During the time of their publicity campaigns promoting immigration and settlement in Western Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) quickly became aware of cinema’s potential and of the public’s fascination with trains. Using their Department of Colonization and Development (where Louis Olivier Armstrong was employed) as intermediary, CPR soon began sponsoring the practice of filmmaking.
The first filmmaker to benefit from CPR’s support was James Freer. In 1899, Freer made several films in the vicinity of his Manitoba farm, eventually exhibiting the films himself as an itinerant projectionist . CPR solicited work from British and American companies and camera operators as well. This accounts for the presence of American Mutoscope and Biograph camera operator Billy Bitzer and Edison Manufacturing Co. ’s Robert K. Bonine in Canada at the time. However, it was the Englishman Joseph Rosenthal and his producer Charles Urban who, beginning in 1902, most benefited from the Canadian Pacific Railway’s support.
CPR collaborated with Edison again in 1910 on a series of twelve fiction films, from which emerged most notably A Wedding Trip from Montreal Through Canada to Hong Kong, a fictional story in a documentary setting. These latter productions were ideally suited for screening in the first permanent movie theatres. The following year CPR continued its innovative course by commissioning Natural Colour Kinematograph of London to produce a series of Canadian views using Kinemacolor, a moderately successful colour process.
In 1919, Urban approached CPR to produce a documentary on the Prince of Wales’ visit to Canada . The film’s success encouraged CPR to become more involved in production. With this interest in mind, Associated Screen News was founded in Montreal in 1921, where it was active until 1958, under the management of Bernard E. Norrish, offering production and laboratory services. In addition to commissioned films, they produced a series of documentaries and actuality films for theatrical release (Kinogram Travelogues, Camera Rambles), out of which came the celebrated Canadian Cameo series (from 1932 to 1953).