Burnaby archives proposes film digitization project

City archivist Arilea Sill was fascinated to see film footage of Princess Margaret visiting Burnaby city hall in 1958.

If approval is given to a proposal to digitize Burnaby's historic film collection, the general public will soon get to watch it and numerous other movie clips themselves on the Heritage Burnaby website.

The Community Heritage Commission is seeking $17,000 in gaming funds to make the project happen. The proposal still needs to be considered by the Finance and Civic Development Committee before council will be asked to make a decision.

The idea for the project stemmed from a donation last spring to the city by Freeman and former Burnaby alderman George McLean of a collection of home movies shot on 8 mm film back in the 1950s and '60s, said Sill in an interview.

The project aims to make the film clips as accessible on the Heritage Burnaby website as its oral history and archival photograph collections are.

In all cases, digitizing the material helps both to preserve it and to make it available to the masses with just a few clicks of a computer mouse. The movies would be converted to a digital format that would allow it to be streamed online.

Sill said archives staff are still figuring out how many films are in the collection and noted that those chosen for the project will be footage of interest to the general public, such as street scenes or special events as opposed to strictly personal family home movies.

In addition to McLean's collection, the archives has a 16 mm film entitled "Investment in Youth" shot during the 1945-1946 school year for the Burnaby school board to advocate for improvements to the city's schools. It was donated by Norm Henderson, who had worked as a student assistant on the film.

The archives also has the Digney family film collection, which includes footage of some of Burnaby's first May Day celebrations, construction of the Oak Theatre in 1936, the 1939 Royal Visit and an early Labour Day parade.

The film footage is unique since decades ago it was rare for people to have their own movie cameras.

"We do have quite a bit of photographs [in the collection] from that period [but] it's the moving images that are really rare so it is special," Sill said. A movie camera "certainly wasn't something every family would have."

The films in the archive's collection are currently in cold storage so even Sill hasn't seen most of them apart from footage that has been previously digitized—such as that used in From the Heart, the documentary on several of Burnaby's Freemen.

"We don't actually have the equipment to play the reels so there's portions of them that no, we haven't seen," she said. Of the ones she has watched, "just seeing the moving image, and some of it in colour too, is quite striking."

If the project is approved, the work could be completed and the movies posted online by the end of 2013.

It would be a "unique record that people don't get a chance to see anymore because the equipment doesn't exist," she said. "So to be able to present it in a really accessible way is very exciting. I think that's the cool thing about what we do."

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