The repercussions of the Great Depression of 1929 – caused by the Wall Street Crash in October that year – were felt far and wide. They extended even across the continent and the Canada-U.S. border, into Vancouver, British Columbia. There, hundreds, if not thousands, of transient seasonal workers who caught the train to work in the mines, or the lumber industry, or the fisheries, found themselves on the west coast with no employment possibilities, no money and no way out.
Of course, there were already many Vancouverites who were out of work too. The influx of more people looking for non-existent jobs only added misery upon misery.
This is the start of the sad story that first caught Sean Shaul’s attention a few years ago. The documentary filmmaker, a St. Albert native now living in B.C., read a history column called You Should Know written by Stevie Wilson in Scout Magazine. He couldn’t help but get caught up in the sad tale, despite not being much of a history buff.
“Myself, I knew next to nothing about it when I started it. I read the article and was super-intrigued. The more I looked into the story, the more it fit together and made sense,” he began. “It was such an interesting slice of history that I knew nothing about.”
“I wouldn’t consider myself a history nerd. Anything that has such a compelling story, I feel makes a good film. The fact that it happened 70 years ago was kind of irrelevant.”
That’s why he and Prairie Coast Films (his film company) completed a new short documentary film. Catch the Westbound Train tells this compelling story and shows how the repercussions of those tough times can still be felt today.
This is a distinct departure from Shaul’s first films, both feature length documentaries. Alone Up There, a look at stand-up comedy, came out last year. Before that, he made Open Your Mouth and Say … Mr. Chi Pig, about the Edmonton-born lead singer of punk band SNFU.
Admitting that he was somewhat out of his element in the historical genre, he enlisted the writer Wilson to become a producer to help realize this project.
He learned a thing or two along the way. Shaul said that he was surprised by how much influence communism had on the entire era.
“When the Great Depression was at its lowest, people around the country were looking for a different option for government because it wasn’t working. A lot of people started leaning toward communism and that obviously didn’t work out. A lot of ideas from communism kind of went through to the next decade though,” he said, referring to health care and welfare.
He hopes that people learn as much about the relevance of history as he did.
“That’s why I thought it would be cool to do a digital release for people across the country. It is a Canadian story.”
Shaul is hosting a premiere party in Vancouver in 10 days. If you’re in that city and want to catch the show live, it takes place on Saturday, Nov. 9 at The Bottleneck Bar, 870 Granville Street. Doors open at 6 and the show is at 7. Admission is by donation.
The video will go live on the website at the same time as the Vancouver premiere. Once it’s live, (at www.vimeo.com/ondemand/westboundtrain), anyone can pay $3 to watch it or $5 to own a digital copy of it. Its runtime clocks in at 26:31.
Shaul’s next project, he said, is an hour-long documentary on Scotty ‘The Bulldog’ Olson, an Edmonton boxer who won the hearts of many before retiring in 2002.