The National Film Board of Canada

Dad was the first Canadian hired by Grierson to work at the NFB, only he didn't realize it yet. Right after they met, Grierson sent Dad to the GPO Unit in London to learn about documentary filmmaking. Two months later, World War Two broke out. Dad was dispatched by Grierson to Ottawa, Canada to help establish the NFB. It was 1939.

One of Griersons's greatest contributions to Canada's documentary scene, was the drafting of the Canada Film Act, which established the NFB as a permanent Canadian entity. The NFB had a mandate to "interpret Canada to Canadians and to the world". During WWII the NFB had two separate but related strands of production. The first, "World In Action" and "Canada Carries On", were the mainstream newsreel propaganda series that were distributed to the USA and throughout the Commonwealth, promoting the war effort and putting Canada on the map. But Grierson also promoted another strand of uniquely Canadian films — films that explored the many aspects of Canadian culture and geography. Distributed domestically through church groups and community halls, these films helped to define a still young nation to its own people, as well as the rest of the world.

I'm told that Dad is best remembered from the early NFB days as a mentor. His clear understanding of and belief in the NFB vision made him the ideal creative leader for the passionate team of young Canadian filmmakers - who often worked 18 to 20 hours a day. The early Film Board employees had a vibrant optimism and sense of commitment to their cause.

In 1944 Dad persuaded Grierson to assign him to the RCAF as a War Correspondent, to create an RCAF film production unit for Britain and Northwest Europe. He was in Europe May 8th, 1945 when victory was declared. This is how Dad first got to know and then married his first Film Board wife — Jane Marsh. The first film they made together was "Inside Fighting Canada" in 1942. It featured some spectacular WWII aerial footage. I think Jane couldn't resist a man in an aviator's jacket. They had a brief and disastrous marriage after the war was over. When I once asked him about it, Dad told me that "they were both too nutty" and so they went their separate ways.

When Grierson resigned from the NFB in 1945, he nominated Dad as the "natural choice" for his successor as Government Film Commissioner. Then shortly after Grierson's departure, he was implicated in the Gouzenko Spy Scandal. The Film Board and many of its employees were tainted by their association with Grierson, including Dad. Though Dad continued at the Film Board as the Head of Production, he was shipped to London in 1951 to head the expanding European Distribution Unit.

After his marriage to Jane Marsh ended, Dad became friendly with Margaret Coventry, the Film Board's Editor-in-Chief. Recovering from her own disastrous wartime marriage, Mom and Dad struck up a connection which lead to a colourful correspondence. She soon followed him overseas and they were married. In 1954 they had their first son, Alexander.


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