Ancient Hudson’s Bay Company Film to be Restored
January 25, 2012
The Hudson’s Bay Company is, undoubtedly, the most historic and influential company in the history of the fur trade. Through the remarkable effort of a few dedicated folks, a historic film of some of the Company’s history in Canada is being resurrected. Here’s some background from the folks at Return of the Far Fur Country.
In 1919, the Hudson’s Bay Company was approaching its 250th year in business. What began in a coffee house in London, in 1670, had now grown to become the undisputed leader of the international fur trade.
For their landmark 250th birthday, the HBC spared no cost. A written history of the company was released, with a gramophone recording of that history. They commissioned The Beaver magazine, to actively chronicle the company’s workings in the North—The Beaver would become the oldest and most important history magazine in the country, only recently changing its name to Canada’s History. As well as publications, celebrations were planned across Canada, and in London.
The biggest gathering was slated for Winnipeg, the company’s Canadian headquarters. The main ticket item would be the release of a feature film that depicted the Hudson’s Bay Company history, as well as its current activities across Canada’s North. To accomplish the task of filming the North, the Company bought a film company in New York, and made plans for a crew to head to Canada. The film would be called The Romance of the Far Fur Country.
While the film was shown throughout the developed world in 1920, it soon became obscured amongst other concerns:
By the end of the 1920s, audiences were turning their attention to the talkies, wanting more than just moving pictures. Soon after the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, barely a decade after The Romance of the Far Fur Country was filmed, the footage from the epic Hudson’s Bay Company film disappeared from public view, the canisters of nitrate film stock were packed away by the HBC in an archive in London for safe keeping— but lost to the world.
This new project is working to restore the long-lost film and return it to folks in Canada and the rest of the world.
Return of the Far Fur Country is all about putting what is perhaps the most important record of northern Canadian life, back on the screen.
Unbeknownst to the filmmakers in 1919, their footage has become an extraordinary time-capsule, a moving history of how Canada has developed as a nation. That is why the goal of the project is not only to bring the film back to Canada, but to bring it back to the very communities where it was shot.
This return to local communities will be held in town-hall screenings to provide a place for local people to view their ancestors on film, tell stories of how the country has changed, and help name the people and places that appear in the film.
This very unique tour will go not only to cities like Montreal, Winnipeg and Victoria—places that feature in the HBC film—it’s also going back to some of the most remote locations in Canada. The tour includes Northern Alberta, Nunuvut, Alert Bay off Vancouver Island, and Northern Ontario.