Vernon videographer an ‘accidental historian’

Vernon videographer an ‘accidental historian’

Local film collector Francois Arseneault has more than 2,000 reels and took it upon himself to preserve the history

YouTube is filled with videos of cats, dance routines and silly challenges, but for Francois Arseneault, it’s a time machine.

The self-identified accidental historian has collected around 2,000 reels of film from around the world and he’s spent hundreds of hours converting many into digital files, reviving the long-forgotten memories captured on the 16-millimetre film on his YouTube channel Reel Life.

With reels dating back to as early as 1923, Arseneault can give internet users a glimpse into days long gone. But with this comes great responsibility as the Vernon resident has a self-imposed duty to maintain the integrity of the original filmmaker and the nuances captured on tape.

His fascination with film and photography dates back to his time spent at the Vernon Army Cadet Camps. Arseneault first travelled to the camp from Calgary in 1978. There, he was inspired by the aerial footage captured by Doug Kermode and photos by Cam Leblond.

“Kermode was famous for taking aerials,” Arseneault said. “He had an extraordinary eye — I say eye because he had one. He lost one eye as a child so he couldn’t join the military, but he was fixated with the camp and one reason was because of the airport. He got into flying and eventually became a pilot.”

“Now imagine this one-eyed dude in a Piper Cub plane flying around and he’s got this big camera up to one eye,” Arseneault said with a laugh. “I don’t know how he got away with it.”

But the print quality of his aerials of the camp was “brilliant,” Arseneault said, noting Lablond’s shots of the entire platoon were also an inspiration for him to pick up a camera himself.

“I got my first camera the next summer,” he said.

READ MORE: Rare footage of Vernon Army Camp, 1956, uncovered

READ MORE: Vernon videographer captures thunderstorm

Film historian finds rare footage from 1926, showcasing remote Northern Vancouver Island life

That interest is now growing, especially when people with the technical skills, like Arseneault, can transfer these images into a digital format that can once again be consumed by the general public.

“I always had an eye for spotting certain imagery and saying, ‘that’s important,’” he said. “Why is it important? It’s the time period.”

“Find a single photograph around 1947,” he said. “We didn’t care, life was normal in ‘47. Between the wars, it’s a black hole in contemporary history. Only after 1950 did we start ramping up and start collecting information.”

And that information is constantly being lost due to its outdated medium as technology continues to advance.

“I’ve thought about how to best explain how I feel about it,” Arseneault said about his passion project: Reel Life. “We’ve grown up hearing stories about what life is like in the ’60s, ’70s, ’50s, ’40s from our grandparents and great grandparents. I treasure these stories, but now I get a chance to see what that was like.”

These films, whether they were gifted, donated or purchased online, Arseneault said, contain important imagery.

“Those were people, they had lives,” he said. “There is a reason he turned that camera on at that moment and captured that city, that traffic, that park. I have a responsibility to preserve this material.”

Arseneault is the first to admit he’s not an expert in all subjects caught on camera that he’s trying to decipher. That is why he leans on academics, in-person connections and online resources to conduct in-depth research, while often putting a call out to those who view his published films for more information.

He’s been publishing vignettes from 16 mm reels collected on his YouTube channel since February and he’s already up to episode 269.

Some of Arseneault’s favourite footage found features of Vernon and the Okanagan.

“I love the Vernon stuff. This is a fun little town,” said Arseneault. “The stuff I’ve been able to collect over the years from different sources has made it that much more interesting and to share that with people…”

A “drive plate” around Vernon in 1958 is one of his favourite finds, he said — which has been watched more than 14,500 times since it was published May 15, 2020.

“To see someone in 1958 hook up whatever camera he had and somehow bolt it to the dash of his ‘58 Lincoln Continental and drive on the old Highway 97 through town… I went frame-by-frame analyzing every tiny nuance and thinking, ‘this is so cool.’ And I bought that on a pure whim because the reel said ‘Canada.’”

A five-minute video — from transferring in 2K to posting online — can take Arseneault as short as two hours, but others take an incredible amount of time as he goes from frame to frame researching any piece of writing, visible licence plates, or identifiable artefact to try and gather as much data about the footage as possible.

“Sometimes, I don’t even know where I am,” he said.

Earlier this month, Arseneault uncovered rare footage of Wilkes-Barre’s 1928 Battle of Wyoming Sesquicentennial celebration, but he had no idea what he had stumbled upon until conducting a 12- to 14-hour investigation.

“I took notes of everything, added all the clues together as a Google search and came up with Wilkes-Barre,” he told the Citizen’s Voice in Pennsylvania on July 3, 2020.

Arseneault sent the completed footage to the local newspaper that called the two short films “rare” and “one of a kind.”

“It’s very humbling,” Arseneault said of the opportunity to preserve footage from the past. “The people that took these photos are long gone and if this is their one piece of legacy left behind, it’s worth preserving.”

His advice to those capturing moments on film now is simple: back it up.

“Find a way to store it,” he said of young videographers making videos for TikTok, Facebook, Instagram or for any other purpose. “Back up your material. Twice. Two separate hard drives.”

Pro tip: make notes. Include the date, names of people in the footage and other key details, Arseneault said.

“If you don’t, 30 years from now, you’ll regret it.”

READ MORE: Cleanliness kits on offer at Enderby chamber

READ MORE: Vernon Performing Arts Centre rolls forward amid COVID-19


@caitleerach
Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

history

 

Vernon videographer an ‘accidental historian’

Just Posted

North Westside residents can dispose of their unwanted bulky items between June 30 and July 14, 2021. (File photo)
North Westside residents can soon get rid of unwanted bulky items

Large household items can be disposed of at North Westside Transfer Station June 30 to July 14

Starting in 2022, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District is extending dog control to the entire Electoral Area D area. (Stock photo)
Dog control bylaw passes in Shuswap area despite ‘threatening’ emails

CSRD board extending full dog control to Electoral Area D; director calls for respectful discussion

The new Civic Memorial Park will incorporate pieces of the 80-year-old arena it replaces. (Artists rendering)
Pieces of Civic Arena reclaimed for new Vernon park

City centre space to incorporate wood from the historic arena

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

A motorycle crash has been reported on Westside Road. (Google Maps)
UPDATE: Westside Road reopened following motorcycle crash near Vernon

AIM Roads advises drivers to expect delays due to congestion

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed Eli Beauregard facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Most Read