20th Century, Culture, Surrounding Areas

Two Early Films of Kingston and Area

I was really excited to find two brief, relatively early, locally-shot films while on Youtube the other night. Films of the Kingston area are few and far between, especially from, say, the pre-1950 era, and most that survive are in archives or perhaps in private collections. So it was great to run across these two just sitting there on the internet! I am also happy to say I can tell you a little bit about the background of both of them.

Let’s start with the earlier one: a 1919 travel film about the Thousand Islands, made by the Ford Motor Company. It belongs to the Thousand Islands Museum in Clayton, New York, and was apparently not uploaded by them, although the uploader says it was “provided” by them. The film basically just has the camera on a boat and travels around the islands with a few title-cards interspersed. Therefore, it’s not much you haven’t seen before, just the Thousand Islands in black-and-white. However I still find it interesting to watch, and the Bach soundtrack someone has added makes the whole thing kind of hypnotic and meditative…

Unfortunately I’ll have to get back to you about that “Napoleon’s brother” claim the film makes.

This film was part of the Ford Educational Weekly series, a set of almost two hundred short films on a variety of subjects produced between 1916-1921. They would have been shown in movie theatres before the main attraction. They were essentially advertising for the Ford company as an attempt to promote their image as wholesome and philanthropic; in this case they may also have been subtly advertising their product, for although you can’t visit the Thousand Islands by car, you still may want to drive there before you hop on a boat.

You might have noted the rather elaborate title-cards of this film. Although title-cards don’t get much attention outside of silent film circles, they were considered an important part of pre-sound era filmmaking and much attention was given to their wording and appearance. In this example, you might have noticed that the little porthole illustrations change with every title: it’s all in the details.

The next film is quite different, because it’s home movie footage! This is footage of the Kingston Tennis Club sometime after its opening (the film title says circa 1924, but according to the club’s president it’s likely closer to 1935). The Kingston Tennis Club owns the film and uploaded it to Youtube. Have a look at it below!

After watching this I got excited, in a way that probably only I can get excited about 80-year-old random footage of people playing tennis in Kingston. I was really curious to know who the people in the film were, and if anything was known of its background. So I contacted the Kingston Tennis Club to see what they could tell me about it. It’s a bit of a tangled web (I actually had to write down a little family tree to keep track of everyone) but here it is –

The film was shot by Ian MacLachlan, a founding member of the tennis club and apparently something of an amateur film enthusiast. His brother Grant can be seen at the 2:04 mark (holding his daughter). Additionally, their father Alexander MacLachlan is the gentlemanly old man who appears at 3:29. He was a Queen’s graduate (class of 1884) who had lived in Turkey and was president of the International College in Smyrna. There is a Queen’s History Department award in his name, the Alexander MacLachlan Peace Prize, founded by Ian MacLachlan’s daughter Marian.

The energetic man in the “A” sweater is Colin MacPherson, who founded a steel product business (still there on Rideau Street). His daughter Cathy was the one who made the film available after her sister-in-law digitized it and added music. Marian MacLachlan then presented it to the tennis club.

This information answered a lot of my questions. However I still wish I knew a few things, probably lost to the mists of time, like: why are all those women knitting? Who is the guy at 1:57 who looks like he should be making Soviet constructivist art or collaborating with Bertolt Brecht or something? Are the men at 3:48 and 4:07 son and father? Who cut the lady at 2:19’s hair, because she looks great. And how is everyone having so much fun? When was the last time you saw anyone having that much fun? (I write as I sit, alone and hunched, behind my glowing laptop screen…)

Okay, leaving my winter cabin-fever aside, I hope you enjoyed watching these two films. They’re such interesting records of certain places at certain times, and it’s great that they’re publicly available to watch. If there are any more of these floating around out there, let me know!


The only source I haven’t mentioned in the text is this short article, written by a librarian at the University of Oregon, which I used for information on the Ford Educational Weekly film:

Peterson, Elizabeth. “Pedagogy for Profit: the ‘Ford Educational Weekly.'” Academia.edu, 2014.


2 thoughts on “Two Early Films of Kingston and Area

  1. cadeauca says:

    Wow! What gems to have found! (What isn’t on Youtube at this point?) I can’t figure out which videos I prefer. I love seeing old, documentary-ish footage.

    “I write as I sit, alone and hunched, behind my glowing laptop screen.”

    Ngl, I laughed. Sorry! I am certain that if they had filmed those individuals during the winter, they would have been just as miserable as us. Maybe the tennis people were hamming it up for the camera?

    • Thank you! I was a little surprised to see them because I don’t think there’s a lot of early footage of Kingston, bigger cities like Toronto etc. have more. Hahaha yes I’m a winter hibernator, that sentence was 100% accurate when I wrote it! I think we’ve all been there (maybe minus the envying-people-having-fun-in-80-year-old-film part) 😉

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