A screenshot from the 1926 footage of the North Island. (Youtube screenshot)

A screenshot from the 1926 footage of the North Island. (Youtube screenshot)

VIDEO: Film historian finds rare footage showcasing 1926 life in remote Northern Vancouver Island

‘This photographer clearly knew what he was doing, suggesting he was taught’

Francois Arseneault has been an avid film historian for over 40 years, and a recent discovery of vintage 16mm footage from 1926 of the true North Island has him delighted to show off what the areas used to look like.

When asked how he found the rare footage, Arseneault noted he saw it for sale online and was immediately drawn to purchasing it to add to his collection.

He added that after watching the film, he wasn’t completely sure of the areas it was filmed in, but he knew “it was somewhere along the BC coast — enlisting a few friends, they quickly determined the one recognizable location was Alert Bay.”

Arsenault stated that finding footage from the 1920s is remarkable in itself, mainly because the first consumer 16mm film cameras were launched by Kodak in 1923. “These early adopters, the first people to purchase these rudimentary home movie cameras were somewhat wealthy as the cost of the camera, tripod and projector was around $8,000 in 2020 adjusted dollars.”

As such, amateur filmmaking was clearly not a hobby for the average person back in the 1920s.

“Most of the early footage was taken very much like anyone with his or her own first video camera in the 1980s: the kids, family, a barbecue in the back yard, a little vacation, very much ordinary footage,” added Arseneault. “To instead see footage of a remote part of BC from 95 years ago was wonderful. Not only Alert Bay, but now thanks to viewers who are sleuthing over the finer details in the films – Telegraph Cove, Refuge Cove and more.”

So, how rare is the footage?

“I know of a brief bit of 1920 footage shot by the Hudson Bay Company that is online, but as Alert Bay was not quite a tourist hot-spot, there was likely very little footage captured in the 1920s,” confirmed Arseneault, adding that the footage surviving for 95 years in relatively good condition is amazing to him. “Film can decompose and deteriorate which is why it’s important to preserve these films carefully. The early cameras were basic with adequate lens and imagery by today’s standards.”

As for who shot the footage and what kind of camera was used, Arseneault said he can’t say for certain.

“The photographer’s name is lost to history, but [the equipment is] more than likely a variant of the Cine-Kodak camera, either the “Model A” or “B”, a cast aluminum box approximately 8.5” by 5” by 3”, that was cranked by hand at two turns per second to achieve the necessary 16 frames per second. The camera was equipped with a fixed 1-inch (25mm) lens. As some of the footage includes telephoto shots, I suspect the optional 78mm f/4.5 telephoto was also employed. This photographer clearly knew what he was doing, suggesting he was taught.”

Arseneault has been a freelancer since 1987, travellinb to numerous countries capturing documentary and stock footage.

He spent about three months in Bosnia and Kosovo with the Canadian Forces on NATO missions in 1996-99 producing documentaries, and was embedded with the troops before the term embedded was used. He has met and interviewed the Dalia Lama, various heads of state, CEOs, race car drivers, actors, athletes, war vets, but most importantly, ordinary and wonderful people.

He is also a historian, specializing in the history of Army Cadets in Canada, and curating the Vernon Cadet Camp Museum in Vernon B.C.

Above all else, Arseneault wants people to know that preserving early history on film is a passion project for him.

“I’m not certain who’s enjoying this more, myself for discovering and sharing them or the viewers for solving the mysteries. I’m always on the lookout for old amateur 16mm and 8mm reels. Not only am I sharing them online, but more importantly, I’m also preserving them for future generations.

“My Canadian film collection continues to grow.”

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