Retracing the route of the 1919 Romance of the Far Fur Country motion picture expedition and discovering how it speaks us today.
In 1919, a film crew set out on an epic journey across Canada's North. Over the course of six months, their expedition traveled by icebreaker, canoe, and dog sled, capturing the Canadian fur trade in a silent feature documentary. The Romance of the Far Fur Country was released in 1920, two years before the legendary film Nanook of the North.
Rediscovering the documentary in a British archive, another film crew begins a journey to bring this lost film back to life, taking it to the northern communities where the film was originally shot. As people watch the footage from 1919, something special happens. Images come to life; people recognize their family members, their landscapes, and their lost traditions. Contrasting then and now, On Trail of the Far Fur Country is an intimate portrait of Canada and its Aboriginal people, and a chronicle of how life in the North has changed in the last century.
The 1919 Film: The Romance of the Far Fur Country
In July of 1919, two cameramen from New York City set out to film Canada’s northern wilderness. They first boarded Canada’s most famous icebreaker, the HMS Nascopie, and headed from Montreal toward the Arctic Circle. Commissioned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the filmmakers were tasked with capturing life as a fur trader, a snapshot of the Company. By the time they completed filming at the end of December, they’d gathered 75,000 feet of film. The Romance of the Far Fur Country premiered on May 23, 1920, in Winnipeg, before touring Western Canada and additional screenings in Europe.
A Lost Film…
By the end of the 1920s, audiences were turning their attention to the talkies, wanting more than just moving pictures. Soon after the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, barely a decade after The Romance of the Far Fur Country was filmed, the footage from the epic Hudson’s Bay Company film disappeared from public view, the canisters of nitrate film stock were packed away by the HBC in an archive in London for safe keeping— but lost to the world.
The Return of the Far Fur Country
In 2011, a community of archivists, academics and filmmakers began a project to bring the 1919 film footage back to Canada, then to return these archival moving images to the communities of origin. Through the sponsorship of the Hudson's Bay Company Archives / Archives of Manitoba, and cooperation of the British Film Institute in London England, the film elements were returned to Winnipeg, Canada. The restoration work began. On the Trail of the Far Fur Country tells the story of this lost film and the journey back to the same communities where it was first shot in 1919.