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Making Movie Magic for 100 YearsPosted October 04, 2012
Filmmaking is a relatively young branch of artistry, as motion pictures have only been around since the late 19th century. The first films that we would recognize as storytelling movies appeared in the first few years of the 20th century.
Canada’s first filmmaker was British immigrant James Freer, who moved to Manitoba in 1888 and began farming outside of Brandon. In 1897, Freer got hold of an Edison movie camera and began making films that showcased the Manitoba prairies, farmlands and railways. With a booming population and large focus on immigrant recruitment, the governments began to explore ways to use movies to their advantage.
Freer’s films were noticed by officials at the Canadian Pacific Railway who organized a tour of Freer’s films throughout the United Kingdom in 1898, hoping that “honest immigrants” would see the films and be inspired to come to Canada. Indeed, many British citizens did immigrate to Canada after viewing Freer’s movie “Ten Years in Manitoba”.
Freer’s films became so well-known, that in 1902, Sir Clifford Sifton, Canada’s then Minister of the Interior under Sir Wilfred Laurier, organized a second United Kingdom tour of Freer’s movies. However, this tour was not as successful. Many of the United Kingdom’s residents who had moved to Canada after viewing Freer’s film had written to their relatives back home complaining that Freer had deliberately omitted unsavoury details about Manitoba – in particular, the cold winters and fierce mosquitoes. The botched tour ended Freer’s film career.
Around the same time, Winnipeg opened its first “movie theatre” in 1899, when an enterprising young man J.A. Schubert – also known by his stage name “Johnny Nash” – came to town with a portage black-top canvass tent measuring 20×60 ft. that seated 200 people. Schubert’s travelling movie threatre – named the “Edison Electric Theatre” – was located in a vacant lot on the west side of Main Street, about one hundred yards north of Logan Avenue.
Schubert showed eager Winnipeggers a film called “The War Show” and charged 15 cents admission. Later, Schubert said that he made so much money it made his head turn.
Though Schubert’s theatre was never meant to stay in Winnipeg, the city developed a taste for movies and entertainment and Winnipeg quickly sprouted a host of new theatres in the following years, such as the Dominion Theatre, the Bijou Theatre, the Walker Theatre (now known as the Burton Cummings Theatre) and the Pantages Theatre.