Some nearly-century-old video footage of Central school kids filing outside during a fire drill was recently digitized and is available to view on YouTube.
The original film reel was picked up at an estate sale by Kootenay Exchange owner Lou Coletti, who noticed a few frames of the Nelson fire hall among the footage. He contacted fire chief Simon Grypma who insisted he have the film digitized.
“It’s probably the oldest historical film that anyone has of Nelson,” Grypma said.
The images were captured on a nitrate film base, which is highly flammable and dangerous to work with. Nobody in town had the right equipment to digitize it, so it was sent off to New York for processing.
Grypma said he spent about $500 and waited four months to finally see what amounted to about one minute of film — and he’s glad he did.
“I was awestruck when I saw it,” he said. “You really have to be part of the fire service to know what the whole video is about. For an old guy like me, it was just incredible to watch.”
The video starts with hundreds of students filing out of the school, first girls then boys, with some teachers walking among them. Then it cuts to a scene of a couple guys spraying the side of the school with a fire hose.
“That must have been part of the fire drill back then,” Grypma said. “There’s no fire in the building; they’re just playing around with the hose.”
Next there’s a brief shot of the city’s first fire engine, purchased in 1914, bobbling down Ward Street followed by a team of horses pulling a wagon out of the fire hall. Then it goes back to more scenes of students coming out of the school, posing with the fire hose, and lining up to have their photos taken.
“The kids are obviously having a lot of fun, goofing off during the fire drill,” laughs Grypma. “And almost 100 years later, kids are exactly the same way during their fire drills — they just dress a little differently.”
The students in the film are wearing formal clothes. The boys have collared shirts and blazers and the girls wear long skirts or dresses. Some adults are wearing top hats and pea coats.
Grypma doesn’t know who made the film nor for what purpose. But he can guess at the age based on what he knows about the history of the fire hall.
Nelson firefighters used the fire car and horse-drawn wagon together from 1914 to 1924 (they would have liked to work exclusively with motorized vehicles but the old cars couldn’t get up the hill in the winter). That means it could have been filmed between 90 and 100 years ago, and is more likely on the older side because the film stock it was recorded on went out of use in the early 1920s.
“What we can say for sure is that it’s really old,” Grypma said. “Maybe there’s a senior in the community who might recognize somebody in the film and could give us a better idea of when it was made.”