Quebec and Québec

F. Guy Bradford (left), Joe Rosenthal (right) and the Living Canada travelling company, c.1903 (Cinémathèque québécoise)

Another day, another site goes up with unique silent film content, richly contextualised. Truly the online world is our archive. This time it is Le cinéma au Québec au temps du muet/Cinema in Quebec in Silent Era, an impeccably bilingual site giving us the history of early cinema in Quebec, Canada.

Quebec has a distinctive early film history. It is a tale coloured by its geography, its French heritage, local regulations, audiences and enthusiasms, and by snow. Particularly, it is a tale shaped by the dedicated efforts of a hardy band of pioneers, such as James Freer, Henry de Grandsaignes d’Hauterives and Léo-Ernest Ouimet. It is a tale of travelling cameramen (Joe Rosenthal, William Paley) and travelling exhibitors (F. Guy Bradford), an adventurous cinema with a spirit of newness and discovery about it.

The site has been put together with impressive thoroughness and local pride. There are extensive, knowledgable texts on such themes as the history of cinema in the area, biographies, audiences, film companies, sponsorship (the Canadian Pacific Railway made much use of film to promote its activites), censorship and travelling cinema. There are twenty or so films, available in low and high bandwidth, mostly non-fiction, including such titles as Skiing at Quebec (Edison 1902), Mes espérances en 1908 (Ouimet 1908), The Building of a Transcontinental Railway in Canada (Butcher 1909), Put Yourself in their Place (Vitagraph 1912 – fiction film set in Quebec) and the sobering Forty Thousand Feet of Rejected Film Destroyed by Ontario Censor Board (James and Sons 1916). All have musical accompaniment by Canada’s own Gabriel Thibaudeau.

There are also three lively ‘interactive journeys’ which you can take through the ‘Rural Milieu (1897-1905)’, ‘Working-Class Milieu (1906-1914)’ and ‘Middle-Class Milieu (1915-1930)’, which is an interesting way in which to divide up cinema history. Plus you will find documents, photographs, further background texts (some in French, some in English, some in both), and educational activities and a good, eclectic set of links (where you may learn that The Bioscope is ‘Plus qu’un blogue’ – merci beaucoup). An historical timeline is also offered, though I’ve not been able to make the link work. All in all, an exceptional piece of work, lovingly constructed, with discoveries a-plenty to be made.

The site is a collaborative effort between GRAFICS, the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec and the Cinémathèque québécoise. Acknowledgments to Bruce Calvert on the indispensible silent film forum Nitrateville for information on this site.