Our history is sitting on celluloid and tape and degrading everyday if something isn’t done. The CBC project to digitize its entire archive was universally lauded... and then universally panned when we discovered the CBC planned to destroy the archive once it was digitized. Thankfully, ACTRA and a lot of other voices shouted loudly enough to get the CBC to hit a three-year pause button. Because nothing digital is immune to degradation. And digital does not equal original. Did you know that American film producers are now “preserving” digital movies by transferring everything to 35mm celluloid? Not for irony; for safekeeping.
Cue the CBMF. The Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation is “a not-for-profit charitable foundation working in the public interest to preserve Canada’s history, culture, and broadcasting heritage.” And Executive Director Kealy Wilkinson has a plan. And a place. Remember the good ol’ days of the Cold War?
Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau toured the underground complex in 1973. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada
Sixty stories under the granite of North Bay, Ontario, is the former headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the U.S./Canadian installation created to protect North America from nuclear threat. Mothballed since 2006, “the hole” (as it was colloquially known) is possibly the safest, most secure spot on the planet. What better place to preserve everything from Uncle Chichimus and Glenn Gould (first broadcast on September 28, 1952) to Heartland (2007 and still going strong) and everything in between?
With over six million cubic feet of storage, the estimated 1.5 million cubic feet the CBC requires right now would fit four times over and give Canada secure media storage for a very long time. Is it safe in terms of controls, temperature and magnetism (the enemy of “tape”)? The engineers are doing their assessment right now. Can a nation cross its collective fingers?
The 19-tonne blast door entrance to North Bay’s Cold War Nerve Centre. “You had everything you needed there. A barber shop, a gym, cafeteria and doctors’ offices. We assumed that if we had to stay there we could go three weeks or more without needing supplies,” states Marshall Swartz who was stationed at the underground complex three times.
Even so: to paraphrase Canada’s longest-running TV Mountie, Jackson Davies – and if you don’t know who he is from The Beachcombers, this proves his point – if we can’t see it, what’s the point of storing it?
The Beachcombers ran on the CBC for 19 seasons. It was a half-hour series and a national treasure. Jackson jokes that his entire career is now handled by “people in white gloves”; the archivists. But as enthusiastic as he was to learn about the three-year reprieve the CBC gave to the destruction of our collective past, he is just as frustrated by our inability to access the massive amount of Canada mouldering in storage. Rarely a day goes by when someone doesn’t say to him, “I loved that show!” followed by, “Where can I watch it?”
Challenge #1: Preserve and protect our heritage. We may be there, or here’s hoping.
Challenge #2: How the hell can we see it?
To be continued...