Higher Education

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Film Clips, Chapter 2


Part I

Students will find these CBC digital archive files amusing illustrations of the “cult of domesticity” (Commachio, p. 25) and the “family-centric social environment” (p. 35) in 1957 Canada. They are also part of the then growing influence of the mass media on family life (p. 36). The first two are auditions for the “Homemaker’s Club,” in which housewives qualify by giving their best recipes.

Who’s the Happiest Homemaker?

CBC Digital Archives, 8:52

In this video, Mrs. Brady shows us how to make that newest of foods in the 1957 Canadian kitchen repertoire.


Modern Homemakers: Casseroles Gallore!

CBC Digital Archives, 5:43

This video illustrates the more common tuna casserole recipe—complete with potato chips and a can of cream mushroom soup.


Rhyming etiquette

CBC Digital Archives, 5:48

In this video, two girls from a 4-H Homemaker’s Club teach each other table manners through rhyme. Girls were socialized to homemaking roles through family and organizations like Girl Guides and 4-H clubs. Note the budding emphasis on boy obsession at the beginning and end of the third clip.


Critical Thinking Questions

  1. Detail how the Homemaker’s Club auditions illustrate the 1950s ideal of homemaking as cost effective, with the efficient use of time and labour by women. What other expectations of women were evident in these clips?
  2. Discuss how these film clips illustrate the budding influence of mass media on the home environment and family socialization.
  3. In what sense do we still engage in ideals like the cult of domesticity? Some argue that this is intensifying—do you agree? Do you see any changes in the domestic ideal?

Part II

The Petticoat Expeditions, Part Three: The Countess of Aberdeen (1997)

NFB by Pepita Ferrari, 20:03

The Countess of Aberdeen is the last of three films on upper-class English and Scottish women who travelled to Canada and initiated early social reforms in the nineteenth century. Lady Ishbel Aberdeen and her husband travelled across Canada in 1890, partly in response to her concerns about the outcomes of the government-sponsored emigrations that Britain facilitated to deal with its urban poor (see Commachio, p. 25 ff.). She recorded the dreary and isolated lives of prairie settlers in journals and photographs. She also noted the abuses of British and Scottish children who were adopted out to Canadian settlers as indentured servants, to work for free until they reached age 18. She predicted that the slaughter of the buffalo and other species would lead to what Wade Davis (in Dreams from Endangered Cultures) calls the “cultural ethnocide” of Aboriginal groups. She and her husband eventually settled in British Columbia, where she founded the National (and International) Council of Women (p. 30) and the Victorian Order of Nurses.


Critical Thinking Questions

  1. How did Lady Aberdeen’s personal life in Scotland provide the material, motivational and intellectual framework for establishing social reforms like the National Council of Women in nineteenth-century Canada (pp. 26, 30)?
  2. Can Lady Aberdeen be called a maternal feminist (pp. 26, 30) based on her portrayal in this film? Would she agree with this designation?
  3. As noted in the video, Lady Aberdeen exhibited a measure of paternalism, perhaps even “scientific racism” (p. 28) when discussing the erosion of Aboriginal cultures in Canada. If you have seen Dreams from Endangered Cultures, discuss how and why her opinion varied from that of Wade Davis.
  4. Commachio (p. 26) notes “There is much historical evidence to indicate that working-class families were bearing the brunt of exploitation and deprivation in the midst of rapid socioeconomic changes at the turn of the twentieth centuries.” Identify some of this evidence from the Countess of Aberdeen.

NOTE: Parts one and two of this series also provide historical vignettes of family life among Canadian settlers and Aboriginals.

The Petticoat Expeditions, Part One: Anna Jamieson (1997)

NFB by Pepita Ferrari, 23:31

Anna Jamieson was an English writer and intellectual in the 1830s and wife of Robert Jamieson, then attorney general of Canada. He asked her to “leave society” and join him in Toronto. After arriving in Toronto, Anna soon discovered that her husband only wanted her there to establish his career and a Victorian middle-class ideal of “respectability” (Commachio, see p. 25). Isolated and ignored by her husband in Canada, she had to petition him for the right to return to England and “live apart,” where she worked as a social reformer, lobbying for women’s emancipation. This film briefly illustrates the status of middle- and upper-class women in Victorian England as the chattel of their husbands, in contrast to Anna’s observations of Aboriginal women in Canada who had significantly more autonomy and will in their family lives (see also Heath, pp. 53–54).

The Petticoat Expeditions, Part Two: Frances Hopkins (1997)

NFB by Pepita Ferrari, 19:34

An artist of some renown, Frances Hopkins painted the journey she and her husband, a Hudson’s Bay Company manager, took through the Canadian wilderness in the 1860s. Her paintings of the voyageurs who ensured their safe passage are now iconic. She commented on the role of the Aboriginal wives of Canadian fur traders in the northern economies and the native genocides that were occurring throughout the US and Canada at the time.


Part III

The Netsilik Inuit

NFB by Quentin Brown

Though the text does not take a cross-cultural approach to the study of the family, it does refer to cultural variations. The Inuit and other Aboriginal peoples are referenced among Commachio’s “historical actors” (p. 23) as having different forms of family before contact with Europeans and white settlers (p. 24). They traditionally practised different forms of marriage (Heath, p. 53) and child-rearing (Gazso, p.75).

These National Film Board of Canada (NFB) segments of Quentin Brown’s ethnographic film on the Netsilik Inuit in 1967 can be used to introduce cross cultural variation into the classroom. They provide a glimpse of day-to-day family life among the nomadic hunting and gathering Netsilik Inuit. There is no narration at all. Filmed just before the Inuit world changed with modernization (Commachio, p. 25), each of these segments spans a particular part of the Netsilik year, showing “traditional” Inuit lifestyles and the seasonal variations in their family forms. I recommend “At the Winter Sea Ice Camp, Part 3.”

At the Autumn River Camp: Part 1, 26:18

This segment illustrates the nomadic journeys of smaller family units to the autumn camp and the family division of labour based on household production. Everyone carries something. Men fish with spears while women sew and gather roots for fires. Both men and women make karmaks (ice houses with skin roofs) and care for children, showing some flexibility in the sexual division of household labour.

At the Autumn River Camp: Part 2, 33:05

This segment continues with life at the autumn camp. Family scenes focus on smaller families, parents and children. Children play at and learn hunting, fishing, and dog husbandry (poor puppies!). Women tend fires, prepare skins, sew, and make a toy. Again, both men and women build an ice house with a skin roof. The film records two men building a sleigh out of fish, skins and water that will later be used in hunting seals. This scene can be linked to Wade Davis’ story of the “shit knife” in Dreams from Endangered Cultures.

At the Winter Sea Ice Camp: Part 1, 35:42

Recording another move to find and establish a winter camp, this segment shows several families travelling together. Everyone co-operates to build ice houses. There are examples of a “family bed”; of children incorporated into all activities in daily life; of men waiting patiently at blow holes for seals; of a seal slaughter and the careful sharing of organ meats among the hunters before bringing the remainder of the carcass back to camp.

At the Winter Sea Ice Camp: Part 2, 36:16

Scenes of the extended family and community group are recorded here, along with men hunting seals. Children play with grandmothers and other children, learning how to hunt seals and build ice houses. Examples of community recreation, singing songs, playing games, etc. begin in this segment.

At the Winter Sea Ice Camp: Part 3, 30:14

This segment includes more scenes of several nuclear families living in a communal camp. Like the other segments, it includes records of women making clothing, men hunting seals, and children playing but this time more often in groups. All hands co-operate to build a communal ice house for traditional winter pastimes like games, singing, and athletic and cat’s cradle competitions.


Critical Thinking Questions

  1. After watching any segment, detail the diversity in the following dimensions of family life among the nomadic Netsilik Inuit: the system of household production, the sexual division of labour, and the socialization of children. How does this compare with modern Canadian family life in your observations?
  2. If you have watched all of the segments, how and why did family form among the Netsilik vary by season (Commachio, p. 24)?
  3. Why is a process-based definition (Albanese, p. 10) more appropriate than a compositional approach to describe family life among the nomadic Netsilik Inuit, as shown in these film segments?
  4. What biases (Albanese, pp. 17–18) are evident in these archival films of Netsilik Inuit family life? Where might such biases have come from?
  5. From what you can see in this segment, evaluate whether or not the 1967 Netsilik Inuit met the Vanier Institute’s list of family responsibilities (Albanese, p. 9). How might these responsibilities have since changed?