See film file
Canadia Cameo series
Prod.: Associated Screen News; dir.: Gordon Sparling; text: Margot Blaisdell; mus.: Howard Fogg; nar.: Corey Thomson
Black and white, sound, 11 min.
Holdings: LAC and Cesif
Essay by Louis Pelletier
“It’s a queer world we live in, where very often things are not what they seem and the truth is stranger than fiction. The Dominion of Canada is no exception to the rule, with its store of little-known facts.” So begins the third installment of the Did You Know That series part of the celebrated Canadian Cameos released by Associated Screen News between (ASN) 1932 and 1953. In an era where the vast majority of shorts and features booked by Canadian theatres originated from the U.S., the Canadian Cameos permitted exhibitors to inject some Canadian content in their shows. This particular edition of Did You Know That reflects the diversity of the Canadian experience with stories set in Central Grove, Nova Scotia (where a teenager publishes the world’s smallest newspaper, the Tiny Tattler), Quebec (eel fishing on the St. Lawrence river), Ontario (a railway tunnel dug beneath Brockville; a lost city “so wicked it was nicknamed ‘Sodom’”; Osgood Hall’s cow-proof fence; the Province as a destination for U.S. slaves in the days of the “underground railroad”), and Vancouver’s Chinatown (home of the “narrowest building in the world”). Another “little-known fact” presented by the film deals with the railway unifying the country from east to west, which, it is claimed, shrinks by no less than two miles over the winter months due to the contraction of the metal making up the rails. The fact that two of the film’s eight stories deal with railways reflects the central role played by this mode of transportation in the country’s rapid rise during the preceding century, but also the corporate history of the producer. The Canadian Pacific Railway had held a majority of ASN shares since 1921, and extensively relied on it to produce films and still images promoting its holiday destinations, ship lines and railway network up until the 1950s.
Did You Know That remains an entertaining film and a good showcase for the savoir-faire of the ASN and its star director, Gordon Sparling. It is lively, well photographed, and tightly edited. The contribution of ASN staffers Margot Blaisdell (text), Corey Thomson (narrator) and Howard Fogg (musical director) also greatly help this assemblage of curious facts and trivia gel into a coherent whole. Their commentary and musical accompaniment run almost continuously from beginning to end, and largely compensate for the almost complete absence of synchronized sound (location sound recordings, it should be reminded, required a cumbersome sound truck for the first few decades of sound cinema). The only shot featuring synchronized sound is a fairly obvious studio reenactement depicting slaves singing an hymn. It may have been borrowed from another film, as most obviously were the images of Eliza’s flight across the ice integrated to the same sequence, which clearly originated from a silent era film adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The repurposing of images from the producer’s vast film library was quite common – to the point that it became the basis of another ASN series, the Back in, directed by Sparling in the 1930s. The shocking lack of records documenting ASN’s activities nevertheless makes it hard to assess the success of these series. Archival holdings suggest that the Did You Know That series reached a wide audience: at least eight editions were theatrically released between 1934 and 1943 and then made available to the educational market on 16mm.