Manitoba History: Cool Things in the Collection: Rare Footage of the 1939 Royal Visit: The R. A. Storch Films
by Wayne Chan
In April 2013, the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections acquired six 16-mm films from Peter Wachniak of Peter’s Auction Sales, Ltd. in Winnipeg. The films were from the estate of R. A. (Rudolph Alexander) Storch, a graduate of civil engineering from the University of Manitoba (1927), who went on to become a teacher and vice-principal at various schools in Winnipeg. Upon Storch’s passing in 1988,  Wachniak purchased the estate and sold off most of the contents in the intervening years, but these films remained in his possession. 
Of the six films acquired by the University of Manitoba, three mainly showed local school track and field events and the old Osborne Street stadium,  but it was the remaining three films that were of the most interest and which will be the focus of this article. They depict the visit to Winnipeg of King George VI and his consort, Queen Elizabeth, in 1939. One film is in black & white  and one is in colour,  with the third film being a duplicate of the colour one.  The colour and black & white films are both slightly over four minutes in duration and are in remarkably good condition, considering they were stored in paper boxes in an unheated and un-air-conditioned trailer since 2004, and prior to that were stored in an unheated warehouse. 
The University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections transferred the original 16-mm films to digital video and released the film footage to the public on 20 May 2014,  to coincide with the visit to Winnipeg of Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. In contrast to the relatively low-key visit of Prince Charles and his wife, the reception for his grandparents 75 years earlier was anything but low-key. By all accounts, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth arrived in Winnipeg on 24 May 1939 to a raucous welcome. Over 100,000 people were on hand to greet the royal couple,  and thousands of schoolchildren were bused in from rural areas for the event.  These numbers included an estimated 20,000 Americans, who came to Winnipeg for the royal visit. 
A significant part of the king and queen’s visit to Winnipeg consisted of a 26-mile procession through the city.  The Storch films show parts of this procession as it made its way through the West End of Winnipeg. Featured prominently are elementary and high-school-aged students waiting for the arrival of the procession.
We clearly know when the films were shot, but where exactly in Winnipeg were they shot? The limited field of view of the camera, the transitions in the footage, and the geographical changes that have taken place in the last 75 years made it challenging, but most of the places seen in the films were eventually identified, based on a detailed analysis of the footage and historical research.
The black & white film presents a narrative of students from Cecil Rhodes School going to watch the royal procession. It begins with a group of mainly older students walking on William Avenue W. behind the original Cecil Rhodes School No. 1, which is now the Adolescent Parent Centre on Cecil Street. In the next segment, we see a group of young children walking past streetcars on Notre Dame Avenue, heading east towards Sherbrook Avenue. A North Star Oil service station, which was at the corner of Notre Dame and Sherbrook,  is evident, along with Somerset School in the background. The remainder of the B & W film shows the Cecil Rhodes students and other spectators waiting on Sherbrook Avenue for the arrival of the royal motorcade. Schools were assigned to specific reserved areas along the procession route, and Cecil Rhodes School, where R. A. Storch was a teacher at the time, was assigned to the west sidewalk on Sherbrook Avenue, between Notre Dame and Sargent Avenue. 
The colour film starts with a group of schoolchildren standing in front of the Tremont Block at 694 Sherbrook. Many of the Cecil Rhodes students are wearing blue and white beanie caps with the letters “C.R.” on them, while other students can be seen wearing a crest with the initials “C.R.S.” A little later, we see the royal motorcade pass by, with the king and queen riding in an open car. The segment afterwards shows the royal procession travelling down Main Street, near the present-day turnoff to the Disraeli Freeway (which did not exist in 1939). The location was established by the tall building in the background with a sign on its roof that read, “Bible House.” This was identified as the British and Foreign Bible Society Building at 184 Alexander Avenue.  The building still exists and is now the Ukrainian Cultural and Education Centre.
In the brief segment that follows, the colour film portrays the Hudson’s Bay Company “rent” ceremony at the Upper Fort Garry Gate, in which the governor of the HBC paid the customary tribute of two elk heads and two black beaver skins to the king.  The camera then shows Union Station across the street, with members of Lord Strathcona’s Horse visible in brass helmets and red tunics.  Next, we see a shot of a passing train (possibly the Royal Train leaving the city) and an unidentified road stretching into the distance.
This marked the end of the footage concerning the royal tour. At the 3:00 mark, the colour film cuts to a scene of a woman walking to the front of a house. This was ascertained to be the Storch residence at 7 Leslie Avenue in GlenElm.  The film ends with a group of people (possibly the Storch family) on an outing. The man who is seen kneeling and then reclining in front of the others (time index 4:00) bears a resemblance to R. A. Storch, based on his 1927 University of Manitoba yearbook photo.  These final segments may have been shot on a different date from the footage of the royal visit.
The R. A. Storch films are less about the royal visit than they are about the people who were there on that day. The films offer a rare and invaluable glimpse into the lives of everyday citizens on one memorable day in the history of Winnipeg. Looking at the footage 75 years later, one cannot help but wonder what happened to the children in the films, even the youngest of whom would be in their late seventies now. Their excitement on that day is palpable, and is made no less poignant by our knowledge of the world events that were to transpire in the months and years ahead.
I would like to thank Shelley Sweeney, Head of the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, for her suggestion to write this article and for her invaluable assistance. I thank Lewis Stubbs (U of M Archives & Special Collections) for providing research on the location of the Cecil Rhodes students during the royal tour, and Peter Wachniak for providing background information on the films. I would also like to acknowledge Brett Lougheed (U of M Archives & Special Collections) for reviewing the manuscript and Mark Vajcner (University of Regina Archives & Special Collections) for providing feedback on it.
1. Winnipeg Free Press, “Rudolph Alexander Storch” (obituary), 17 January 1988, p. 28.
2. Peter Wachniak, personal communication, 28 May 2014.
3. University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, R. A. Storch fonds, PC 334 (A13-23), Box 2, Items 3-5.
4. Ibid., Box 2, Item 1.
5. Ibid., Box 2, Item 2.
6. Ibid., Box 2, Item 6.
7. Wachniak, communication, 28 May 2014.
8. Winnipeg Free Press – Online Edition, “U of M Archives Release Never-Seen-Before Footage of Earlier Royal Visit,” Accessed 2 June 2014.
9. Winnipeg Free Press, “Their Majesties Captivate Hearts of Winnipeg,” 24 May 1939, p. 2.
10. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, “Royal Procession Changes Are Made,” 17 February 1939, p. 3.
11. Bousfield, Arthur and Garry Toffoli. Royal Spring: The Royal Tour of 1939, and the Queen Mother in Canada, Toronto: Dundurn, 1989, p. 43.
12. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, “Route and Times of Royal Procession Shown in Map and Official Program,” 20 May 1939, p. 8.
13. 1938 Henderson’s Winnipeg Directory, Winnipeg: Henderson Directories, p. 1000.
14. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 17 February 1939, p. 3.
15. Ibid., p. 581.
16. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, “Old Days of West Recalled as King Gets Tribute From Hudson’s Bay Co.,” 25 May 1939, p. 8.
17. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, “’Straths’ Rehearse,” 18 May 1939, p. 3.
18. 1938 Henderson’s Winnipeg Directory, p. 1155.
19. University of Manitoba Students’ Union. Brown and Gold 1927. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Students’ Union, 1927, pp. 75, 141.
20. 1938 Henderson’s Winnipeg Directory, p. 1193.
Page revised: 20 February 2018