Overview of the Cinematic History of Canada

The cinematic history of Canada is a vast field that cannot hope to be covered in a single article.  This hopes to serve as a brief overview of some of the early aspects of its history and as a starting point to looking into the topics more closely.

The First Films

The first film to be shown in Canada was in 1896, though kinetoscope had been available since 1894, but it wouldn’t be until 1897 that Canada would begin its production.  Made by James Freer, a farmer from Manitoba, ‘Ten Years in Manitoba’ was essentially a collection of “home movies” depicting Prairie life.

This would begin the trend of promotional cinema.  Trying to encourage British immigration to Canada films like ‘Living Canada’ and the fictional ‘Hiawatha, The Messiah of the Ojibway’ depicted Canadian life and idealized the Canadian West right up through the 1930s.

The first real Canadian feature film though was ‘Evangeline’ in 1913 which was based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was a massive success though the company that produced it, Canadian Bioscope Company, was one of many production companies that would be short-lived.

Regulation and Distribution

From the start of the film distribution and production in Canada, regulation was a provincial matter.  It wasn’t until 1911 that the first Board of Censors was created in Ontario and encouraged other provinces to do the same within the next few years.  National film production was not realised fully until 1918 with the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau though this was again promotional work to show Canadian trade and industry.  It was absorbed by the National Film Board in 1941.

Back to God’s Country

“You cannot discuss Canadian Cinematic History without bringing up ‘Back to God’s Country’ and everything that comes along with it,” writes history blogger Maria Cooks, Write my X and 1 Day 2 write.  Released in 1919, the film was notable for being filmed on location instead of in a studio.  It made Nell Shipman, wife of the film’s producer Ernest Shipman, ‘the girl from God’s country’ while shocking film goers with a now famous nude scene.

The film is unfortunately marred in a modern perspective due to the era normalised racism, especially to the Chinese and Indigenous peoples portrayed in them.  While it was considered “acceptable” by the public at the time it absolutely was hurtful to those people who were humiliated by the film’s depictions.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the early days of promotional theatre, a staple Canadian genre in film is the Documentary and in particular the Docudrama.  While many had come before, the first breakthrough moment probably came from the release of Warrendale in 1967 which would show the realities of a mental health treatment centre for children.  Though it was not originally broadcast by the CBC, even though they commissioned the piece, because the director would not censor the profanity in it, the film would win many awards and be screened at Cannes.

From here, Canadian documentaries would continue to shun tradition and break the mould.  The industry would establish the first publicly funded feminist film production that would produce many socially challenging documentaries for the time including ‘Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Love’ in 1992.  It is no surprise then that Canada now has an international documentary festival every spring that spans across the country.

Looking to the Future

Troy Baker, business writer at Origin Writings and Brit Student, states “As time moves on and the film industry with it, the Canadian cinema has seen some radical and brilliant changes.”  With more and more people willing to challenge social norms it’s unsurprising that 2016 saw the amazing ‘Angry Inuk’ providing a look at Inuit communities and providing us with a better understanding.  It continues a newer tradition of Indigenous people cinema that began truly in Canada in 1968 and hopefully will lead to more stories being told in more empathetic and powerful ways.  The next step is to see an increase in indigenous film directors and producers.

Wrapping Up

Overall, this is just a taste of the history of cinema in Canada and cannot tell you everything you need to know.  Hopefully you have a few good starting points to jump from though and it is clear, even in brief, that the Canadian Film Industry is unique and ground-breaking in its own special way.

Business development manager George J. Newton, Write my research proposal and PhD Kingdom, has spent a decade of marriage perfecting the art of the apology.  This patience and diligence serve him well in his occasional writing for Coursework writer.

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