Updated: May 16, 2019
By Elizabeth Kundert-Cameron, Head Archives and Library
For over a century, Hollywood has been coming to the Canadian Rockies to film movies. Collecting these films for the Archives Library collection has been ongoing since the 1980s, when former staff members Brian Patton and Mary Andrews began to research and source out rare videocassettes. Since then with increasing film restoration initiatives, more films are now becoming available. With every film, there are related stories and insights that can be explored.
A recent purchase, The Sky Pilot (1921) was adapted from the novel by Ralph Connor, a pseudonym for Reverend Charles W. Gordon, who was a minister in Banff and Canmore in 1890-1892. Directed by King Vidor, the opening scenes show Banff as the fictional, Swan Creek. Ralph Connor’s book Corporal Cameron of the North West Mounted Police: A Tale of the Mcleod Trail was also adapted into a movie filmed in Banff titled Cameron of the Royal Mounted (1921), which featured local R.C.M.P. Sergeant E. O. Taylor. While only a portion of this film survived, this remnant has also been purchased for the Archives Library.
Screenshots from The Sky Pilot (1921), DVD, Alpha Home Entertainment, 2014
The interconnection between the films collected and how they relate to the existing holdings of the Archives and Library is exciting to explore. The Archives Library contains many of Ralph Connor’s original books, including The Sky Pilot and Corporal Cameron of the North West Mounted Police: A Tale of the Mcleod Trail.
Another silent era film recently purchased was The Calgary Stampede (1925) starring Hoot Gibson. It was filmed on location at the Calgary Stampede, E. P. Ranch and at Buffalo National Park (1909-1940) near Wainwright, Alberta. The bison shown in this film were from the Pablo-Allard herd, which were later moved to Wood Buffalo National Park. The bison that Banff reintroduced to the Panther River Valley in 2017, were also descended from the bison from the Pablo-Allard herd which had remained in Elk Island National Park.
The movies that have been collected for the Archives Library collection are interesting because of their connections to the community, but are also important for film studies research. Since 2017, the Whyte Museum has been screening some of its film holdings through its Rockywood Reels Film Series: Eternal Love (1929), 49th Parallel (1941), Son of Lassie (1945), Saskatchewan (1954),The River of No Return (1954), The Far Country (1954), Rose Marie (1954), Little Big Man (1970), Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull’s Lesson (1976), and Death Hunt (1981). While the movies could be watched for pure entertainment value–some movies were “campy” at best. The films highlighted outdated and often disturbing stereotypes perpetuated of women, Indigenous Peoples, Mounties, French-Canadians, and others. The contrast between Saskatchewan and Little Big Man was especially compelling. During the screening of the Rockywood Reels’ movies, it has been interesting to observe the audience’s reactions to movies that at one time were considered innocuous. At times, there has been a collective gasp!
As the final offering of this season’s Rockywood Reels, the National Film Board movie Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian (2009) will be shown on May 16. Purchased recently for the Archives Library collection, it will provide excellent context to many of the films that have been made in the Canadian Rockies.
All of the films collected are available for viewing in the Archives and Library Reference Room. As to the public screening of Sky Pilot and Calgary Stampede… stay tuned!
Find your tickets or join the guest list for Reel Injun here.