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Canadian Film Encyclopedia

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Ontario Motion Picture Bureau

The first government-founded film organization in the world, the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau (OMPB) was established by Ontario’s provincial government in May, 1917, more than a year before the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau was brought into being. The Ontario Motion Picture Bureau’s first director was S.C. Johnson and its principal purpose was to carry out “educational work for farmers, school children, factory workers and other classes.” Films would be used to advertise Ontario and its resources and “to encourage the building of highways and other public works.”

Prior to 1923, the Bureau did not produce its own films. All production work was contracted to private film companies in Toronto, while the OMPB was responsible for the content of the films and for arranging their distribution. In 1923, the Bureau assumed control of a studio in Trenton previously run by Adanac Films and began making its own educational films. By 1925, the Bureau was distributing 1,500 reels of film monthly. Though it was hoped that some of the films would have a regular theatrical release, the main thrust was toward educational screenings in churches, schools and other institutions.

To avoid the fire hazard presented by inflammable 35mm nitrate stock, the Bureau released its films on 28mm safety stock designed for non-theatrical use. By the late twenties, however, distribution problems arose when 28mm was replaced by 16mm. By this time, the Bureau’s films themselves were outdated – technically competent but lifeless, dull and anachronistic. The organization itself had grown bloated and irrelevant and was targeted by a newly elected Liberal government who had come to power on a mandate to cut government bureaucracy. The OMPB was officially dissolved on October 26, 1934. The land and buildings of the Trenton studio were donated to Trenton for a community hall.

If nothing else, the OMPB established a tradition of state involvement in Canadian filmmaking, a legacy that would both define and limit Canadian cinema in the decades to come.

By: Peter Morris, Andrew McIntosh