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Jeff Keshen
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Sylvie Perrier

19 – “Wie es eigentlich gewesen?” Early Film as Historical Source?

Michel S. Beaulieu

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1It is a phrase, a “dirty” one to use my grandmother’s vocabulary, which is a mere whisper in the hollowed halls of academia in North America. But, on exceptionally cold winter nights, it can still be faintly heard – haunting and taunting – the hordes of structuralists, post-structuralists, modernists, and post-modernists that can be found huddled in every nook and corner of university campuses:

  • 1 The best known utterance of this phrase can be found in the preface to his book Geschicten der Rom (...)

2 wie es eigentlich gewesen (as it really happened)1

  • 2 E.H. Carr, What is History? (New York: Vintage books, 1961), 5.
  • 3 Mark T. Gilderhus, History and Historians: A Historiographical Introduction, 3rd ed. (New Jersey: (...)
  • 4 Although reasonably accurate, this is a broad generalization. There are historians still aware of (...)

3It is a belief, an incantation as E.H. Carr suggests, that while “not a very profound aphorism [it] had an astonishing success.”2 This sentence embodied for nearly a century the activity performed by academic historians. Leopold Von Ranke, the man who dared utter such a blasphemous phrase, is considered by many such as Mark Gilderhus to have “more than anyone transformed history into a modern academic discipline, university based, archive bound, and professional insofar as the leading proponents underwent extensive postgraduate training.”3 However, despite having written over 60 volumes of published work in his lifetime and his notions of objectivity fuelling a century of discourse on the nature of history, he is nearly forgotten today.4

  • 5 Roger Wines, Leopold von Ranke: The Secret of World History (New York: Fordham University Press, 1 (...)
  • 6 Allan Nevins, for example, recommends Ranke to those historians “who want systematized erudition, (...)
  • 7 This is in part demonstrated by Ranke’s 1844 statement that, “I see the time approaching when we s (...)

4According to Roger Wines, one reason for this neglect is the relative inaccessibility of Ranke’s work to English-speaking readers.5 The other, though, is more theoretically and ideologically based. Most familiar with Ranke today know him as the founder of scientific history – something as a discipline we have tried to distance ourselves from.6 It is, though, another of Ranke’s concepts, integral to his notion of achieving history “as it really happened,” which still forms the basis of historical research and inquiry: the centrality of facts to the writing of history.7

  • 8 Beth August, “Film for the Historian,” in E. Bradforth Burns, ed., Latin American Cinema: Film and (...)
  • 9 Carl L. Becker, “What are Historical Facts?,” in Ronald Nash, ed., Ideas in History, Vol. 2, The C (...)

5On the surface, film would seem to be a document which provides the objective facts from which Ranke’s complete history can be written. As Beth August argues, film is unique as it has the ability to “capture visual reality and act as a recorder and preserver of those images.”8 However, this paper is not intended to argue the validity of Ranke’s notions of history, or for that matter those put forward by any objectivists – nor is it intended to add yet another voice to the chorus of criticism against him. In fact, one underlying belief of this paper is that, as Carl L. Becker argues, inherent in all historical work “the actual past is gone; and the world of history is an intangible world, recreated in our minds.”9 Instead, the intent of this examination is to provide a platform for a dialogue on the use of filmic sources in the writing of Canadian history and its role not as a recorder of “history as it really happened,” but as another “fact” of the past historians should consult. Separated into two parts, the first is a discussion of motion pictures as a complex and multi-faceted document underutilized and understudied as a bona fide source by historians. The second is an example of the rich evidentiary nature of a film produced in Port Arthur and Fort William, Ontario, in 1913. I have chosen to examine silent film because it is a “closed chapter.” The analytical tools, though, remain the same and are equally relevant to other types.

Scene 1: Towards a Methodology

  • 10 Paul Audley, for example, suggests the importance of film as pan of his argument in Canada’s Cultu (...)
  • 11 John E. O’Connor, ed., Image as Artifact: the Historical Analysis of Film and Television (Malabar, (...)
  • 12 That motion pictures were “bom” is a much used, but wholly inaccurate, phrase. Motion pictures wer (...)
  • 13 See Boleslaus Matuszewski, Une nouvelle source de l’histoire (Paris, 1898) quoted in Martin A. Jac (...)

6Can films be viewed through the same lens as other historical “facts?” Quite simply, the answer is yes. The position of film as the most viable, prestigious, and influential form of mass communication of the twentieth century enshrines its importance.10 As John E. O’Connor argues, “film and television demand recognition as forces in twentieth century society and culture, so they must also be recognised as shapers of historical consciousness.”11 Interestingly, the idea of including films as part of historical methodology is not unique by any means. Since the birth of motion pictures,12 historians have discussed the value of film as a historical document.13 For example, as early as 1895 suggestions were made by W.K.L. Dickson, the man responsible for the development and perfection of Thomas Edison’s first motion picture machine, that,

  • 14 W.K.L. and Antonia Dickson, History of the Kinetograph, Kinetoscope, and Kinetophongraph (New York (...)

The advantages to students and historians will be immeasurable. Instead of dry and misleading accounts, tinged with the exaggerations of the chronicler’s minds, our archives will be enriched by the vitalized pictures of great national scenes, instinct with all the glowing personalities which characterised them.14

  • 15 Carr, What is History?, 32.

7Considering the role that film has played in the hundred years since its invention, not considering it a “fact” worthy of the same analysis as other “artefacts” of the past is a failure to, as E.H. Carr suggests, “bring into the picture all known or knowable facts relevant, in one sense or another, to the theme in which he is engaged and to interpretation proposed.”15

  • 16 Warren I. Susman, “Film and History” Artifact and Experience,” Film and History 15, no. 2 (1985): (...)
  • 17 Carr, What is History?, 24.

8Why then do historians continue to not consult filmic evidence? According to Warren Susman, the main problem is that “not all historians are comfortable with such sources: they appear too slippery, too easily manipulated.”16 This belief, though, is largely based on misconceptions and misunderstanding. Films are no different from any other type of factual document. While they are unique in that they are dependent on technology for their creation and viewing, they can be examined in much the same way that E.H. Carr suggests any work of history should: “when we take up a work of history, our first concern should be not with the facts which it contains but with the historian who wrote it.”17

  • 18 Charles W. Jeffries, “History in Motion Pictures,” Canadian Historical Review 22, no. 4 (December, (...)
  • 19 Despite the contention by those such as Robert Craig Brown and Ramsay Cook that early twentieth ce (...)
  • 20 David Frank, “Short Takes; The Canadian Worker on Film,” Labour/Le Travail 46 (Fall 2000): 417. Fr (...)

9In Canada, historians have long been fascinated by motion pictures and their possible use in research and teaching. As early as 1941, Charles W. Jeffries commented in the Canadian Historical Review that “people nowadays get much of their information and their conceptions of life, past and present, through media other than books, lectures, and sermons, the long-standing established sources of instruction.”18 Yet, despite this acknowledgement and a continuing belief by academics that the culture of Canada is in grave peril, historians have for the most part continually neglected the history of film.19 As David Frank has recently commented, “there are not many standard titles on the history of Canadian film... [and] Film Studies in Canada seem to have been largely nationalistic in spirit, rather like the older studies of broadcast history.”20

  • 21 Peter Morris, Embattled Shadows (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1978, rep (...)
  • 22 Christopher Gittings, Canada’s National Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2002), 3. The exception is th (...)

10The situation is even more complicated for those undertaking an examination of film prior to the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada in 1939. Despite being written over 20 years ago, Peter Morris’ Embattled Shadows remains the only comprehensive book-length study of the period. It is therefore not surprising that Morris’ introductory statement that “the study of Canadian film history is still in an embryonic state,” is as apt today as when it was first written.21 In fact, despite a shared belief by many film scholars like Chris Gittings that “Embattled Shadows is not exploited as much as it could be in our syllabus and research,” there has been little forward movement in the field.22 In no way is this lack of scholarship reflective of the abundance of filmic material available throughout Canada. Extensive caches of rich and largely unexplored documents are known to exist in the film collections of municipal, provincial, and federal institutions and archives throughout the country. Additionally, countless films are in the hands of private individuals and lay forgotten in attics and barns from coast to coast. This lack of scholarship is problematic, as contextualizing any early films that a historian would hope to use is extremely difficult.

  • 23 Paula Marantz Cohen, Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth (New York: Oxford University (...)

11In contrast, it should not be surprising that the American preoccupation with motion pictures has permeated scholarship in the United States to a much larger extent than in Canada. Paula Marantz Cohen’s Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth, for example, argues that the United States defined the motion picture and vice versa. The “alliance between film and America,” Cohen states, “was the result of more than economic opportunity and available human and natural resources, though it drew on these factors for support. It rested on film’s ability to participate in the myth of America as it was elaborated in the course of the nineteenth century.”23

  • 24 Recently, a special edition of Perspectives, the AHA’s newsletter, focused entirely on film and th (...)

12In terms of scholarship, whether the “myth of America” is real or imagined is irrelevant. There can be no doubt those motion pictures were an integral part of creating, sustaining, and developing how America perceived itself in the early twentieth century. This fact alone has caused it to become part of any historical discussion on the period and led to an increasing body of scholarship on the use of film as a historical source. John E. O’Connor and Martin Jackson’s formation of the Historian’s Film Committee in the early 1970s, for example, enshrined a place for a dialogue on film and history in the American Historical Association.24

  • 25 The authors stated intention was to produce a work that would “(1) place film history within the c (...)
  • 26 Ibid., 43.

13Since the establishment of the AHA Committee, a plethora of material has been written on historical approaches to film, mainly through the committee’s journal, Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television. One of the most notable monographs is the aptly titled Film History: Theory and Practice, by Robert C. Allen and Douglas Gomery.25 Its examination of the methods, approaches, successes, and short-comings of film history as a discipline remains the most concise and articulated discussion in English. Film History is, in many ways, a manual designed to assist film historians in coming to grips with this subject. The study attempts to demonstrate that the writing of history “is not the passive transmission of facts, but an active process of judgement – a confrontation between the historian and his or her material.”26 For historians this is not new, but, in the case of film history, the “fact” that judgment is being passed on is, in terms of historical evidence, an unconventional one. However, Allen and Gomery’s work does not address one key issue: the use of film in writing history, rather than the writing of film history.

  • 27 O’Connor, Image as Artifact, 6.
  • 28 Ibid., ix.

14John E. O’Connor’s edited collection Image as Artifact is the best attempt so far to form, as the contributors intended, a “coherent and comprehensive methodology to the study of film,”27 and to “identify the specific way in which the historian’s tools best apply to the study of moving images.”28 It advocates two stages of historical analysis of what it terms “a moving image artefact.” The first is to gather information on the content, production, and reception of the film strictly as a document. While many aspects of the film become evident simply through viewing it, O’Connor and the contributors to the collection suggest attention needs to be paid to additional aspects of the film, namely:

  • 29 Ibid., 6,10-26.

A close study of the content of the film itself – the images which appear on screen and the sounds on the soundtrack and the ways they are brought together to convey meaning; the social, cultural, political, economic, and institutional background of the production and the conditions under which it was made; and the ways in which the film... was understood by its original audience.29

  • 30 Ibid., 7.

15The second stage involves examining the material gathered in stage one in relation to what can be “reduced to four frameworks of historical inquiry.”30 These “frameworks” are categorized as, in no order of importance:

Framework 1: The Moving Image as Representation of History;
Framework 2: The Moving Image as Evidence of Social and Cultural History;
Framework 3: Actuality Footage as Evidence for Historical Fact;
Framework 4: The History of the Moving Image as Industry in Art Form.

  • 31 Ibid., 8. Each of these categories receives extensive attention in individual chapters representin (...)

16It is important to understand, as O’Connor suggests, that “these four categories are not meant to be rigid or limiting in any way... in practice, there will always be overlap among the four; no one of them can or should be applied without reference to theothers31

  • 32 Christopher H. Roads, “Film as Historical Evidence,” Journal of the Society of Archivists (October (...)

17While not entirely a separate framework, one aspect of the compilation that deserves separate mention is the need for the historian to use film in relation to other forms of records. Anticipating O’Connor’s collection, Christopher H. Roads, once Deputy Director and Keeper of the Department of Records, Imperial War Museum, suggested in 1966 that regardless of how one views film as a document its “value and use... as historical evidence can be appreciated only if the prospective user has a broad grasp of the circumstances surrounding its creation, preservation, and accessibility as well as its general character, and, therefore, its relationship with other classes of records.”32

  • 33 O’Connor’s “Case Study” is organized by subheadings of each stage and method of historical inquiry (...)

18Keeping in mind both Allen and Gomery’s approach to the writing of history, and the methodology advocated by O’Connor, what follows is a brief study of a film made in and about Fort William and Port Arthur, Ontario, in 1913. This is intended to provide an example of how historians can use film to complement and enrich traditional documents. Unlike the case study of The Plow that Broke the Plains, that follows the theoretical discussion in Image as Artifact, the following incorporates O’Connor’s and his colleagues’ strategies rather than compartmentalizing them.33

Scene 2; Port Arthur and Fort William: Canada’s Keys to the Great Lakes

  • 34 Greg Scott, for example, demonstrates that communities along the St. Lawrence also viewed their po (...)

19Like many parts of Canada during the early twentieth century, the residents of Port Arthur and Fort William viewed their progress and future development as synonymous with the desire to replicate the prosperity of the United States.34 As demonstrated in the following article that appeared in the Weekly Herald in 1898, the potential of the region was often framed in comparison to major American metropolises:

  • 35 Weekly Herald, 18 Nov. 1898 quoted in Thorld J. Tronrud, Guardians of Progress: Boosters and Boost (...)

We [at the Lakehead] are subsisting upon delicacies procured from the far points of the compass. We stand in the gateway to the ocean... We are nearer London, England, than New York City. We look toward the South and we can almost see the smoke rising from the modern London – Chicago. We go north and return with millions from our Klondyke... Some fine morning we will awake to find this the centre of a busy, mighty people; we have all the industrial possibilities of any country... While other communities totter and fail, ours will stand. Our growth has been that of the oak; when it reaches its maturity it will be known for its strength.35

  • 36 Port Arthur Daily News-Chronicle, 21 March 1906.
  • 37 Port Arthur Daily News-Chronicle, 2 Feb. 1910.

20The city that both Port Arthur and Fort William were most frequently compared to was Chicago: “like Chicago, Port Arthur was located both as to water and railway communications to become the national distribution point of this country and the metropolis of the West.”36 Similarly, another article in 1910 attempted to draw a direct parallel between the harbours of Port Arthur and Fort William and that of Chicago. According to the Port Arthur Daily NewsChronicle “the two cities at the head of Lake Superior have a greater Western tributary and have greater harbour facilities than Chicago” had when it began to boom.37

  • 38 See Dominic A. Pacyga and Ellen Skerret, Chicago: City of Neighbourhoods (Chicago: Loyola Universi (...)
  • 39 Harold M. Mayer and Richard C. Wade, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis (Chicago: Chicago University (...)
  • 40 Mayer and Wade, Chicago, 35,40.

21In many ways the development of the Lakehead in the early twentieth century was reminiscent of Chicago’s between 1820 and 1890. The growth and economic success of Chicago and its outlying regions were natural choices for emulation. The business elite of the Lakehead and the provincial government of Ontario saw that Chicago, like the Lakehead, began as a fur-trading outpost that entered the mid-nineteenth century with a bleak outlook.38 However, the industrialization and continental policies of the American government spurred a period of railway growth. From its modest two tracks in 1850, by 1856 more than 3,000 miles of track were providing the roadbed for 58 passenger and 38 freight trains daily.39 Chicago’s position as the focus of this transcontinental network allowed the hinterland fort of 1820 to develop into the railway capital of both the United States and the world by 1871.40

  • 41 Duis, Challenging Chicago, 9, and Irving Cutler, Chicago: Metropolis of the MidContinent, 3d. ed. (...)
  • 42 Mayer and Wade, Chicago, 42.
  • 43 Daniel H. Burnham, Jr. and Robert Kingety, Planning the Region of Chicago (Chicago: Chicago Region (...)

22The railway’s effect on the development of the region was profound. In addition to the maintenance and supply yards required, with the railroads came an influx of settlers, businesses, and investment. Drawn by the city’s growing position as a major world wheat handling centre, Chicago’s function as “a railway hub allowed it to become the great interchange through which the mid-western agricultural bounty was collected for movement to the east.41 The growth of Chicago’s prominence in the railroad industry “was only rivalled by its growth in the Lake Traffic.”42 The construction of canals, dredging, and a variety of other improvements assisted “Chicago to branch out like the arteries of a growing organism, knitting the agricultural settlements and trade centers into an economic unit and joining the Chicago Region with the outside world.”43

  • 44 Tronrud, Guardians of Progress, 5.
  • 45 Alan Artibise, “Boosterism and the Development of Prairie Cities, 1871-1913” in Alan Artibise, ed. (...)
  • 46 Tronrud in Guardian’s of Progress does briefly mention the use of films, but as it was not specifi (...)
  • 47 For a discussion of photography’s use see David Mattison, “In Visioning the City: Urban Historical (...)

23Such beliefs were not an isolated phenomenon, but rather part of an experience known as “Boosterism.” Prevalent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Thorold J. Tronrud, for example, contends that “at its simplest level, boosterism describes that wide range of initiatives taken by business groups, individuals and municipal governments to promote their communities... it was an ideology of growth which defined spirit and selfimage of the community as a whole.”44 Similarly Alan Artibise demonstrates that boosters measured “their city’s growth in qualitative terms [by the] number of rail lines, miles of streets, dollars of assessment, size of population, and value of manufacturing and wholesale trade.”45 Interestingly, of all the booster techniques utilized in the early twentieth century, moving pictures, arguably one of the most influential media, has been little researched.46 The ability of moving pictures to reach both literate and non-literate audiences was only matched by photography, and, as with photographs, early audiences believed that what they saw on screen was an actual depiction of life.47

  • 48 This was preceded by the use of panoramic photographs to highlight the prosperity and potential of (...)
  • 49 Peter Morris briefly discusses this in his Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema, 1895-1 (...)
  • 50 For a discussion of this phenomenon in the United States see Kathryn Fuller, At the Picture Show: (...)
  • 51 Morris, Embattled Shadows, 27.

24In manner, appearance, and purpose the earliest moving pictures made in, or about, the Lakehead were part of the same booster tradition that developed this image of the West. Primarily travelogues and industrial films, the moving pictures made between 1911 and 1926 used images and text to highlight the twin cities as both the Canadian Chicago of the North and a haven for adventurers.48 The idea of producing films at the Lakehead also followed the evolution of that medium in North America. An interesting facet of early production was the correlation between permanent theatres and an increase in film production.49 Beginning as early as 1900, residents of Port Arthur and Fort William had been active participants in the growing continental movie-going culture.50 In fact, film historians such as Peter Morris argue that the impact of the establishment of permanent theatres was so profound that most film histories originate from this point.51

  • 52 Ibid., 46.

25Yet beyond exceptions, such as the Holland Brothers, Ernest Ouimet, George Scott, and James Freer, it was not until 1911 that domestic production companies in Canada began to make films. Most of these companies were of two types: makers of fiction films for the American market or those claiming to be producing “all Canadian” drama, but in reality making only a scenic or promotional film.52 At the Lakehead, early moving pictures highlighted the same industries that had made Chicago the metropolis it had become by 1910, and the boosters imagined a similar historical development for Port Arthur and Fort William.

  • 53 R. Douglas Francis, Images of the West: Changing Perspectives of the Prairies, 1690-1960 (Saskatoo (...)
  • 54 Ibid., 106.

26The image portrayed by the early filmmakers and the aspects of Canadian society they focused on were constructed as self-fulfilling prophecies. Prosperity, modernity, security, and productivity were the themes of the earliest essay films made in Canada. In the Canadian West, a region where boosterism was the most prevalent, "new ideas and perceptions evolved out of previous ones"53 and, just as at the Lakehead, the image of the prairies was one of a “new and better society... a garden of abundance in which all material want would be provided and where moral and civic virtues would be perfected.”54 The films made at the Lakehead during this period attempt to depict such an imagined community with varying success.

  • 55 For more information on the life of James Whalen see Raymond Furlotte’s brief examination, The Jam (...)
  • 56 Port Arthur and Fort William, Ontario: Keys to the Great Lakes, 45m., Commercial Motion Picture Co (...)

27At the turn of the twentieth century, James Whalen was one of the key industrial figures at the Lakehead who imagined the region as the next metropolis of the North. A consummate booster for the cities of Port Arthur and Fort William, he was involved in almost all aspects of the regional economy. His fortune was built upon the natural resources of the area and his continued success relied upon the prosperity of local industry, real estate, and shipbuilding in which he had invested heavily.55 Whalen also had an interest in moving pictures, building the Lyceum theatre in 1908. Realizing the potential of film, he purchased the Commercial Motion Picture Company of Montreal in 1911 to show his vision of the region and promote his business interests. The result was Port Arthur and Fort William: Canada’s Keys to the Great Lakes which was intended “to be the grandest booster film made to that date at the Lakehead.”56

28Like William Van Horne, the man responsible for financing James Freer’s films, Whalen was a great believer in modern promotional methods. His Port Arthur and Fort William: Canada’s Keys to the Great Lakes was an attempt to show how, like the Chicago of the nineteenth century, the twin cities were indeed the keys to the great West and all the economic promise held therein. Filmed between 1911 and 1913, the Whalen Film, as it was referred to locally, also served to highlight his financial interests as the footage focuses primarily on his companies, properties, and investments. Within the film are scenes depicting the region in a manner reminiscent of the newspaper articles of the time.

29Contained within the first glimpses of the cities are all the aspects a booster would wish to demonstrate to his audience. Behind the breakwater stands the harbour, in defiance of nature and protecting the residents of the Lakehead from the fury of Lake Superior. The spectator is made aware, through images and title cards, of the breakwater, the Prince Arthur Hotel, the Canadian Northern railway station, and a variety of grain elevators.

  • 57 As no format exists for the citation of title cards in silent films, TC (for title card) followed (...)
  • 58 These ships include the steamers Fitzgerald and A.E. Stewart and an unknown whaleback.
  • 59 The tug James Whalen can clearly be seen doing this a number of times.
  • 60 Bruce Muirhead, “The Evolution of the Lakehead’s Commercial Transportation Infrastructure,” in Tho (...)
  • 61 The footage also contains images of some of the 1,200 men the dry-dock employed. They are shown in (...)

30The importance of Port Arthur’s harbour is the first part of the region to get attention. The icebreaker James Whalen is shown opening up the harbour to allow “some of the 62 steamships clearing from winter-berths, sailing east with grain cargoes” to get underway.57 Each ship clearing port is briefly highlighted with its name and size stated for the audience.58 The film establishes that all of the ships are going to feed the multitudes in the East. A variety of scenes further demonstrates the amount of water traffic in the region. Intended, like the street scenes, to show a thriving water system, the footage is oddly self-defeating as many vessels in each shot merely go back and forth in front of the camera.59 Also shown is the reason why many of these ships used the harbour for a winter berth. One of the region’s prominent companies, Whalen’s Western Dry-Dock and Shipbuilding Company, is the focus of scenes. The largest of its kind in Canada at the time, the dry-dock’s continued operation rested on the success of the harbour and the business generated from the thriving cities of Port Arthur and Fort William.60 Included with these exterior shots are those filmed inside showing the technology used by, and skills of, the workers.61

  • 62 Port Arthur and Fort William, Ontario: Canada’s Keys to the Great Lakes, TC 9.
  • 63 The panoramic, or bird’s eye, view, of cities was a common technique. See M.F. Fox’s review of “Th (...)
  • 64 For the Empire Elevator see Port Arthur and Fort William, Ontario: Canada’s Keys to the Great Lake (...)

31The film also examines a number of the region’s other important industries, including grain elevators and grain handling, one the region’s main economic activities. Initially introduced in the third shot of the film, grain elevators are prevalent throughout. From the beginning of the film when King’s Elevator is introduced, the prominent role of the elevators is frequently referred to. The Canadian Northern Elevator is introduced with a title card careful to point out that it was one of the largest in the world, and that its capacity was being expanded.62 Similarly, the Ogilvie Elevator and Flour Mills, Empire Elevator, Grand Trunk Elevator, and Canadian Pacific Railway Elevator are used as focal points for many of the street scenes, panoramas, and harbour shots of Fort William.63 Often at the end of a street, or the largest landmark in the skyline, their importance is apparent even without the title cards that inevitably pay tribute to their capacity and importance.64

  • 65 For more information on the street railway see F.B. Scollie, “The Creation of the Port Arthur Stre (...)

32As the largest and most predominant structures in the area, the elevators were used as a platform from which some of the spectacular panoramas found in the film were shot, which outline the expanse of industrial, commercial, and residential areas in the twin cities. Not unlike early Edison street scenes, much of the remaining footage is taken from a streetcar moving through downtown areas of Port Arthur and Fort William. The inclusion of the street railway is no coincidence as both cities were always quick to point out that they, not Toronto, Kingston, or Montreal, had Canada’s first publicly owned street railway.65 These scenes are intended to demonstrate the activities prevalent in the cities. As well, downtown cores are shown, with a special focus on commercial activity. Even the expansion of these core areas is highlighted as the film also shows excavation for the Whalen office building, then underway.

33 Port Arthur and Fort William: Keys to the Great Lakes also emphasizes services that only a modern and urban centre could provide. Union Station and the CPR tracks in Fort William show, in addition to their economic connotations, the communication and passenger service that enabled the region to keep abreast of what was occurring elsewhere in the world. Schools, churches, political figures, and other trappings of a good and moral society are also included. Like many of the films depicting Chicago and other American cities, the street scenes of Fort William include the fire department leaving the central fire hall. While the film shows older horse-drawn carriages, it gives prominence to the city’s new automobile, a relatively recent mass-market product which symbolized the future.

34Highlighted in Whalen’s film are many of the industrial and commercial accomplishments of the Lakehead. The region’s dependence on natural resources is tempered by the increasing amount of industry generated by the dry-docks and other large operations. The street scenes and panoramic views of the city clearly show its urban layout. Anticipated to be shown at industrial exhibitions throughout North America, the scenes and shots described were carefully selected to demonstrate to the rest of the continent that the twin cities at the head of Lake Superior had all the potential of Chicago and other major American cities and contained a natural beauty and resources they did not.

  • 66 Morris, Embattled Shadows, 36.
  • 67 The film “premiered” with prizes being handed out to those who could identify themselves. See Furl (...)

35While the vision of James Whalen was not the vision of everyone in the community, no greater force impacted how the communities of Fort William and Port Arthur, Ontario, imagined themselves in the first decades of the twentieth century than boosterism. Whalen, though, was not the first in Canada to use moving pictures to promote his business interests. As early as 1908, companies had been formed with the purpose of producing films to be shown at fairs and industrial exhibitions. Many of these films were made under the auspices of provincial governments and railway companies. In 1908, the Urban Company of Montreal was contracted by the government of British Columbia to make films to show “the advantages and resources of British Columbia to the outside world.”66 And, like James Freer almost a decade before, the CPR and CNR, with backing from the federal government, continued to produce moving pictures to attract immigrants to the regions serviced by their trains. While Port Arthur and Fort William: Keys to the Great Lakes was a citywide event when it “premiered” at the Lyceum theatre in Port Arthur in 1913, there is no indication that it had much success elsewhere.67

Scene 3: The Historian and Film

  • 68 O’Connor, Image as Artifact, 4.
  • 69 Gay, Styles in History, 72.

36How many graduate students dread the discovery, right before orals or external evaluations, of the publication of one more source, its inclusion considered paramount to the demonstration of knowledge? Yet, the vast majority of dissertations, or scholarly monographs for that matter, have neglected to consult an important fact – film. Some still may argue as Neil Postman that “all forms of serious public discourse are threatened by the influence of the mass media.”68 But Postman is only partially correct. Motion pictures were an expression of the twentieth century. Peter Gay argues that Ranke “recognised that history is a progressive discipline.”69 An embrace of film as an integral part of historical scholarship is merely a next step in the progress of the discipline.

  • 70 Carr, What is History?, 35.
  • 71 Ibid., 32

37Developed just prior to 1900, it is an ever-present chronicler of individuals and events that shaped the last century-and continues to do so into the twenty-first, and, as such, film adds to, and complements the breadth of, evidentiary materials available to the historian. It is time historians turned to the ever-increasing and rich cache of “facts” found in the archives and even video stores the world over. For, if one were to take E.H. Carr to heart and accept his belief that “the historian without his facts is rootless and futile,”70 then as a profession we have failed. Carr contends that “the duty of the historian to respect his facts is not exhausted by the obligation to see that his facts are accurate. He must seek to bring into the picture all known or knowable facts relevant, in one sense or another, to the theme in which he is engaged and to interpretation proposed.”71 Film should not replace the sources traditionally used by historians, but its inclusion can bring us a step closer to reaching Ranke’s unattainable goal of history “as it really happened.”

Notes

1 The best known utterance of this phrase can be found in the preface to his book Geschicten der Romanischen und Germanischen Vôlker von 1494 bis 1514, (Histories of the Latin and Germanic Nations from 1494-1514). The full phrase reads: “History has been assigned the office of judging the past, of instructing our times for the benefit of future years. This essay does not aspire to such high offices; it only wants to show how it had really been – wie es eigentlich gewesen.” See Gay and Wexler, Historians at Work, vol. 3, 16; Georg G Iggers and Konard von Moltke, eds., Leopold von Ranke. Theory and Practice of History, (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1973), 137.

2 E.H. Carr, What is History? (New York: Vintage books, 1961), 5.

3 Mark T. Gilderhus, History and Historians: A Historiographical Introduction, 3rd ed. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996), 47.

4 Although reasonably accurate, this is a broad generalization. There are historians still aware of Ranke’s contributions and advocate his ideas as they relate to the empiricist tradition. See, for example, GR. Elton’s aptly entitled Return to Essentials (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

5 Roger Wines, Leopold von Ranke: The Secret of World History (New York: Fordham University Press, 1981), 16.

6 Allan Nevins, for example, recommends Ranke to those historians “who want systematized erudition, inexorable logic, a scientific attention to the arrangement of facts in neat categories.” See Allan Nevins, The Gateway to History (rev. ed., 1962), 42 in Peter Gay, ed., Styles in History (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1974) (reprint 1988).

7 This is in part demonstrated by Ranke’s 1844 statement that, “I see the time approaching when we shall base modern history, no longer on the reports even of contemporary historians, except insofar as they were in possession of personal and immediate knowledge of facts; and still less on work yet more remote from the source; but rather on the narratives of eyewitnesses, and on genuine and original documents.” Quotation from Ranke, Introduction to the History of the Reformation in Germany SW I:X translated and quoted in Wines, Leopold von Ranke: The Secret of World History, 8. Another version also appears in Gay, Style in History, 74.

8 Beth August, “Film for the Historian,” in E. Bradforth Burns, ed., Latin American Cinema: Film and History (Los Angeles: University of California, 1975), 97.

9 Carl L. Becker, “What are Historical Facts?,” in Ronald Nash, ed., Ideas in History, Vol. 2, The Critical Philosophy of History (New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1969), 185. This also closely resembles a similar expression by Charles A. Beard. See his “That Noble Dream,” American Historical Review XLI (1935).

10 Paul Audley, for example, suggests the importance of film as pan of his argument in Canada’s Cultural Industries: Broadcasting, Publishing, Records and Film (Toronto: James Lormier and Company, 1984), 21.

11 John E. O’Connor, ed., Image as Artifact: the Historical Analysis of Film and Television (Malabar, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1990), 2.

12 That motion pictures were “bom” is a much used, but wholly inaccurate, phrase. Motion pictures were the culmination of a millennia of technological achievements and adaptations. For a brief synopsis of the idea, see Charles Musser, The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (Berkely: University of California Press, 1994), 1-91.

13 See Boleslaus Matuszewski, Une nouvelle source de l’histoire (Paris, 1898) quoted in Martin A. Jackson, “Film as a Source Material: Some Preliminary Notes Toward a Methodology,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History IV, no. I (Summer 1973): 73.

14 W.K.L. and Antonia Dickson, History of the Kinetograph, Kinetoscope, and Kinetophongraph (New York, 1895), 51-52 quoted in John B. Kuiper, “The Historical Value of Motion Pictures,” American Archivist 31, no. 4 (October 1968): 385.

15 Carr, What is History?, 32.

16 Warren I. Susman, “Film and History” Artifact and Experience,” Film and History 15, no. 2 (1985): 26.

17 Carr, What is History?, 24.

18 Charles W. Jeffries, “History in Motion Pictures,” Canadian Historical Review 22, no. 4 (December, 1941): 361.

19 Despite the contention by those such as Robert Craig Brown and Ramsay Cook that early twentieth century Canada was transformed “by more than number and size,” little attention has been given to anything beyond agriculture, immigration, industrialization, and national expansion in Canadian historiography. Little discussion of the cultural fabric of Canada is discussed and, in contrast to comparable American studies, the handful of general histories on the period often discuss the history of film as part of the greater discussion on art, literature, and, as does John Herd Thompson and Allen Seager, the serious threat of the “northbound tidal wave of American mass culture, radio programs, professional spectator sports, and magazines.” See Robert Craig Brown and Ramsay Cook, Canada 1896-1921: A Nation Transformed (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974), 1 and John Herd Thompson and Allen Seager, Canada, 1922-1939: Decades of Discord (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985). For examples of film’s inclusion in the discussion of Canada’s cultural history see Alan Smith, Canada: An American Nation (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994); David H. Flaherty and Frank E. Manning, The Beaver Bites Back?, American Popular Culture in Canada (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993); Paul Audley, Canada’s Cultural Industries: Broadcasting, Publishing, Records and Films (Toronto: J. Lorimer, in association with the Canadian Institute for Economic Policy, 1983); Ian Lumsden, ed., Close the 49th Parallel, Etc: The Americanization of Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970); and John H. Redekop, ed.. The Star Spangled Beaver (Toronto: Peter Martin Associates Limited, 1971).

20 David Frank, “Short Takes; The Canadian Worker on Film,” Labour/Le Travail 46 (Fall 2000): 417. Frank fails to acknowledge, though, that some such as Gene Walz have long recognized that the history of film in Canada “is not monolithic or orderly or continuous; it is not, therefore, easily chronicled.” Walz argues that many of the major contributions to Canadian film history that remain unrecognized are so “because film history in Canada is not the history of industry, but of many industrious people and organisations, separated by both space and time and rarely if ever united in grandiose, common enterprise.” In the most clearly articulated statement of its kind in Canadian film historiography, Walz provocatively calls for “a chorus of voices engaged in the kind of painstaking, cross-country chronicling of every nook, cranny and anything else that might relate” to the history of film in Canada. For film historians “to fill in the blanks in our past,” Walz states they “must not only rediscover the contributions to our film culture that have been overlooked or forgotten... [but] also reappraise the positions of those people and institutions already recognised.” See Gene Walz, ed., Flashback: People and Institutions in Canadian Film History (Montreal: Mediatexte Publications Inc., 1986), 11-12.

21 Peter Morris, Embattled Shadows (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1978, reprint 1992), 1.

22 Christopher Gittings, Canada’s National Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2002), 3. The exception is the work performed by film historians in Quebec. A number of historical works have been published in the last 10 years that delve somewhat into the early history of film in that province. Notable are the works by Germain Lacasse, André Gaudreault, and Pierre Véronneau. See Germain Lacasse and André Gaudreault, “The Introduction of Lumière Cinematographe in Canada,” Madeleine Beaudry trans., Canadian Journal of Film Studies 5, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 113-23; André Gaudreault, Germain Lacasse, and Pierre Sirois-Trahan, Au pays des ennemis du Québec pour une nouvelle histoire des début du cinema au Québec (Québec: Nuit Blanche, 1996); Germain Lacasse, “Cultural Amnesia and the Birth of film in Canada,” Cinema Canada no. 108 (1984): 16-17.; Germain Lacasse and Serge Duigou, L’Historiographe (Les débuts du spectacle cinématographique au Québec) (Montreal: Cinémathèque québécoise, 1985). For Véronneau see Self Portrait: Essays on the Canadian and Québec Cinemas, translated and expanded with Piers Handling (Ottawa: Canadian Film Institute, 1980), and Le success est au film parlant français: histoire du cinema au Québec 1 (Montréal: La cinémathèque québécois/Le muse du cinema, coll. Les dossiers de la cinémathèque, no. 3, 1979), 1.

23 Paula Marantz Cohen, Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 6.

24 Recently, a special edition of Perspectives, the AHA’s newsletter, focused entirely on film and the issue of history and drew the participation of notable film scholars such as Robert Rosenstone and Kathryn Fuller, to mainstream historians such as Richard White. See Perspectives 37, no. 4 (April 1999).

25 The authors stated intention was to produce a work that would “(1) place film history within the context of historical research in general; (2) acquaint the reader with specific and, in some cases, unique problems confronting film historians; (3) survey the approaches that have been taken to the historical study of film; and (4) provide examples of various types of film historical research.” See Robert C. Allen and Douglas Gomery, Film History: Theory and Practice (New York: Knopf, 1985), iv.

26 Ibid., 43.

27 O’Connor, Image as Artifact, 6.

28 Ibid., ix.

29 Ibid., 6,10-26.

30 Ibid., 7.

31 Ibid., 8. Each of these categories receives extensive attention in individual chapters representing contributions by various leading film historians. See 27 to 107 for Framework 1, 108 to 168 for Framework 2, 169 to 216 for Framework 3, and 217 to 284 for Framework 4.

32 Christopher H. Roads, “Film as Historical Evidence,” Journal of the Society of Archivists (October 1966), 183.

33 O’Connor’s “Case Study” is organized by subheadings of each stage and method of historical inquiry. While useful as a demonstration, it is not consistent with the format of most historical scholarship.

34 Greg Scott, for example, demonstrates that communities along the St. Lawrence also viewed their potential through an American lens. See “The Chicago of the Dominion?: The Development of Port Franks, Ontario,” Ontario History XCV, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 22-37.

35 Weekly Herald, 18 Nov. 1898 quoted in Thorld J. Tronrud, Guardians of Progress: Boosters and Boosterism in Thunder Bay, 1870-1914 (Thunder Bay: Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, 1993), 9.

36 Port Arthur Daily News-Chronicle, 21 March 1906.

37 Port Arthur Daily News-Chronicle, 2 Feb. 1910.

38 See Dominic A. Pacyga and Ellen Skerret, Chicago: City of Neighbourhoods (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1986), chapter 1, for a brief description, with visuals, of the early settlement of the river area now known as “the loop.”

39 Harold M. Mayer and Richard C. Wade, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1969), 40. See also Perry Duis, Challenging Chicago: Creating New Traditions (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1976) for a discussion on the modernization and development of Chicago.

40 Mayer and Wade, Chicago, 35,40.

41 Duis, Challenging Chicago, 9, and Irving Cutler, Chicago: Metropolis of the MidContinent, 3d. ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: The Geographic Society/Hunt Publishing Company, 1982), 201.

42 Mayer and Wade, Chicago, 42.

43 Daniel H. Burnham, Jr. and Robert Kingety, Planning the Region of Chicago (Chicago: Chicago Regional Planning Association, 1956), 81.

44 Tronrud, Guardians of Progress, 5.

45 Alan Artibise, “Boosterism and the Development of Prairie Cities, 1871-1913” in Alan Artibise, ed., Town and City, Aspects of Western Canadian Urban Development (Regina: University of Regina Press, 1981), 213.

46 Tronrud in Guardian’s of Progress does briefly mention the use of films, but as it was not specifically the scope of his work no analysis of the film is included.

47 For a discussion of photography’s use see David Mattison, “In Visioning the City: Urban Historical Techniques Through Historical Photographs,” Urban History Review 13 (1984): 43-51; M.F. Fox, “Bird’s-Eye Views of Canadian Cities: A Review,” Urban History Review 4 (1977): 38-45, and Jim Burant, “Visual Records and Urban Development,” Urban History Review 12 (1984): 57-63.

48 This was preceded by the use of panoramic photographs to highlight the prosperity and potential of regions. See Joseph Earl Arlington, “William Burr’s Moving Panorama of The Great Lakes, The Niagara, St. Lawrence, and Saguenay Rivers,” Ontario History LI, no. 3 (1959) for a brief, but interesting, example.

49 Peter Morris briefly discusses this in his Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema, 1895-1939 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1978).

50 For a discussion of this phenomenon in the United States see Kathryn Fuller, At the Picture Show: Small Town Audiences and the Creation of a Movie Fan Culture (New York: Smithsonian Institute, 1996), and Douglas Gomery, Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992).

51 Morris, Embattled Shadows, 27.

52 Ibid., 46.

53 R. Douglas Francis, Images of the West: Changing Perspectives of the Prairies, 1690-1960 (Saskatoon: Western Prairie Producer Books, 1989), xvii.

54 Ibid., 106.

55 For more information on the life of James Whalen see Raymond Furlotte’s brief examination, The James Whalen Empire (Thunder Bay: Thunder Bay Hydro, 1990).

56 Port Arthur and Fort William, Ontario: Keys to the Great Lakes, 45m., Commercial Motion Picture Company of Canada, 1913, 45mm (James Whalen Collection, National Archives of Canada). The film itself remains the earliest moving picture made at the Lakehead still in existence. It is also the longest film of its type still in existence in Canada and one of the most interesting examples of boosterism by a Lakehead resident. The only moving picture to precede “Port Arthur and Fort William: Canada’s Keys to the Great Lakes” was “The Making of A Loaf of Bread.” Shot in 1907 by a British entrepreneur, it was purported to have been funded from Ottawa and eventually shown in London, England. However, the only discussion of this film occurs in Guardians of Progress and a newspaper clipping from the Morning Herald, 22 October 1907.

57 As no format exists for the citation of title cards in silent films, TC (for title card) followed by its sequence in the film will be used. Port Arthur and Fort William, Ontario: Canada s Keys to the Great Lakes, TC 1.

58 These ships include the steamers Fitzgerald and A.E. Stewart and an unknown whaleback.

59 The tug James Whalen can clearly be seen doing this a number of times.

60 Bruce Muirhead, “The Evolution of the Lakehead’s Commercial Transportation Infrastructure,” in Thorold J. Tronrud and A. Ernest Epp, eds., Thunder Bay: From Rivalry to Unity (Thunder Bay: Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, 1995), 84-85.

61 The footage also contains images of some of the 1,200 men the dry-dock employed. They are shown in the midst of constructing a number of vessels. See Port Arthur and Fort William, Ontario: Canada s Keys to the Great Lakes, TC 6.

62 Port Arthur and Fort William, Ontario: Canada’s Keys to the Great Lakes, TC 9.

63 The panoramic, or bird’s eye, view, of cities was a common technique. See M.F. Fox’s review of “The Bird’s Eye Views of Canadian Cities: An Exhibition of Panoramic Maps (1865-1908): A National Archives of Canada Exhibition (July-November 1976)” Urban History Review 4 (1977): 38-45, and David Mattison’s examination of historical photographs in “In Visioning the City: Urban History Techniques Through Historical Photographs,” Urban History Review 13 (June 1984): 43-51.

64 For the Empire Elevator see Port Arthur and Fort William, Ontario: Canada’s Keys to the Great Lakes, TC 34.

65 For more information on the street railway see F.B. Scollie, “The Creation of the Port Arthur Street Railway, 1890-95,” Papers and Records, Thunder Bay Historical Society, xviii (1990): 40-58 and Mark Chochla, “Sabbatarians and Sunday Street Cars” Ibid., xvii (1989): 25-36.

66 Morris, Embattled Shadows, 36.

67 The film “premiered” with prizes being handed out to those who could identify themselves. See Furlotte, James Whalen Empire, 5.

68 O’Connor, Image as Artifact, 4.

69 Gay, Styles in History, 72.

70 Carr, What is History?, 35.

71 Ibid., 32

Auteur

Doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Queen’s University. His recent work includes the edited collection The Lady Lumberjack: An Annotated Collection of the Writings of Dorothea Mitchell (2004), the restoration and completion of the 1930s film The Fatal Flower (1930; 2004), and a forthcoming article in the Canadian Journal of Film Studies on professional filmmaking at the Lakehead in the late 1920s

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