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Honorary degree citation - Gordon Sparling*

By: Thomas Waugh, June 1989

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Gordon Sparling, a distinguished founding father of the Canadian cinema.

Gordon Sparling was born in August 1900 in Toronto. A graduate of the University of Toronto, where he was involved with amateur dramatics, he directed his first film for the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau in 1924, 65 years ago this year. In 1927 he went on to be assistant director on the silent epic CARRY ON SERGEANT, one of the milestones in the history of the Canadian feature film. After a brief apprenticeship at Astoria Studios, Long Island, he joined Associated Screen News, Montreal.

Here, directing sponsored and short theatrical films, he inaugurated a decisive chapter in Canadian film history. Most famous among his works is the Canadian Cameo series of theatrical shorts which was launched in 1932 and subsequently ran for more than twenty years on screens throughout North America and Europe. From this series, such films as GREY OWL'S LITTLE BROTHER and RHAPSODY IN TWO LANGUAGES have become Canadian classics. Sparling's additional accomplishment was to direct in his Montreal studio on Northcliffe Avenue the first sound film to be made in Canada, briefly establishing the Canadian cinema at the forefront of technological development.

From 1939 to 1945 Gordon Sparling used his expertise to serve our war effort, acting as London chief of Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit and producing over 100 issues of the Canadian Army Newsreel. In 1946 he resumed work with Associated, and from 1957 until his 1966 retirement directed at National Film Board of Canada.

In this special anniversary year for Canadian film, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the National Film Board and the 25th anniversary of the Cinémathèque québécoise, it is fitting to honour one of our cinema's earliest and most successful pioneers. Director of over 200 films in both the public and private sectors during his forty year career, Sparling will always be remembered as one of the most important and daring innovators of the theatrical film industry here in Montreal at a time when Canadian screens were already dominated, as they are today, by foreign films. He may not have fully succeeded in moving Hollywood to N.D.G., but what he has done is arguably more significant: providing us with a vivid cinematic heritage, the first images we saw of ourselves as a nation in the movies.

Mr. Chancellor, it is a privilege to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Gordon Sparling, so that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

* deceased

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