach Festival.

This episode of the CHEK-TV/Royal BC Museum series This Week in History looks at the highway, the opening, and the film that promoted it.


Program for the official opening of the highway. (Call number: NWp 971.42 B862b c. 3, BC Archives library collection.)


Map showing the Hope-Princeton (in black) as part of the Southern Trans-Provincial Highway.



Visitors pause for photos at “Ye Olde Manning Park Gallows” on the Hope-Princeton Highway, 1957. (BC Archives photo I-28674, detail.)



Romaine Fielding seeks “a second Mary Pickford” (Vancouver, 1916)


Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 2, 1916, p. 14

In September 1916, Hollywood actor-writer-director Romaine Fielding (1867-1927) appeared in a short play at Vancouver’s Pantages Theatre (at 136 East Hastings). During his visit, he was also searching for a new actress—“a second Mary Pickford”—who would supposedly become his leading lady in a new film company. (He invoked Pickford’s name because she was a major movie star who was born in Canada.) With assistance from the theatre and the Vancouver Daily World, Fielding sponsored a contest to find the right woman. His criteria were very specific.

The young lady that I shall choose must be 21 years of age, five feet four or five inches, with large, expressive eyes, small mouth, perfect teeth, well shaped and her hair plentiful, natural wavy preferred. Small hands and feet are essential.”

The World noted that “Any girl who has the necessary equipment, whether she is experienced or not, has a chance to win this opportunity.”


Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 13, 1916, p. 5

Advertisements ran in the World for a week, and more than twenty young local women submitted their photos. Fielding reviewed the photos, interviewed the selected contestants, and chose seven finalists. He had Vancouver cinematographer A. D. “Cowboy” Kean come to the Pantages and film them onstage. On September 15, Kean gave Fielding a private preview of the movie.

“In it are many of the young ladies in the contest, and the camera caught them in various poses which were designed to show off their beauty. The reel shows Mr. Fielding giving his talk to the young ladies, and putting them through the various tests by which it is determined whether they will be likely subjects to work before the camera. A few of this bevy of western beauties show up exceptionally well, to the great satisfaction of Mr. Fielding and, no doubt, themselves.”

“After the film had been shown, Mr. Fielding took several of the young ladies over to the corner of Cordova and Main streets where, with the Bank of Montreal as a background, they were again caught by the camera in various poses. Groups were taken and then some of the more promising ones individually. They are seen laughing, winking and “making eyes” at the camera men, and altogether the picture should prove an attractive one. At any rate, the girls attracted a crowd which blocked traffic for many feet, for it is not often that so many real beauties are seen together.”

Kean’s film was screened the following week as part of the vaudeville program at the Pantages. According to E. C. Thomas, Vancouver reporter for the trade journal Moving Picture World:

“The candidates were shown singly or in pairs, laughing and then looking haughty (I think).”

I had originally thought that this contest was unique to Vancouver. Recently I learned that Fielding conducted the same contest at Pantages Theatres in Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. Sadly, there is no record of the winning contestant’s name or image from Vancouver, or from any of the other cities. [1]



Vancouver Sun, Sept. 22, 1916, p. 3


Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 16, 1916, p. 3






















[1]       “Here, Girls, is Chance to be a ‘Movie Star’,” Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 2, 1916, p. 14; “Local Girls May Become Movie Stars,” Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 5, 1916, p. 12; “Number of Girls Enter Contest,” Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 11, 1916, p. 2; “Film of Local Beauties to Be Shown at Pantages Next Week,” Vancouver Daily World, Sept. 16, p. 3; “Pantages: Unequalled Vaudeville” [theatre ad], Vancouver Sun, Sept. 22, 1916, p. 3; [E. C. Thomas], “Laughing and Then Looking Haughty,” Moving Picture World, October 14, 1916, p. 283.

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.



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



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



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



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)

It’s the Cariboo, Dude! (1950s)

The dude ranch featured in this travelogue clip is the Flying U Guest Ranch at Green Lake, B.C., 21 kilometres northeast of 70 Mile House.  The Flying U is one of the oldest and best known guest ranches in British Columbia.  The central ranch house was built in 1862.  Purchased by the Boyd family in 1883, the property was turned into a guest ranch by Jack Boyd in the early 1920s.  At the time this footage was shot, in the 1950s, the ranch was being operated by Mr. and Mrs. Bert Gammie.

Writing in the Kerrisdale Courier (2 August 1956), Chuck Bayley highlighted the Flying U with “a recommendation for young cowboys and dudes who dream of riding saddle over rolling cattle country.”

The source film is Legend of the West, directed by Richard L. Colby, and released in 1956 by the British Columbia Government Travel Bureau.  Incidentally, all of these BC government travelogue clips were included in the DVD Evergreen Playland: A Road Trip through British Columbia (RBCM, 2008).

For a full archival description of Legend of the West, click here.


“Bucking barrel at a Cariboo dude ranch.” (BC Archives I-29868 [detail])


1935 promotional brochure for the Flying U Guest Ranch. (BC Archives NWp 796.56 F648)

Car culture and heritage buildings at a Cariboo Road stopping-house north of Clinton, ca. 1955.

Car culture and heritage buildings at an old Cariboo Road stopping-house north of Clinton, ca. 1955. (A video frame grab from “Legend of the West’, BC Archives AAAA1211.)

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!)

∇   ∇   ∇

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



[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.)

Qualicum Beach Delights (1941-42 & 1949)

The delights of resort village Qualicum Beach were showcased in two 1940s travelogues from the BC Government Travel Bureau—Vancouver Island: British Columbia’s Island Playground and Qualicum by the Sea, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The source films are preserved at the BC Archives as film items AAAA3013 & AAAA0355. The edited excerpts shown here were previously featured in the Royal BC Museum DVD Evergreen Playland: A Road Trip through BC (2008).

Hope & the Fraser Canyon

This video clip consists of excerpts from two BC government films. The brief look at the town of Hope is from the travelogue The Fraser Valley, British Columbia (1947-48). The Gold Rush scenes are historical re-enactments from the documentary The Fraser Canyon (1957-59).

The source films are BC Archives items AAAA1954 and AAAA1948, respectively, at the Royal BC Museum.

This edited sequence originally appeared in the Museum’s 2008 DVD release Evergreen Playland: A Road Trip through British Columbia. Used by permission.


Production still from a re-enactment of the 1858 Fraser River gold discovery, staged in 1958 for use in the BC government film “The Fraser Canyon.” (BC Archives I-27785, detail)