Reel Memories of the Lakehead
THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO ~~~~~~ January 23, 2021 (LSN) Reel History of the Lakehead is a community engagement project that uses the art of filmmaking to engage seniors and educate others with the history of the Lakehead. Friends of the Finnish labour Temple has been awarded a grant from the Thunder Bay Foundation to create 20 short newsreels. This project is important because it will provide opportunities people to learn about news-worthy events from our shared past and bridge a generational divide while also creating an opportunity to train young filmmakers. Reel History uses videos about local history to permit seniors to share their knowledge with younger people in order to increase general historical knowledge while building bridges between generations and training a new generation of filmmakers.
Reel History relies upon news footage that was shot at the Lakehead between 1956, when the first local television station went on air, to 1978, when the last roll of 16mm film was used to record local news. The film footage is a raw chronicle of all of the major and minor events that shaped the lives of people living at the Lakehead at that time. It is in pristine condition, having only been screened once before going into storage. Technological advances in recent years have made it possible to affordably digitize the collection which contains approximately 250,000 feet of film. As a result, the Reel History project will release this archival footage from its prison on 16mm film so that it can be viewed for the first time since it aired on local television.
The 1960s, which is the core of the archival collection, was a time of significant political, economic, social, and cultural change in Canada. The decade saw the introduction of social welfare programs like, among others, Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, and Unemployment Assistance Act. There was also the introduction of the Maple Leaf Flag, Centennial year celebrations, and the 1968 Summer Olympics. The Lakehead also witnessed daily news events, some tragic while others merely marked the advance of the city and region. There were local personalities, like singer Bobby Curtola who shot to stardom in 1961 and a number of other artists and entertainers who can be highlighted in this project.
For example, Disney’s Incredible Journey was written by Sheila Burnford, a local resident, and it premiered in 1963 in what is now Thunder Bay. We have footage of the event, which attracted 10,000 people to the parade before the premiere, but there are no eye witness accounts of this event. Participants in Reel History will be asked to remember being there and/or the stories from behind the scenes that brought a world premiere to the Lakehead.
Another example is the Cuban Missile Crisis when the cities of Port Arthur and Fort William were said to be within range of the nuclear missiles. This resulted in preparations for a possible nuclear attack on the Lakehead because of its strategic location as both a transportation hub and a place with massive grain supplies. As part of the emergency preparations bomb shelters were identified and children were taught not only to hide under their desks, but they were also asked to report how long it took them to walk to school so that in the event of an attack, they could all be safely dismissed in time to make it to the shelter of their home. Of course, the missiles were never launched, war was averted at the last minute and the world returned to what was normal. This and other major events were well documented in the local media because Port Arthur and Fort William each had daily newspapers that will help provide details for the stories. The event stuck in the minds of Canadians and Thunder Bay has hundreds of senior citizens who will remember what it was like.
The film footage is in the Thunder Bay Museum and is currently being catalogued and digitized in partnership with the Friends of the Finnish Labour Temple. This is an enormous task that will preserve the footage and Reel History will use segments of the news footage to produce a series of short newsreel videos that highlight specific events.
The Friends of the Finnish Labour Temple is working with the support the Thunder Bay Museum and the Lakehead University Social History Institute. These two organizations will assist in engaging the public as part of their respective mandates. In addition to putting the videos online, the museum and institute will facility in-person activities when it is once again possible to resume public presentations. The museum’s role is more significant because they will also host the website where the videos will be posted and they will be able to use this project for years to come. Participants can join from anywhere, but our emphasis is on seniors with knowledge of local history who will be sharing their memories with people living in the Lakehead region who can learn from the videos and the seniors’ comments/stories.