Mystery films of Halifax show weddings, royalty and high-heeled lawn mowers

·4 min read
Dealy Knickle brings another lost film into the modern world in his Halifax office. The mystery box that started his quest sits on the shelf behind him. (CBC - image credit)
Dealy Knickle brings another lost film into the modern world in his Halifax office. The mystery box that started his quest sits on the shelf behind him. (CBC - image credit)

Dealy Knickle watches the wavering images as light passes through the flickering film and his digital converter takes a photo of each frame, weaving them seamlessly to life after decades of slumber.

Some of the film is nearly a century old, and it often comes to him mouldy and dusty.

"This box is an original box of film that was given to me about five years ago. It was held onto by the same family for about 40 years. This film was found in the basement, and given to me by the person cleaning the basement," he says, holding a brick-sized box in his hands.

Nobody knew what was on the film. Nobody knew for certain who had filmed it, or when — if ever — anyone had seen it. The mystery was compelling, and Knickle fired up his time machine to find out.

Soon, children emerged over a bank, seemingly refreshed from a swim. The kids are happy, grinning, and enjoying a summer day that left the Earth perhaps 70 years ago.

The digital machine scans 17 frames of still life to create one second of motion. It can be slow, delicate work. He posted the video to social media, and soon learned the lost film is the "story of a family," set in Pugwash, N.S., and stretching from the 1930s to the 1960s.

He has been in touch with the family, and hopes to return the film to them. But more film arrives weekly, more mysteries of Canada's filmed past.

"I look for cars, so if you see a 1972 Mustang in the film, you know it has to be '72 or newer. I look for notes. I always ask the client to give me the birthdays of the people involved in the film and then I can piece together, through birthday cakes and candles, and the evolution of a family growing up, how old the film is, and what year it is, and how I should put that film in chronological order," he says.

"Cars were bigger, life was slower. I recognize a lot of the things in the film from my childhood."

Knickle's quest started as a personal attempt to preserve a memory. When his father died, he left his son an 8-mm film. He wanted to watch the film, but wasn't satisfied with the work done by other transfer companies. So he bought his own machine to time travel to his father's first job.

"This is film that was taken in the early 1950s when my father was a teacher in Kings County. I have no idea what school it is, I have no idea who these students are," he says, watching a parade of teenage students proudly or shyly march up to the camera, pause, and then walk off.

"Maybe some of these people, it's the only film they've ever been in."

His father stayed behind the camera, fascinated with film. Knickle caught the bug too, and turned his personal passion into a business, Now Digital Transfer, which he operates out of the north end of Halifax.

He's found some extraordinary images. Queen Elizabeth shows up a number of times, once while she was still a princess on a visit to Halifax 70 years ago.

He also has Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, chatting in the backseat of a Rolls Royce during a 1970s visit to Halifax.

Another shows soccer icon Pele, standing around chatting casually in a found moment from the 1970s.

"The earliest I have is Bluenose I in the '30s and that was taken by Charles Young. It's very clear black and white film," he says. "It's phenomenal film."

It's a job, but he can't bring himself to turn away a mystery.

"Pretty much every week I come across, not always famous people, but interesting film," he says. "The women in their high heels mowing their lawn, well-dressed, that came from the mystery film."

Another showed a trip to Cape Breton — on the ferry, with no causeway in sight. Or a beautiful sunny 1970s day racing Sunfish sailboats in St. Margarets Bay.

But it's the families that most intrigue him. He has recovered film footage of two weddings that capture the joy of the special day, but none of the names.

Now Digital Transfer
Now Digital Transfer

"One wedding is at St. Aquinas on Oxford Street and the second wedding I think is St. Mary's Basilica at the bottom of Spring Garden Road," he says.

"There's the bride and groom. Maybe somebody would recognize them. It was taken in Halifax, I'm guessing late 1960s."

He knows how much joy he's found in his father's old film, and hopes these images brighten someone else's day. If you know the people in the film, let us know at jon.tattrie@cbc.ca.

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