A man puts on an over-sized dry suit, demonstrating its watertightness in front of a crowd of dozens. Waving the old Canadian flag in one hand and a British Union Jack in the other, he climbs up a rickety wooden contraption built over the Halifax Harbour and jumps into the water. He back strokes around a bit, still waving the flags, then climbs out of the harbour, removing the suit and showing off the still-dry business suit beneath.
That oddly amusing scene is just one captured on about 6,000 films, both black and white and colour, by Nova Scotians from the 1920s through the 1940s, and which are now housed in the Nova Scotia Archives. Tuesday, more than 100 of those films will be found on the Archives' YouTube channel, found through gov.ns.ca/nsarm; the dry suit demonstration film is live on The Coast's website.
The YouTube channel comes thanks to grants from Canadian Heritage, Library and Archives of Canada and from the Canadian Council of Archives. For the past year Nova Scotia Archives staff has been digitizing the films with a telecine machine, and Lauren Oostveen has been editing through the gaps and building the YouTube channel.
"It's going to be a huge time waster," jokes Oostveen, imagining office workers spending work time addicted to the site.
But who is that swimming man?
"It's really brilliant and I have no idea who he is," says Oostveen. "He obviously put a lot of effort into this thing, and it was a big spectacle---there's a good crowd of people there, but I don't know, it's mysterious. That's why I'm pretty excited about doing the YouTube channel, because if that's your granddad or you know who this guy is, you can comment on that and let us know, because a lot of them have these anonymous people moving through them, and we have no idea who they are. If anyone can offer any input, that'd be great."
The films show the entire range of life from the period.
"We have a film that features Babe Ruth here, golfing at, I think, Ashburn, which is pretty cool," says Oostveen when asked of her favourites. "We have a lot of early films of Guysborough, which I really like. A lot of the travel films are interesting---people who are going over to England, different parts of Canada and the Caribbean. There's a film I really love; it's from Bermuda, that shows a lily plantation in the 1920s. Another film I enjoy is called Porpoise Oil; it's a recreation of the porpoise hunt done by Bear River Mi'kmaw in 1936---it's a recreation of something they would've done towards the late 1800s, and this guy there, Doctor Alexander Leighton, saw the value in preserving the tradition, so he asked the community if they would mind showing him how it was done, and they did, and it's quite cool."
One clip on the film at thecoast.ca shows a couple who are awkwardly self-conscious, perhaps because of the new medium. The man bends over and kisses the woman on the lips, then steps back with a look of stunned satisfaction.
"Everyone is hyper aware of the camera," says Oostveen. "Often in the films people walk right up to the lens, and it's just the lower portion of their face that you see, and this happens over and over again. It's very strange."
A celebration marking the YouTube channel will be held Tuesday at Victor's. Some government-produced tourism promotion films, in sound and colour, will open, and a selection of black-and-white silent films, accompanied by the band Krasnogorsk, will follow.