Frederick Conway Edmonds of Lindsay, Ontario, was one of the first travelling showmen in Canada. Born in England on June 2, 1850, he had come to Canada as a young man. He was a ventriloquist, magician, and theatre manager and had managed Larkin Hall in Hamilton as a vaudeville house. When it closed he launched “The Australian Medicine Show”, one of the first of its kind to carry a sixty-foot tent with seating and a brass band. A special feature was the free extraction of teeth.
After touring Ontario, New England, and Maritimes, the show closed in 1895. On his return west, he saw H.J. Hill’s presentation of the Lumiere Cinematographe on Yonge Street in Toronto. Intrigued, Edmonds purchased an Edison Vitascope and films and went out on the road. His son recalls his father ‘premiering’ the film of Queen Victoria’s funeral in Lindsay only weeks after the funeral on February 2, 1901. He settled in Lindsay for a few years, designing equipment for slide and movie projection. (The rights to one of his inventions was sold to Thomas Edison).
In 1906 he was back on the road again with his family. His son recalls: “Jim Fairbanks, a Toronto comedian and myself got the talking picture idea on this trip–worked up a dialogue and sounds for ‘The River Pirates’ and persuaded Father to let us try it out in a small Northern town. It wasn’t a success–in fact it almost wrecked the show. Opening time, the second night, found all the company sitting on the hall steps in a deserted town. Finally the Postmaster came along and after much persuasion, we found out the cause of the show going flat. He said about follows:
“You want to know where the people are, do you?”
“Well, they are in their homes. Not a man, woman or child in this town, slept last night, and I was until four o’clock this morning seeing people home with the lantern. I will never forget, till my last day, the groans of those dying men. No more pictures for us. The old gentleman assured us that we would have a full house next night if we promised that there wouldn’t be any groans from ‘Dying men’.”
Right then we got notice that ‘talking pictures’ were off.
As for Frederick Conway Edwards, who so ingeniously (and ingenuously) attempted to put dialogue onto his films, he too settled down. Throughout his life he attacked the prevalence of Hollywood films in Canadian theatres advocating the importance of ‘Empire Films’ over those from south of the border. He was particularly outspoken during the First World War when he felt American films denigrated or ignored the British and Canadian contributions to the war.
He had earlier opened the Wonderland Theatre in Lindsay (later remodelled and named The Kent Theatre), moved into distribution, and launched ‘The British Canadian Feature Film Company’ which released European films in Canada. In 1914 he introduced the ‘talkies’ to Canada with equipment manufactured by the Gaumont Company of England from which Edmonds owned Canadian rights.
“These pictures were similar to those which are so popular to-day, only on a smaller scale. The equipment consisted of a specially built phonograph and film. They were shown for the first time in The Wonderland, then put on the road and played a number of theatres throughout the province.”
For more information on Frederick Conway Edmonds, and his collection at Library & Archives Canada, please click HERE.
Text provided courtesy of Rick Punnett of Camlachie, Ontario. F.C. Edmonds was Rick’s maternal grand-father, and his uncle is F.C. Edmonds Jr.