The Silent March

In the 1970’s a back-hoe operator noticed scores and scores of film canisters and reels poking out of the soil where he was digging a new septic system:

The wet, dirty, and frozen film reels represented a trove of silent era films that the world had not seen for generations.

Dawson City in Canada’s far north was the end of the line, the last stop in the distribution chain of silent era films. Once everywhere else was finished with the films they ended up in Dawson City where they were stockpiled and the distributors refused to pay for their return (especially since they were, by then, 2 to 3 years old). The stockpile grew and grew. Some of the pile were dumped in the local river, some were burned. The trove that was found in the 70’s were used as fill to fill up a former swimming pool (along with soil) so a new hockey rink could be built atop the former pool.

Amid the more than 500 reels of film that were recovered was a short 28 second clip of the 1917 Silent Parade (or the Silent Protest):

Indeed if you’ve ever seen black and white film clips of the parade, you’ve likely seen part of a reel that was dug out of a former swimming pool in Canada’s arctic, after being buried for 60 years. (See: for more on the parade and its significance for American history.)

Here is the 28 second clip:

On July 28, 1917 W. E. B. Du Bois organized a parade of African Americans that ran down Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to 23rd Street. Dressed in white, and silent except for a muffled beat of drums, thousands marched in protest of the recent mob violence and lynchings in Waco, Memphis and East St. Louis.

NOTE: This clip originally appeared as part of Universal Animated Weekly, Vol. 5, Issue 83, released on August 1, 1917. In 1929 it was buried, along with 532 other film reels, in a defunct swimming pool in Dawson City, Yukon Territory Canada. It was unearthed in 1978 during a construction project, after being inadvertently preserved for 49 years in the Yukon permafrost. The exhumation of the collection was administered by the Dawson City Museum, and was then jointly preserved by Library and Archives Canada and the US Library of Congress, where the nitrate originals and duplicate safety copies of the collection are now housed. The clip was first excerpted for use in Bill Morrison’s 2016 documentary “Dawson City: Frozen Time” some 38 years after it was originally discovered. The Dawson City Museum, Library and Archives Canada, Library of Congress and the film “Dawson City: Frozen Time” should be credited in any re-use.

To learn more about the film trove and how important this collection is to both film history and history in general, see Dawson City: Frozen Time: