Europeans and Americans do not agree on when cinema was invented and first projected to a paying public. The United States celebrated the arrival of the Kinetoscope in 1894. However, Thomas Edison’s invention was unable to project images and was used instead for individual viewing. The French see the Lumière brothers as the inventors of cinema, with the Cinématographe Lumière attracting a paying public on December 28, 1895 (after a series of projections to a non-paying public starting March 22, 1895). However, the French are not in complete agreement either, with some granting first honours to Georges Demenÿ and others to Berlin’s Skladanowsky brothers. Still others give pride of place to Étienne-Jules Marey and his “chronophotography” device. There was also the American Latham family who, with their Panoptikon, allegedly beat the Lumière brothers by several months (in terms of “first paying public projection”) as well as Jenkins and Armat with their Phantoscope . . . Therefore, determining the precise moment when cinema was invented is not necessarily easy. Rather, one might describe cinema’s emergence as the culmination of research carried out by several inventors who cooperated and competed with one another.
Although Canada did not participate in the invention of film technologies, there has been some question as to when and where animated views were first shown here. Montreal and Ottawa have long dipusted which city was the site of the country’s first screening. For many years, the Canadian premiere was thought to be a Vitascope screening in Ottawa on July 26, 1896 by the Holland brothers, two Edison dealers. However, recent research into early newspaper reports in Montreal suggests that the first film screening was actually held in Montreal on June 27, 1896. On that date, Louis Minier and his assistant Louis Pupier projected animated views using a Cinematographe Lumière at the Palace Theatre, located on 78 St. Lawrence Boulevard (this building, on the corner of Viger, is still standing). However, unlike the Ottawa screening, admittance to the show was by invitation only and thus not open to the public . According to newspapers of the time, this Cinématographe show continued for about two months in the summer of 1896.
Minier and Pupier arrived in Montreal on June 15, 12 days before their first screening, inviting journalists and other luminaries of the city to the show, such as Mayor Richard Wilson Smith. The publicity leading up to the show ran for nearly two weeks, at the same time as their colleague Felix Mesguich was in New York promoting the Cinématographe. Mesguich premiered his Cinématographe on the same day as Minier and Pupier premiered theirs. The publicity was obviously intended to arouse interest in the Cinematograph and to garner support from influential local figures. It was successful insofar as several French-language newspapers sent reporters to the screening. The English-language press did not comment on the premiere, either because they didn’t consider it important or because Minier and Pupier’s publicity targeted only the French-speaking community, which had expressed interest in the show. The Cinématographe screenings attracted audiences for two months, a stark contrast to other types of shows which usually only played for a week or two at a time, even when successful.
After a brief stop in Toronto, which included a Cinématographe show put on by a local entrepreneur named H.J. Hill, Minier and Pupier returned to Montreal and set up a facility at the Montreal Exhibition from September 10 to 23. Though the Cinématographe was one of the main attractions, its success was somewhat limited due to the mismanagement of the Exhibition. Nevertheless, the success of the device prompted competitors, wanting a share of the market, to import similar devices, such as the Cinematoscope, the Kinematographe and the Phantascope. This may have been what motivated Minier and Pupier take their Cinématographe show on the road across Quebec.
Presented in various cities, the travelling show included screenings of classic Lumière Brothers animated views such as L’arrivée d’un train, Charge de cavalerie and Sortie en mer. In Quebec City, the Cinématographe was presented on September 30, 1896 at the “Labyrinth”, an entertainment establishment in the heart of the Saint-Roch neighbourhood. Minier and Pupier also offered the possibility of private screenings to those who requested it, such as school principals. Though the local press reported on the Labyrinth screening, they did not offer any comments on the actual show. The Cinematograph then moved on to Trois-Rivières in November. An advertisement for the show stated that the clergy had endorsed the screening. An article explaining how the Cinématographe worked was also published. In December, it was Sherbrooke’s turn to welcome the wonderful invention at the Salle des Arts.
On February 10, 1897, the Cinématographe returned to Montreal, where it was officially premiered to the English-speaking community at 2266 St. Catherine St. in an English-speaking area of the city. Like the first screening in Montreal eight months earlier, the show was by invitation only, but this time it was presented by a man named Jackson, referred to as the proprietor, who had assisted Pupier in Sherbrooke. Were Minier and Pupier waiting to find an English-speaking associate to popularize their apparatus with the English-speaking community? This may very well have been the case, which would explain the lapse of time between the June 1896 screening and the one in February 1897.
It seems that Minier was not present at the Sherbrooke and Montreal screenings, but he resurfaced in March 1897, continuing his Cinematograph tour at the Black Opera in Saint-Jean (today Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) on March 15, 16 and 17. He then moved on to Farnham, Sherbrooke again and Saint-Hyacinthe. In August 1897, the Cinématographe made its way to Rivière-du-Loup, but the local press did not mention who presented the “wonderful instrument”.
The Cinématographe’s arrival in Quebec generated great excitement for screenings of animated views, prompting Quebecers to produce their own films. Minier, Pupier and Jackson influenced figures such as Léo-Ernest Ouimet , Lactance Giroux and Arthur Larente, the men who later inaugurated local film production.