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[Ten Years in Manitoba]

Accession number: 

Directors of Photography:

Actors and Participants:

Production Years: 
1897 to 1898


Film Properties: 

Peter Morris, Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema, 1895-1939 (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1978 [1992]), 30-33.
"Almost certainly the first Canadian to produce his own films was James S. Freer, a farmer from Brandon, Manitoba, who had purchased an Edison camera and projector. Freer, a former printer and newspaper publisher in Bristol, England, had settled in Manitoba in 1888. By the fall of 1897 he was filming scenes of life in Manitoba, including harvesting and the arrival of CPR trains, and by April 1898 was on tour with his films in Britain. Freer's tour was sponsored by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and his show, 'Ten Years in Manitoba' included not only movies but lectures on 'the value of agricultural pursuits in Canada ... the richness of the Canadian soil and the large free grants of land which are given to emigrants by the Canadian government.' How the CPR became involved with this venture is not known. However, William Van Horne, builder and then head of the CPR, was a great believer in modern promotional methods; it appears not unlikely to have been his personal decision to back Freer's tour. Certainly, this was only the first involvement by the CPR in using film as a tool in its land settlement policies. Over the next two decades the company was to be increasingly involved in motion pictures, eventually establishing its own production company in Montreal.
Freer's films included: Arrival of CPR Express at Winnipeg; Pacific and Atlantic Mail Trains; Harnessing the Virgin Prairie; Canadian Continental Jubilee; Premier Greenway Stooking Grain; Six Binders at Work in Hundred Acre Wheatfield; Typical Stooking Scene; Harvesting Scene, with Trains Passing By; Cyclone Thresher at Work; Coming thru' the Rye [Children playing in the hay]; Winnipeg Fire Boys on the Warpath, and Canadian Militia Charging Fortified Wall. While in Britain, Freer photographed Canadian Contingent at the Jubilee and Changing Guards at St. James Palace, which he added to his program. His tour was a great success, drawing praise from newspapers for the novel use the motion picture as an 'emigration agent.' The London Daily Mail admired Freer's 'capital series of cinematograph pictures' while the Norwich Eastern Daily Press described his films as 'reproducing in realistic manner the conditions of life in the Far West from the interior of a bachelor's shanty to Mr. Freer's pretty and attractive family residence with the family assembled outside.'
How many Britons were convinced to emigrate to Canada as a result of Freer's films and lectures is unknown. They must have had some effect because, in December 1901, the federal minister of the interior, Clifford Sifton, agreed to sponsor a second tour, 'under the auspices of the Canadian Government.'
James Freer had returned to Manitoba in the spring of 1899. He attempted to make additional films but without much apparent success and increasingly he turned his activities toward exhibitions, showing films of the 'Old Country' in Manitoba. He attempted to obtain the federal government's co-operation in his planned filming of the Duke of York's visit to Ottawa. He received no reply to his letter and the visit was filmed instead by a cameraman for Edison, films which Freer then had to purchase for his collection. He may have attempted other film projects but, if so, they failed. For his 1902 tour, Freer used again the films he had used in 1898-99 with the addition of new films purchased from other producers: Canadian Mounted Rifles Cutting Off a Boer Commando; Arrival of the Duke of York in Canada; Shooting the Chutes. The only new Freer film was of a trip across the Atlantic from Liverpool to Quebec City, probably photographed on his return from the 1898-99 tour. This second tour was less successful than the first, possibly because Freer visited many of the same towns, and audiences must have been disappointed to discover that they were watching the same scenes they had seen three years earlier. In any case, neither the Canadian government nor the CPR repeated the experience with Freer. When the CPR, liking the idea but wanting new films, decided to sponsor their own they went not to James Freer but to a British producer, Charles Urban. Freer himself returned to Manitoba and apparently abandoned film production though he continued running film shows."

Paul S. Moore, "Mapping the Mass Circulation of Early Cinema: Film Debuts Coast-to-Coast in Canada in 1896 and 1897," Canadian Journal of Film Studies 21:1 (spring 2012): 70-71.
"If repeated views of moving pictures were already a problem, a new set of films came to Assiniboia and Alberta soon enough. [Richard A.] Hardie's Kinetoscope joined the Cosgrove Company for its own tour westward across the Prairies, beginning in Brandon and point north of the main C.P.R. line in Manitoba in August 1897. The outfit returned to Winnipeg early in September in order to pursue Hardie's latest venture: Manitoba moving pictures. Few of the pictures are mentioned specifically , but they included the Winnipeg and Brandon fire brigades racing down city streets, sidewalk crowds, trains racing toward the camera, and plenty of wheat being harvested, including Manitoba Premier Thomas Greenway at work in his own fields. These are the same films brought to England by James S. Freer in 1898 as an immigration and settlement promotional tool. Although Freer has long been assumed the filmmaker, his role as lecturer for the British tour was not negotiated until December 1897, months after the films had already been exhibited across the Prairies. Their official debut happened in Winnipeg in September 1897, as part of a special screening for officials for the railways and government. Hardie and the Cosgroves then toured the path taken by McCarthy's Anamatagraph a month earlier, but now stopping at more towns and venturing off the main railway line to bring the first moving pictures to Prince Albert, Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, with a rest in Banff before returning to Manitoba. In November and December, the tour continued through the southerna part of Manitoba. The Manitoba films were shown all along this route, although they were only rarely given any prominence in newspaper promotion and commentary."