Video

Rare colour footage surfaces of 1939 royal visit to Winnipeg

Justin Gulenchyn says his dad bought two cans of old film from an estate sale more than a decade ago, but the pair only recently discovered what was on them during the holidays.

Thousands crowd downtown as King George VI, Queen Elizabeth pass through city in convertible

A marching band plays on Portage Avenue as part of the royal visit to Winnipeg in May 1939. (Supplied by Justin Gulenchyn)

Amateur footage of the Royal Family's visit to Winnipeg nearly 80 years ago is now online in unusually colourful detail.

Justin Gulenchyn says his dad bought two cans of old film from an estate sale more than a decade ago, but the pair only recently discovered what was on them during the holidays.

Not only was the footage in colour, it included scenes from when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth passed through Winnipeg on May 24, 1939. It was mere months before the Second World War began.

Gulenchyn, who is in media production, fed the eight millimetre film through an old projector in late December. He and his dad were surprised by what they found.

"It was quite impressive, seeing as how commercially available amateur colour film was only released in 1935-36," said Gulenchyn.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (back seat of car) drive through Winnipeg with a motorcade in tow. (Supplied by Justin Gulenchyn)

The nearly 10-minute video doesn't include audio but it does include scenes of marching bands and parades recorded in the lead up to the visit, followed by footage of the royals pulling into town on a custom-outfitted train.

Thousands crowd the sides of the streets as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth wave from a convertible with a motorcade of cars and horses in tow.

"Seeing all the familiar places around the city, you sort of see how the city has evolved," said Gulenchyn. "Even just the slice of life, the daily garb people are wearing … You just kind of see how far we have come."

Gulenchyn said while he isn't an expert on the royals like many Canadians, he still appreciates how significant the video is.

"I've never been a fan myself," Gulenchyn said with a laugh. "But I understand it, I get it. I understand the adoration for it, I understand that sort of fandom around it."

'An absolutely monumental event'

Dwight MacAulay is, on the other hand, a royals expert and was shocked to see the footage.

The royals toured Canada in a customized train. A mob of reporters and others wait to greet the family here as they pull into Winnipeg the morning of May 24, 1939. (Supplied by Justin Gulenchyn)

"I never have seen anything like this," MacAulay said. "I have never seen a video of any kind of that visit, let alone one of colour."

"What a fantastic look back at … the absolutely, unbelievable welcome King George VI and Queen Elizabeth received in Winnipeg," he said.

The 1939 visit is likely the most famous and historic royal visit to Manitoba ever, he said.

MacAulay retired earlier this year from his job as Manitoba's chief of protocol. He helped organize a series of royal visits to Winnipeg in recent decades. He also has two royal honours to his name — he was invested as Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order in 2002 and Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 2010.

Amateur footage of the Royal Family's visit to Winnipeg nearly 80 years ago is now online in unusually colourful detail. 1:49

He said he was struck by the scale of the celebration in the streets shown in the video, as well as the architecture in downtown Winnipeg.

"When you look at how the city was decked out for that royal visit, I mean, it was just an absolutely monumental event in the city and in the province at that time."

Person behind the camera a mystery

What remains a mystery is who shot the footage. 

The video is in good enough shape to suggest that it was important to whoever recorded it, which is why Gulenchyn and his dad decided to post it online so that it will live on forever.

"Maybe he watched [the film], maybe he showed it to his friends or family, and then it went into a box and sat there for however many years," said Gulenchyn. 

"Then the journey that it goes on is so fascinating," he said. "To end up in my father's hands, whose son works in a production company, who can transfer this digitally, it may seem so insignificant, but it's all about sharing that."

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology. Before joining CBC Manitoba, he worked for the Canadian Wildlife Service monitoring birds in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and Alberta. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

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