Vernon historian unearths footage of Namgis First Nation living at Alert Bay from 1926

Historic moments on film

Today's historic video is special for several reasons.

Vernon-based historian and videographer Francois Arseneault has unearthed footage dating back to 1926 that captured a rare glimpse of an Indigenous community almost 100 years ago.

“This is very early amateur footage as the first 16mm home movie cameras had only been available to the public since 1923 and were very expensive. Any early adopter of this new technology had to be of means, and the owner of this camera, Leon Titus Sr, certainly fell into that category,” said Arseneault.

Leon Titus Sr. was born in 1890 and was a successful businessman. In the 1910s, Titus Sr. was awarded his first Ford dealership in Olympia, Wash. He expanded, owning several dealerships before the Great Depression threw the country into financial chaos and he went out of business.

At the peak of the roaring '20s, in 1926, he had acquired a 38-foot boat capable of long-distance journeys .

On those journeys, Titus brought a Kodak camera which he and his wife, Doris, used to document their trips.

One of their stops was at the 'Namgis First Nation who had occupied the lands and waters of northern Vancouver Island for thousands of years, but were now concentrated at Alert Bay, Cormorant Island.

“The ‘Namgis people in the 1700s used Alert Bay as a place to bring their people who had passed on, they also lived on the island on a seasonal basis. The ‘Namgis moved to the Cormorant Island from Vancouver Island in the late 1800s but never ceded their land,” Arseneault said.

Alert Bay in 1926, was a very remote location for even the most intrepid tourist. Just off the coast of Vancouver Island near Port McNiel, few people visited the community.

Those who did visit, came by boat, whether a passing CP Princess ship, a ferry or the occasional small boat.

Titus and his wife visited the community briefly during the summer of 1926 capturing just three minutes of footage - some of the earliest footage ever captured.

Titus captured footage of his wife on the boardwalk, the Thunderbirds and totem poles facing the water of the bay, children walking about and amazingly, the daily life and homes in the community, before departing southward aboard his boat.

“I cannot stress how rare and important this 96-year-old footage is to the history of the ‘Namgis people and British Columbia. I'm merely the current custodian of this footage and am honoured to share it with everyone,” Arseneault said.

Arseneault is always looking for more information on the vintage footage he digs up, and he encourages people to add their input in the comments section on his Youtube page.

Arseneault has an extensive collection of vintage footage, and he is looking for more.

Anyone who may have old 16 mm or 8 mm film footage of the Vernon and Okanagan area is invited to email Arseneault at [email protected].

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