Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Vacationland: Film, Tourism, and Selling Canada, 1934-1948

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Vacationland: Film, Tourism, and Selling Canada, 1934-1948

Article excerpt

Résumé: Cet essai examine l'histoire des politiques et des interventions du gouvernement canadien dans l'utilisation de film cinématographiques pour vendre le Canada comme un lieu de vacances aux touristes américains entre 1934 et 1948. Le gouvernement reconnut alors que l'activité commerciale s'adressant aux touristes était un facteur clé dans la santé de l'économie nationale. Le secteur public adopta le cinéma comme le média le plus efficace et le plus moderne pour annoncer le Canada aux touristes potentiels outrefrontière. Les "films de touristes" qui sont sortis à la fois dans les salles et via d'autres réseaux de distribution ont présenté le Canada comme une destination touristique désirable en faisant un portrait antimoderniste des paysages canadiens en même temps que, paradoxalement, ils présentaient le Canada comme un état moderne.

In 1947, the Canadian economy faced a balance-of-payments emergency, caused by a deficit in its trade with the United States. To correct the disequilibrium, Ottawa announced that it would implement wide-ranging import restrictions on a variety of U.S. consumer goods. Concerned these austerity measures would affect the distribution of American films in Canada, Hollywood made an explicit commitment to encourage tourism to Canada as a way to stimulate the flow of U.S. dollars into the Dominion during the postwar currency crisis. As a result, the Canadian government did not follow Great Britain's lead of imposing quotas and heavy taxes on film imports from the United States. The arrangement that became known as the Canadian Cooperation Project (CCP) was described by Canadian nationalist and popular historian Pierre Berton as "a public relation man's boondoggle," and it has since remained a generally maligned episode in Canadian film history.1 The CCP, however, was part of a longstanding effort on behalf of the federal government, in concert with private sector agencies connected to the tourism industry, to use film to sell Canada as a 'vacationland' to tourists from the United States. Although there have been important studies on aspects of the cinema in or about Canada during the first half of the twentieth century since Peter Morris's seminal Embattled Shadows, the travelogue genre remains an underexplored area of historical scholarship.2 This essay offers a closer examination of the critical interconnections between film, the tourism industry, and public policy to provide insight into the ways that nonfiction motion pictures have advertised Canada across the border.

Since the late 1890s, Canadian-themed travelogues reached a mass audience, appearing in theatres throughout North America. In addition to their ongoing exhibition in the public sphere, as a frequent element in the U.S. film industry's 'balanced program' of shorts and feature films, by the 1930s travel films were also shown via non-theatrical distribution networks in more intimate settings, such as schools, churches, and other community-based organizations. Although these motion pictures recognized significant regional differences, they developed a recognizable 'brand' for Canada as a place of primeval beauty and a year-round recreational playground. Conversely, as a new technology and art form, the cinema was one of the central features of modern, industrial life. The photographic realism of motion pictures had the unique ability to transform spectators into armchair tourists. While the cinematic experience could function as a surrogate for actual travel, it could also potentially fuel a desire for the experiences witnessed on screen. Therefore, I make a distinction between the broad genre of films known as travelogues or travel films, which include motion pictures that visually offer an experience of vicarious travel, and the 'tourism film,' specifically made to promote commercial travel to a particular location.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Canadian-themed tourism films touted the nation's hospitality, accessibility, and availability of modernized tourist infrastructures by emphasizing the friendliness of Canadians, the undefended border, comfortable accommodations, and state-of-the art transportation systems. …

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