An image of a skier at Big White in Kelowna in 1979. (Reel Life/YouTube)

An image of a skier at Big White in Kelowna in 1979. (Reel Life/YouTube)

Vernon videographer’s 1,000th reel offers view of Kelowna’s Big White in 1979

Francois Arseneault’s Reel Life YouTube series has reached a significant milestone

A Vernon videographer has reached a significant milestone in his chronicling of the history of the Okanagan.

Francois Arseneault’s 1,000th episode of Reel Life features a look at Kelowna’s Big White ski village in 1979.

Reel Life is a repository of unique vintage amateur film and contemporary video.

In 1923, Kodak released the first consumer 16 mm motion picture film camera, the modest but hugely popular Model A. This camera proved popular with many thousands of them in the hands of average people around the world by the 1930s.

During the Great Depression, Kodak produced and released more affordable 8 mm film cameras.

“What they captured may have been ordinary then, but today has become wonderful,” said Arseneault. “They are moments of life in much different times, before television, computers and the Internet.”

Arseneault started his YouTube channel three and a half years ago during the pandemic, an exercise to keep him busy and entertain friends and colleagues. He dove into his 30-year collection of 16 mm films and began producing short episodes.

Now 1,000 episodes later, he’s covered more than 70 countries from 1923 to date with an enormous variety of subject matter. Many of these reels that he collected since the early 1990s would otherwise have been tossed into the landfill.

Arseneault is still looking for more old reels, adding a few new ones to his collection every month, and restoring and preserving them for future generations.

“I’m merely the current custodian for these wonderful old reels. It’s been rewarding, sharing these amateur film reels captured by ordinary people,” said Arseneault.

Some episodes have managed to connect the footage with descendants of people captured on film.

In 2021, a 65-year-old woman in Cadiz, Spain, saw footage of a young boy and girl in 1954. It was her older brother and herself as young children walking through the centre of Cadiz during the dictatorship of Franco. She contacted Arseneault and now the family has a few moments of footage of her long passed on brother — footage they never knew existed. The family was impoverished at the time and had no photos of her brother.

Arseneault said the vintage B.C. episodes are a joy to produce and share, connecting British Columbians with the colourful history of the province.

Previous episodes feature the First Nation’s village at Alert Bay in 1926, Royal visits in 1939 and 1958, and aerial replenishment missions to Granduc copper mine near Stewart in 1961. Nearly every part of B.C. is featured.

The latest episode is a look back at Big White, Kelowna’s ski hill, during the winter of 1979. Captured by Hugo Koller, the well-shot and edited footage offers a glimpse at life in the village. Viewers can see the sunrise from the top of the mountain, hot dog skiing during the days of the Crazy Canucks, architecture and fashion, ski lifts and snow cats, with plenty of deep powder.

“There are plenty of recognizable faces towards the end. Big White has evolved and grown in the past 44 years. At 25 minutes, this episode is a bit longer than usual, but there’s much to see. Enjoy this look back. Thank you to Hugo for sharing this amazing Super8 film footage,” said Arseneault.

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Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
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