Local historical film digs deep

By Patrick Brennan
St. Thomas Times-Journal, Tuesday February 15, 2005

Vitual heritage project launched Monday

A visual heritage project that succeeds in pulling all the major elements of the history of St. Thomas-Elgin together was launched Monday with applause from all who saw it.

Pixel Dust Studios and the Living History Multimedia Association, working with the St. Thomas-Elgin Tourism Association, showed the Ontario Visual Heritage Project for Elgin County at Galaxy Cinemas before a full theatre of 280. Funding from the City of St. Thomas, County of Elgin, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation helped produce the full-length documentary.

Every school, library, museum, tourist centre and historic site will receive a copy of the finished product. The documentary covers every major historical chapter for St. Thomas-Elgin including:
- First Nations people which settled this area before white settlers arrived.
- Thomas Talbot’s boyhood, early military career and drive which led him on the journey to the shores of Lake Erie to found the Talbot Settlement.
- The growth of the Talbot Settlement and how major historic events like the War of 1812 affected it.
- How the placement of railroad lines across the county and the growth of the industry affected St. Thomas-Elgin.
- The history of Alma College in St. Thomas and how it helped place St. Thomas on the map.
- Major events in railway history such as the collision that killed Jumbo the elephant and founded one of the city’s most recognizable icons.
- The influence of Port Stanley as a tourist attraction.

The project began when Zach Melnick of Pixel Dust Studios approached the St. Thomas-Elgin Tourism Association with a proposal to promote the area. STETA then took the idea to St. Thomas and Elgin councils which endorsed it and funded it. St. Thomas contributed $5,000, Elgin county, $7,500 and Human Resources Development Canada, $8,000. Production began in 2004 as the crew conducted interviews with local historians, researched stories, wrote scripts and re-enacted scenes. Interviewed were Steve Peters, MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, Ken Verrell, Aylmer Mayor Paul Baldwin, historians Don Cosens, Frank Prothero, Wayne Paddon, Diana Player, county archivist Brian Masschaele and history professors Colin Read and Doug Leighton.

“Nothing that we have done would have been possible without the help of over 100 volunteers passionate about their history,” said Jeremy LaLonde, historical co-ordinator for the project.

Helping to set the scene for the showing were a number of displays in the theatre lobby from organizations and museums.

“Very seldom do we get a chance to work on a project that has a legacy,” said Dave McAdam, president of STETA. “I think this is a great feat,” said Jim McIntyre, Elgin county warden. “I guess I see it as a tourism tool.” Sheila Simpson, regional program co-ordinator for the Trillium Foundation, said historical documentaries often receive funding. “Once we lose our history, it’s gone,” she said. Ken Verrell, who saw the video, said it is rare to see a collection of local historians in one production. “You’ve picked a nucleus of people the likes of which you’ve never seen before,” he said.

STETA will be selling copies of the documentary soon, said Marg Emery, STETA co-ordinator. More information on the project is available at www.visualheritage.ca.