Helicopter Canada

Helicopter Canada by Eugene Boyko, National Film Board of Canada

Today we’re inspired by the NFB’s Moment of the Week in honour of Canada Day!

1967 was the Centennial Year of Canada’s confederation, and the film Helicopter Canada, created in 1966, was released just in time to be the official centennial film. The documentary was shot in the days long before consumer devices like GoPro were available, so director Eugene Boyko created a special brace to hold both him and a (Panavision-provided) CinemaScope camera in an Alouette II helicopter. He logged 540 hours in the air, and eventually put together an impressive 50-minute film that allowed Canadians to see their country from above, from coast to coast, for what was probably the first time. An Edmonton Journal article from a 1967 screening in Ottawa noted:

The ability of the chopper to roll with the Bluenose II and hover yards above the lip of Niagara Falls left the audience here reeling.

In the first 2 minutes, the film clearly show its age as it jocularly refers to 100-year-old Canada as “the old girl” and then refers to people who are apparently not Native Canadians with “these are Canadian natives”. But, progress aside, the film is generally good-humoured and functions now like a kind of time-capsule of Canada in ’67. Footage of maritime villages leaves us with a nostalgia for a coast and a community that will never be quite like that again. Some of the widescreen footage foretells the later industrial photographic work of Burtynsky. Other highlights include an unfinished City Hall (at 20:43), an oil pipeline in a more hopeful and earnest age (24:44), and pelikans in Saskatchewan (38:37)! Not to mention pulp mills, apple orchards, and beautiful winter vistas.

With a so much land area and such a small population even today, a film like Helicopter Canada is still a great way for Canadians, both naturalized and born here, to see our enormous country. Well, this film and maybe a road trip, or a Via Rail journey.


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