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Bioscope en l'an 1900
Cinema and Immigration
Cinema was recognized early on as being an instrument that could serve many causes. In Canada, cinema served the interest of promoting immigration in particular, especially in Saskatchewan and Alberta, which in 1901 had a population of fewer than one hundred thousand people; over the next twenty years this number increased eightfold. Publicity films were produced to the benefit of companies, the agricultural economy, communities in Western Canada and the country as a whole.
Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was the most important player in this enterprise. CPR established an information and publicity office called the Department of Colonization and Development, which produced brochures, public notices and films. An agent at this office, Montreal native Louis Olivier Armstrong , would as a result have an important role in the world of cinema at the beginning of the 20th century.
After sponsoring Manitoba native James Freer from 1899, who exhibited his own films in Great Britain, CRP forged ties with the British Warwick Trading Company. Joseph Rosenthal had directed the series “Canada ‘England’s Premier Colony’” for this British company in the same year. Approximately ten films were shot in Quebec, including Ride Through St. Catherine Street, Montreal and the popular General Panoramic Bird’s-Eye View of Montreal.
In 1903, Charles Urban left Warwick, along with his production team, and founded Charles Urban Trading. CPR followed Urban, who thanks to his recently established distribution network in Britain, was able to provide the railway company with greater visibility and more opportunities for persuading spectators to immigrate. Urban entrusted Joseph Rosenthal with the task of shooting the series “Living Canada.” The series consisted of 35 films that promoted the modernity of cities (particularly Montreal, the largest industrial city at the time), means of transportation (the train) and the potential of rural areas (especially Western Canada). Since the goal of the films was to lure immigrants, Urban may have been instructed to limit winter scenes, which gave the country a negative image. In spite of this, the series did include scenes from the winter of 1903. Rather than showing wide-open glacial spaces, the scenes showed an exotic side of winter as well as urban leisure activities. Among the films shot in Quebec were Ice-Yachting on the St. Lawrence; Montreal on Skates; The Outing of the “Old Tuque Blue” Snowshoeing Club of Montreal; and Skating for the World’s Championship at Montreal.
Addressed to a British public suffering through difficult living conditions, these flattering images of Canada, which emphasised Canadian well-being, also pleased Canadian audiences (who of course praised the films). Films promoting immigration were interrupted by the First World War, but resumed afterwards. These post-war productions involved not only CPR, but also Canadian National and the shipping company White Star – Dominion Line. Although they targeted British citizens, the films were also exhibited in the United States and in a number of European cities. The Associated Screen News produced many documentaries promoting immigration in the 1920s, often on behalf of CPR’s Department of Colonization and Development, including The Land of Promise; Opportunity; Taming the Last West; The Sunny Side of Rural Life; Making New Canadians; New Homes Within the Empire; Clan Donald: A British Farm Colony; and especially From British Home to Canadian Farm (directed by Roy Tash in 1928). Without knowing for certain, we can nevertheless assume the increase in immigration experienced by Canada at the time was partially due to the exhibition of these films abroad.