BOOKS: Magic Moments – First 20 Years of Moving Pictures in Toronto (1894-1914)

January 15, 2006

Book review by Robert Carter

Taken from “Photographica Canadiana” Vol. 25, No. 5 March-April 2000 Journal of the Photographic Historical Society of Canada

258 pages. 8 1/2 x 11 inch. Over 200 black and white images., Published by Gutteridge-Pratley Publications, 104 Ontario St. W., Whitby, ON, L1N 1P3, ISBN 0-9686125-0-4, $30.00 + s&h.

Robert Gutteridge is an educator in visual art and film, collector of motion picture appara- tus and optical toys, a filmmaker, and a member of both the Movie Machine Society and the Photographic Historical Society of Canada.

I first met Robert Gutteridge at one of our photo fairs; later, he was a guest speaker at a Toronto meeting. Along with his submission for a PHSC Publication Grant, Robert provided a short extract from his book-in-progress. I read the extract and decided then and there to order a copy of his history of the early years of moving pictures in Toronto. He is a natural storyteller, making the dry historical writings come alive.

The copy was delivered last night –what a great book! I spent hours browsing through Magic Moments, and I was intrigued to read more the next day during breaks and lunch.

The book is the culmination of two decades of research into early cinema, especially of the technology and films. In Magic Moments, Robert strives with a passion “to set right the many misconceptions and myths that are perpetuated by ill-informed media”. All references are carefully noted, and Robert clearly identifies inconsistent reports and clarifies the confusion in articles-of-the-day when variations of moving picture apparatus and techniques arrived on the scene. The footnotes, appendices and indices make the book especially useful for the student and researcher.

Magic Moments gives a clarity and sequence to the rapid evolution of motion pictures from novelty acts at local fairs to serious entertainment with the creation of movies based on plot lines and stories. While the focus of the story is Toronto, the ambiance and atmosphere would fit any North American city experiencing the thrills of the evolution of motion picture.

The book’s twenty-one chapters cover technologies, issues, and business aspects of the viewing side of the early movie industry. The technologies –including the Vitascope, Cinematographe, Biograph, and Nickelodeon, each receive a chapter. The book gives a clear explanation of their respective place in the evolution of movies from the peep show apparatus favoured by Edison, to projection systems which became the standard for the rest of the 20th century. I was surprised to find chapters devoted to sound and colour – years before the Jazz Singer appeared on the scene and vacuum tube amplifiers arrived. I found the chapter on “Production and Distribution” of particular interest given the overwhelming influence of Hollywood on our movie choices today.

If you enjoy movies, history and old technologies then pick up a copy of this book. You won’t be disappointed.


Extracted from Magic Moments – First 20 Years of Moving Pictures in Toronto (1894-1914) (With permission from the Author)

To The Reader

Peter Morris, in the preface of his book, Embattled Shadows, writes: “I hope it will serve as a useful point of departure for future research. If it succeeds in stimulating further serious inquiry into film as an aspect of Canadian culture, it will have served its primary purpose.” These words motivated me to take up the challenge to write my account of the first twenty years of moving pictures in Toronto, Canada. Thus, I am deeply indebted to Peter Morris.

As one always keenly interested in social history, and as an educator, filmmaker, and collector of motion-picture apparatus, it has always concerned me that many myths (e.g. movies used as a ‘chaser’ at the end of a programme to clear the theatre quickly) still are just beginning to be questioned by new film historians, as evidenced in a collection of their works under the title Film Before Griffith. In order to approach some of these ‘traditions,’ I decided to focus on the first two decades of moving pictures in one Canadian city Toronto. Why Toronto? Firstly, this city was the centre in Canada for all important motion-picture moments at the beginning of the new art form. Secondly, it enabled me to control the voluminous material in order to build what I hope for the reader is a clear and exciting ‘narrative’ on the dawning of a formidable art. I trust that the reader will not only be enlightened by the important facts but also enjoy the journey with me as I unravel some of the mysteries, and moreover, to become acquainted with both the individuals who contributed to moving-picture development and the society which fostered it.

This discourse is presented in four divisions, reflecting the natural development of moving pictures in turn-of-the-century Toronto. The first is the fascination with the new technology, especially the projectors. The second is the various genres which helped to sustain public interest long enough to enable moving pictures to become more than a passing fad, as Edison had believed. Third is the demand for longer films resulting in theatres catering especially to the new entertainment. Fourth are the special struggles of the filmmaker sound, colour, special events, and finally, production and distribution.
The subjects presented in the various appendices were excluded from the main narrative because they would slow it down; however, I urge the serious reader and researcher to examine them.
By quoting extensively from many contemporary Toronto newspapers, especially the Toronto World, I want the reader to ‘hear’ the numerous voices of the period, resulting in a ‘feel’ for film as a significant aspect of Canadian culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The many advertisements are a strong contributor to this ‘language.’

A little background on Toronto may be necessary. People have lived in the Toronto region for thousands of years. The site of Toronto was the termination of the most important Indian trails that supplied the shortest and most convenient road between Lake Huron and Lake Ontario. The name itself is of Huron tribal origin and means “place of meeting.”
However, the modern city of Toronto was born in 1793, when the first governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, chose it as the site for its capital because of its distance from the American shores and protected harbour. He changed the name of the new town to York, in celebration of the grand Duke of York’s success in action against the French in Holland. York grew slowly. However, the community expanded rapidly after the War of 1812, with the arrival of thousands of immigrants.
When York was incorporated as a city in 1834, its name was changed once more, reverting to “Toronto.” Its population was 9,000; but, by 1851, grew to 30,000, and after Canada was formed in 1867, Toronto became the capital of the new province of Ontario.
By the 1890’s Toronto was important as a wholesale supply point primarily because of its unequaled advantages for cheap freightage, both by lake and rail, and for its proximity to the United States. As a patron of the arts and entertainment, attracting those who were most famous on the lecture platform or the dramatic stage, Toronto was included on the many vaudeville circuits. Toronto’s Industrial Fair, now known as the Canadian National Exhibition, or C.N.E., by 1903, was the largest annual exhibition in the world. Thus, Toronto was ready to welcome the newest technology the moving-picture machine.

Robert W. Gutteridge
Whitby, Ontario

TORONTO, July 14, 2013. We learned today that Robert W Gutteridge passed away last Friday at the Scarborough General Hospital. Bob joined the PHSC in 1997 and was our resident authority on optical toys and early cinema in Canada. He was a speaker on occasion at the Toronto meetings. He was a regular participant at the spring and fall fairs, often joining Francois LeMai of Montreal, another early cinema enthusiast. Bob published “Magic Moments, First 20 years of moving pictures in Toronto” in 2000 in collaboration with Gerald Pratley of Ryerson University. At his death from cancer, he was preparing additional books for publication by the PHSC Press.

Robert W. Gutteridge

"Robert Gutteridge is an educator in visual art and film, collector of motion picture apparatus and optical toys, a filmmaker, and a member of both the Movie Machine Society and the Photographic Historical Society of Canada." Robert Carter, Photographic Historical Society of Canada

GUTTERIDGE, Robert W. “Bob”-
Passed away Friday July 12th, 2013 in Toronto at the age of 74. Teacher, filmmaker, artist, renowned collector, author and expert on historical movie making & equipment, he will be missed by the many he touched over the years.

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