Category Archives: Industrial films

“Herring Hunt” (NFB, 1953)

National Film Board of Canada

Directed by Julian Biggs from a script by Leslie McFarlane, Herring Hunt is a tight little documentary vignette about the daily routine of the BC herring fishery in the early 1950s.  It’s also notable as the moving image debut of Vancouver actor Bruno Gerussi; he plays Matt Johnson, an impetuous crewman on the herring boat at the story’s centre.  As most viewers will remember, Gerussi would later pursue another sea-going livelihood on television — as Nick Adonidas, skipper of the Persephone, in the long-running series The Beachcombers (CBC Vancouver, 1972-1990).

Gerussi apparently earned his role in Herring Hunt after being “discovered” by Leslie McFarlane in a 1952 production of A Streetcar Named Desire, staged by Vancouver’s Totem Theatre; he starred as Stanley Kowalski.  In his film debut, Gerussi seems to be recalling some of Stanley’s confrontational mannerisms.

Here’s the NFB description:  “This short sea-faring documentary follows the operations of a herring boat and her crew in the coastal waters of British Columbia. The Western Girl trawler, her skipper, and his men race to get their catch before the quota is taken and the fishing area closed. Teamwork is paramount in an enterprise that has a great element of risk; competition is keen and one man’s mistake may mean severe loss, so that a year of plenty may be followed by a year of famine.”

In the 26th Academy Awards, Herring Hunt was honoured with an Oscar® nomination in the category “Best Live Action Short Film, One-Reel”.

Bruno Gerussi (seated, left) as crewman Matt Johnson in
Bruno Gerussi (seated, left) as crewman Matt Johnson in “Herring Hunt”. (Frame enlargement from a 16 mm film print. BC Archives, 911410-0004, file 5.)

Summer 1920: The Picture Service

A hundred years ago, one of Canada’s first government film agencies was enjoying the first summer of its short life.

The British Columbia Patriotic and Educational Picture Service (PEPS), created by the BC government in April 1920, began releasing films on BC subjects that June. These were mainly films about the province’s resources and industries, as well as “scenics” (travelogues) and occasional entertainment shorts. They were largely the work of Vancouver cinematographer A.D. “Cowboy” Kean (1882-1961), the first British Columbian to make a living as a filmmaker.

The PEPS films were sent out to exhibitors, free of charge, for screening in the province’s movie houses. But there was a catch. Under the legislation creating the PEPS, all licensed movie theatres in BC were required to include the PEPS-issued films in every screening, up to a maximum of 15 minutes per show. The mandatory screening provision was controversial; audiences supposedly complained about the government films, and exhibitors pushed back against the requirement.

Some of the early PEPS pictures seem to have had technical quality issues, and the trade journal Canadian Moving Picture Digest [20 Sept. 1920, p. 40] claimed: “The BC government continues to wish its educational film on the long-suffering public. The film is good in every detail except photography, subtitles and editing.”

As time went on, however, it sounds like the films got better and more interesting; they certainly met with more acceptance from audiences. Kean spent July and August travelling all over southern BC to shoot new material for PEPS releases. At the end of August, the Vancouver Sun reported the pending release of three new films.

Vancouver Sun, 30 Aug. 1920, p. 5
Sun, 22 Aug. 1920, p. 16. Note cinematographer A. D. Kean in the lower left photo, with camera and packhorse.

The first film listed by the Sun showed members of the BC Mountaineering Club camping and climbing in the newly-created Garibaldi Park above Howe Sound. Billed as Glorious Garibaldi Park, it premiered at Vancouver’s Colonial Theatre on August 30 with a “Northern” adventure feature, The Valley of Doubt.

Sun, 29 Aug. 1920, p. 22

The second film, known as The Land of Wonders Review and Stanley Park, featured local dancers rehearsing in Stanley Park for an upcoming performance there. The dance pageant was directed by Mlle. Violet Belates-Barbes, who ran a dance school in Vancouver’s West End. Kean’s film, showing the park and the dancers, opened at the Allen Theatre on August 30, billed with a feature film called The Cost. The short proved so popular that it played there for two full weeks, even after the feature was replaced. The theatre manager reported that audience members had actually applauded a scene in Land of Wonders Review.

Vancouver Daily World, 7 Sept. 1920, p. 7
Sun, 29 Aug. 1920, p. 13

The third film showed the latest convocation of the University of British Columbia, along with the scenery and construction in progress at the new UBC site.

As with most of the pictures produced by PEPS, unfortunately, these films no longer exist. The picture service, which soon become mired in a political controversy, suffered budget cutbacks in early 1922, and essentially ceased production by mid-1923. The films were cut, re-edited, re-purposed–and eventually lost or destroyed.

Kean had begun making films in 1914, and some of the his pre-1920 efforts were picked up by PEPS for wider release. One notable example is an excellent documentary on whaling; he initially produced it in 1916, then augmented it with newly-shot footage each year until 1919. It is preserved today, in its PEPS version, as Whaling: British Columbia’s Least Known and Most Romantic Industry.

A. D. Kean’s unique film on BC whaling, shot 1916-19, was distributed by PEPS in the 1920s.

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)

“Tourism: A British Columbia Industry” (1940)


The film’s title frame illustrates the simple but effective graphics that would enhance the BCGTB’s 1940s travelogues. (Digital frame grab)

These excerpts from a silent film with inter-titles, shot on Kodachrome stock (ca. 1940), show the efforts of the BC Government Travel Bureau to promote tourism in the province. At their offices on Superior Street in Victoria, we see office staff at work; the preparation of ad campaigns; design and printing of brochures; handling of public correspondence; and the promotion of automobile travel. There are brief shots of a car ferry, a steamship, a steam train, and an airliner—as well as the Craigflower Bungalow Court & Motel in Esquimalt.


Clarence Ferris, the BCGTB’s first filmmaker, sets up a shot on the grounds of the BC Legislature, ca. 1940. (Digital frame grab)

Of particular interest is a section on film production, which shows longtime staff member Clarence Ferris (above) operating a movie camera and splicing film. A crew from Leon Shelly’s Vancouver Motion Pictures is also seen shooting the BCGTB-sponsored travelogue Beautiful British Columbia (1940 version, now lost).

Tourism: A British Columbia Industry is BC Archives item AAAA2909 at the Royal BC Museum.


Vancouver Motion Pictures crew at work on a BCGTB travelogue, ca. 1940. (Digital frame grab)



“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.


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).

“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])


Museum Happy Hour: Moving Images

A video mashup promoting Museum Happy Hour: Moving Images, a public event at the Royal BC Museum on Thursday, March 28, from 5:15 to 7:00 pm.

Explore the museum galleries and the BC Archives’ Moving Image Collection with us in new and surprising ways. Early silent experimental films from BC, some paired with live scores by local musicians, will be projected onto gallery walls through remixes & mash-ups. The evening will also include a collaborative draw-on-film animation activity that will be projected at the end of the night.

Revisit, Re-imagine, Respond!

Curated by Aimée van Drimmelen, part of the Film + Sound Series.

This mashup is based on clips from films preserved by the BC Archives—including home movies, industrial shorts, and (especially) 1940s experimental films by Dorothy and Oscar Burritt and Stanley Fox.

The music is “Marimba,” a 2005 track performed by Vate, which is used here under a Creative Commons license through the Free Music Archive.



Digital frame grabs from “and–“ (ca. 1940) by Dorothy Fowler (Burritt) and Margaret Roberts.

Of Mines and Men: A Miner’s Home and Family (1945-48)

An excerpt from Of Mines and Men, 1945–1948. This film was created by the BC Government Travel Bureau’s Photographic Branch, and was used to attract employees to the mining industry. The film emphasizes the comfortable homes and amenities available to miners and their families at BC mining camps.