From Cache Creek to Barkerville (1955-56)

A mid-fifties Cariboo road trip from Cache Creek to Barkerville, with stops at Marble Canyon, Lillooet, Clinton, The Chasm, Lac La Hache, a cattle ranch, Williams Lake, and Quesnel. (Phew!)

The source of these edited excerpts is Legend of the West, a travelogue directed by Richard L. Colby and released in 1956 by the British Columbia Government Travel Bureau. It’s BC Archives item AAAA1211 at the Royal BC Museum.

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)

Victoria and the Island Highway (1941-42)

At the start of the Second World War, the BC Government Travel Bureau launched an ambitious program of in-house film production.  The Bureau’s Photographic Branch shot 16 mm colour footage on Vancouver Island and throughout the southern Interior. In the early postwar years, the filming program would be extended to northern and central BC, the Hope-Princeton Highway, the Alaska Highway, and the route of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. This footage would be fashioned into several colour-and-sound travelogues highlighting the province’s major regions and local attractions.

The first production completed was Vancouver Island: British Columbia’s Island Playground (1941-42).  The edited excerpts above showcase the Inner Harbour; downtown streets and shops; cricket, lawn bowling, golf and tennis facilities; swimming at Thetis Lake; the Malahat Drive and Lookout; the making of Cowichan sweaters at Koksilah trading post; and BC Provincial Police Highway Patrol. For a description of the complete film, see BC Archives AAAA3013.

Excerpts from this and the other BCGTB travelogues of the 1940s and 1950s are featured on the RBCM DVD release, Evergreen Playland:  A Road Trip through British Columbia (2008).

Salmo Celebrates! (1939)

80 years ago. . .

Salmo, BC, celebrates Dominion Day with a parade and sports day on July 1, 1939. After the parade through town, Dominion Day queen Sara Kristina Hamberg is crowned, local men compete in a mucking contest and a baseball game, the Nelson Boys’ Band plays, and everyone enjoys an ice cream cone.



One of the day’s highlights was a performance by the “crack drill team” of the Nelson chapter of the Nomads of Avrudaka, which was probably affiliated with the Pythian Sisters Temple No. 10. According to Wikipedia, the Nomads of Avrudaka were a female auxiliary of the Dramatic Order of the Knights of Khorassan, a side degree of the Knights of Pythias. These may be out-takes from a longer film; the South Kootenay News (at right, July 6, 1939, p. 4) seems to indicate that the performance was half an hour long!



Dominion Day Queen Sara Hamberg, freshly crowned. (Digital frame grab)

These video clips comprise edited excerpts from silent 16 mm film footage shot by Vancouver filmmaker Alfred E. Booth (1892-1977). In the 1930s and 1940s, Booth travelled extensively in the BC Interior, shooting footage of the various regions and communities for his company, Travel Films. The source film is the compilation reel “[Kootenay-Boundary area] : [footage and out-takes],” one of 39 film reels in the Alfred E. Booth fonds at the BC Archives.


For more examples of BC Interior and Vancouver footage shot by Alfred E. Booth, see the following blog posts:

“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)