A long-lost treasure of Canada's cinematic history has been repatriated and is on display for the first time in 93 years after being rediscovered by a UFV historian.
Peter Geller, University of the Fraser Valley's vice provost and associate vice-president academic, went on a quest in 1996 to London and successfully tracked down a cinematic treasure buried in the National Film and Television Archives at the British Film Institute.
As such, he was likely one of the first Canadians in almost half a century to see the silent film Romance of the Far Fur Country.
The documentary, commissioned by the Hudson's Bay Company to celebrate its 250th anniversary, captured some of the earliest footage of daily life in the northern reaches of the nation.
Geller, whose research focuses on the visual history of the Canadian North, had run across numerous mentions of the film that seemed to have disappeared from the public venue.
He wanted to see if he could find the actual reels and followed his nose to London.
It was a stunning moment when he viewed the first flickering images in the archives.
"As a specialist in images of the Canadian North, I have never seen anything equivalent to it," said Geller.
"It's rare and unique based on the era it was shot in, the expanse of the country it covered and the length and quality of the footage."
Although shot in 1919 and showcased to wondering crowds in 1920, Geller found Romance of the Far Fur Country shelved and cut into random out-of-order pieces.
But recently, spurred by Geller and filmmaker Kevin Nikkel, eight hours of footage was returned from Britain to the HBC Archives in Manitoba earlier this year.
Using historical research, Geller assisted Nikkel to put the film back into proper order so it can be shown once again to Canadian audiences and to the communities it depicts.
The team assembled some of the footage into a 30-minute film, aptly titled Return of the Far Fur Country, which is being shown across Canada.
It will be screened in Vancouver tonight and has already been viewed in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton and several communities in northern Alberta, including Fort Chipewyan.
Geller hopes to bring the film to Abbotsford and many other Canadian communities, especially to those the original film team visited in 1919.
Audiences have been entranced by images that show an Inuit community assembling a kayak on Baffin Island, dogsled teams, and trapping beaver and muskrat in Fort Chipewyan.
"The film transports you and gives you a sense of what it was like to live in that era," said Geller.
"When we see these old films we are really carried back in some way."
The Hudson's Bay film is a fascinating mix that helped draw different populations together, but viewers should still be careful to not romanticize the past, Geller said.
"The HBC hoped to show how they, as a company, had helped bind Canada together - connecting Inuit and other northern aboriginal peoples to traders and city dwellers like the original Winnipeg audience."
But the film is also a part of the history of colonization, and both presented and shaped stereotypical views of aboriginal people, Geller said.
"It's important to remember their cultures' transformations were not always taking place to their benefit. Part of that history of the relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians is not always something to celebrate," he said.
Question and answer periods are part of the screening so viewers get an opportunity to examine the context and ramifications of the film.
"It raises questions about how the North developed, and the role business and governments played and the impacts associated with that," said Geller.
Return of the Far Fur Country will be showing at Vancity Theatre in Vancouver tonight, July 31, at 7 p.m.
For more information about the project and clips from the film itself visit returnfarfurcountry.ca.