Extracted from Magic Moments - First 20 Years of Moving Pictures in Toronto (1894-1914)
(With permission from the Author)
To The Reader
Peter Morris, in the preface of his book, Embattled Shadows, writes: "I hope it will serve as a useful point of departure for future research. If it succeeds in stimulating further serious inquiry into film as an aspect of Canadian culture, it will have served its primary purpose." These words motivated me to take up the challenge to write my account of the first twenty years of moving pictures in Toronto, Canada. Thus, I am deeply indebted to Peter Morris.
As one always keenly interested in social history, and as an educator, filmmaker, and collector of motion-picture apparatus, it has always concerned me that many myths (e.g. movies used as a 'chaser' at the end of a programme to clear the theatre quickly) still are just beginning to be questioned by new film historians, as evidenced in a collection of their works under the title Film Before Griffith. In order to approach some of these 'traditions,' I decided to focus on the first two decades of moving pictures in one Canadian city Toronto. Why Toronto? Firstly, this city was the centre in Canada for all important motion-picture moments at the beginning of the new art form. Secondly, it enabled me to control the voluminous material in order to build what I hope for the reader is a clear and exciting 'narrative' on the dawning of a formidable art. I trust that the reader will not only be enlightened by the important facts but also enjoy the journey with me as I unravel some of the mysteries, and moreover, to become acquainted with both the individuals who contributed to moving-picture development and the society which fostered it.
This discourse is presented in four divisions, reflecting the natural development of moving pictures in turn-of-the-century Toronto. The first is the fascination with the new technology, especially the projectors. The second is the various genres which helped to sustain public interest long enough to enable moving pictures to become more than a passing fad, as Edison had believed. Third is the demand for longer films resulting in theatres catering especially to the new entertainment. Fourth are the special struggles of the filmmaker sound, colour, special events, and finally, production and distribution.
The subjects presented in the various appendices were excluded from the main narrative because they would slow it down; however, I urge the serious reader and researcher to examine them.
By quoting extensively from many contemporary Toronto newspapers, especially the Toronto World, I want the reader to 'hear' the numerous voices of the period, resulting in a 'feel' for film as a significant aspect of Canadian culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The many advertisements are a strong contributor to this 'language.'
A little background on Toronto may be necessary. People have lived in the Toronto region for thousands of years. The site of Toronto was the termination of the most important Indian trails that supplied the shortest and most convenient road between Lake Huron and Lake Ontario. The name itself is of Huron tribal origin and means "place of meeting."
However, the modern city of Toronto was born in 1793, when the first governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, chose it as the site for its capital because of its distance from the American shores and protected harbour. He changed the name of the new town to York, in celebration of the grand Duke of York's success in action against the French in Holland. York grew slowly. However, the community expanded rapidly after the War of 1812, with the arrival of thousands of immigrants.
When York was incorporated as a city in 1834, its name was changed once more, reverting to "Toronto." Its population was 9,000; but, by 1851, grew to 30,000, and after Canada was formed in 1867, Toronto became the capital of the new province of Ontario.
By the 1890's Toronto was important as a wholesale supply point primarily because of its unequaled advantages for cheap freightage, both by lake and rail, and for its proximity to the United States. As a patron of the arts and entertainment, attracting those who were most famous on the lecture platform or the dramatic stage, Toronto was included on the many vaudeville circuits. Toronto's Industrial Fair, now known as the Canadian National Exhibition, or C.N.E., by 1903, was the largest annual exhibition in the world. Thus, Toronto was ready to welcome the newest technology the moving-picture machine.
Robert W. Gutteridge
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