Beyond the City Limits: Rural History in British Columbia

By R. W. Sandwell | Go to book overview

4 'Lessons in Living': Film Propaganda and Progressive Education in Rural British Columbia, 1944

Brian Low

The community of Lantzville, B.C. is a cross-section of nationalities and industrial groups--farmers, fishermen, lumbermen and railroad workers, with a down-at-heel spirit and a down-at-heel public school). 1

--NFB Information Sheet

One morning, early in 1944, the children of Lantzville's two-room elementary school were distracted from their deskwork by a crew of workmen erecting a tower across the roadway. That afternoon, the older boys were excused from their regular classwork and were instructed to dismantle some sections of the fence around the schoolyard and loosen a few of the remaining pickets. They did so with relish. Afterward, all the window boxes were removed from around the schoolhouse and--this to the children's greatest surprise--the Lantzville Community Hall, a converted barn located at the rear of the Vancouver Island school, was loaded with hay and a roughhewn loft was constructed inside it. 2

The Lantzville school was being prepared as the location for a National Film Board of Canada (NFB) production, one of 138 film productions that would be released by the NFB in 1944. 3 The majority of these productions were directly related to the war effort, but nearly half of them dealt with domestic themes: agriculture, nutrition, labour, taxation, Native and ethnic affairs, recreation, tourism, or, as with the film being produced in Lantzville, education. Ostensibly, the purpose of each production was to 'help Canadians in all parts of Canada to understand the ways of living and the problems of Canadians in other parts.' In short: to mirror Canada to Canadians. 4 But the reflections were not always the realities that Canadian audiences believed them to be. They were 'creative treatments of actuality' --they were 'documentaries'--and they were produced not so much to reflect reality as to crystallize public sentiments and manufacture public opinions. 5

Lessons in Living, the documentary film that the Lantzville children helped to prepare, was produced to manufacture favourable attitudes concerning

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