Fonds BF 17 - Dick and Ada Bird fonds

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Dick and Ada Bird fonds

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Reference code

BF 17

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  • [191-?]-1995, predominant 1920s-1970s (Creation)

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Physical description

1.22 m of textual records
9,748 photographs
182 film reels : (44 hr 9 min)*

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Archival description area

Name of creator

Biographical history

William Henry Richard "Dick" Bird was born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England on August 16, 1892. From an early age he developed a keen interest in cinema and still photography. His first cinema film experience occurred in 1905 watching Boer Was footage at the theatre in Leamington. Emigrating at the age of fourteen, Bird came to Vermont to live with an uncle in c.1907. His family later followed, settling in Fort William, Ontario.

Starting his career in Chicago, Illinois, Bird traveled extensively, gaining experience as a freelance cinematographer covering events for various organizations and film companies in the United States, China, Japan, Korea, South America, Mexico, and Canada, shooting newsreels, animated cartoons, travelogues and commercial motion pictures. In 1919, while living in Toronto, Bird was elected first president of the Canadian Professional and Press Photographers Association. Also in 1919, Bird played an instrumental role organizing Local 636 of the Cinematographers and Motion Picture Craftsmen, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union.

In 1921 Dick Bird moved with his family to Regina, Saskatchewan to make documentary, educational and industrial films for the Saskatchewan government. He continued to shoot newsreels for Pathescope. He also founded Bird Films Ltd., a photographic shop, in Regina in 1928. During this time his photography often mirrored his achievements in filmmaking. This included flights of the RAF Forestry Air Fire Patrol in northern Saskatchewan, the opening of the Albert Memorial Bridge in Regina in 1930 and the Regina Riot of 1935. He also filmed the opening broadcast of Saskatchewan's first radio station CKCK in 1922, the first drilling for oil and gas in the province, as well as the visits of various dignitaries, including Edward, Prince of Wales, on his 1919 Canadian tour. In 1922 Bird founded the Canadian Cinema Arts Society. He continued to travel through Europe in the 1930s filming newsreels of the Spanish Civil War and Hitler Youth rallies.

By the 1930's, however, the primary focus of Bird's career had shifted to nature photography and conservation. Elected president of the Regina Natural History Society, he actively promoted public interest in wildlife. In 1937 he began a weekly program on CKCK Radio "Camera Trails". He published The Camera Trailer, a newsletter illustrated with his own photographs for distribution to his radio audience. He also started a nature club for children and encouraged nature field trips throughout rural Saskatchewan. Bird also produced commercial films for the Boy Scouts of Canada and the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.

Soon after coming to work in Canada following the end of the First World War, Dick Bird had met and married Pansy Myrtle Fern Nix of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Actively supporting her husband's career, Pansy Bird managed and operated Bird Films Ltd. while Dick was traveling on film assignments. Dick and Pansy Bird had three children Gordon, Jeanne (Kaad) and Yvonne (Ellis). Their son died as a child and Pansy died in Mexico in 1937.

Ada Gertrude Bovee was born near Avonlea, Saskatchewan on December 21, 1917 to James and Gertrude (Nelson) Bovee. She was the youngest of six children. The Bovees came to homestead in the Avonlea area from Wisconsin in 1906. Trained in business and an amateur ornithologist, Ada also was active in the local Avonlea Sunday School, Mission Band, choirs and the I.O.D.E. She met Dick Bird in the early 1940s when he was invited to show films to her Canadian Girls in Training (CGIT) church group. Soon after Ada began working for Bird Films photographing birds, animals and flowers. During the Second World War Ada and Dick showed films and slides in many rural towns and villages in the province in support of the "Milk for Britain" campaign.

In December 1946 Dick and Ada Bird were married, marking a long personal and business partnership as cinematographers traveling throughout Canada, the United States and the world producing nature films and conducting winter lecture tours. From 1952 to 1955 they shot film footage for Walt Disney Production's True Life Adventure series. Their lecture audience included Harvard, the National Geographic Society, and the Smithsonian Institute. The Audubon Society sponsored many of their tours. The Birds' still photography taken during the period of the 1940's and 1950's is dominated by wildlife, flora, and natural scenery.

In 1960 Dick and Ada Bird retired from eight years of lecture tours to their property at Buena Vista near Regina Beach, which had been in the Bird family since the early 1940s. They continued to show films in Regina public schools to encourage awareness of conservation among school children, and also were guest speakers at various Canadian Clubs in Eastern Canada. In the 1970s Dick began work on his memoirs and on a history of photography, although ill health prevented the completion of this project. Ada worked from 1969 to 1983 with Muir Barber Ltd. in the hardware and gift business. After Dick's death in 1986, Ada moved into Regina. She continued to be active in many senior and church groups.

Throughout his life, Dick Bird received many honours. He was an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London. In 1950 he was the second Canadian, after Yousuf Karsh, to become a Fellow of the Photographic Society of America. In that year he also became the first life member of the Saskatchewan Natural History Society. In May 1976 Bird received an honourary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Regina. He was also honoured as Saskatchewan's Pioneer Cinematographer at the International Film Festival in Yorkton in 1979.

Bird Films Ltd. was, since its early years, very much a family business, operated by Dick and Pansy Bird, their daughters, and later their daughters' husbands. The business sold cameras, film and accessories and also had a studio and film lab. Dick Bird remained active in Bird Films into the 1960s. Bird Films continues (2005) to operate as a photography business with a third generation of family management.

Dick Bird died on September 27, 1986. Ada Bird died on October 3, 2003 in Regina.

Custodial history

Ada Bird donated these records to the Regina office, Saskatchewan Archives in 3 accessions between 1991 and 1999: R91-317 (November 28, 1991); R94-417 (October 20, 1994); and R99-253 (August 4, 1999). Ownership of certain films, photographs and artifacts transferred by donor to stepdaughter, Yvonne Ellis and via legal agreement to the Saskatchewan Archives in 1992.

Scope and content

This fonds consists of records created, accumulated and used by Dick and Ada Bird of Regina, Saskatchewan during the course of their careers in the cinematography field, their travels worldwide and their lecture tours throughout Canada and the United States. Their personal family life is also documented. The period of the record relates predominantly to the 1920s through 1970s.

Included in the fonds are 16 mm silent film reels; photographs; journals, diaries and memo books; notes; scripts; manuscripts, one audio recording , scrapbooks and extensive correspondence. Also contained in the textual records are draft chapters and research notes for Dick Bird's incomplete autobiographical manuscript, "Sixteen Frames, Hand-Cranked and Silent" written in the 1970s.

The types of film include dramatic presentations, instructional and historical documentaries, comedic feature films, compilations of footage and clips, newsreels, interviews, shorts, travelogues, animated cartoons, home movies and nature films. The film reels document travels in China, Bermuda, British Guiana, Europe, New Zealand, Florida, California, Arizona and Texas; historical subjects such as the North-West Mounted Police, aviation, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and the Second World War; and various news events. Film of wildlife and travels in Newfoundland, Manitoba and Alberta is represented in the fonds, as well as travel throughout Saskatchewan (in particular Regina, Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Fort Qu'Appelle and Lac La Ronge and the Birds' cottage at Buena Vista on Last Mountain Lake). Agricultural scenes, wildlife, birds, nature and conservation are the predominant subjects of the films.

Photographic material includes prints, copy and glass negatives, transparencies, slides and filmstrips. The photographs include documentation of the Birds' foreign, Canadian and Saskatchewan travel producing nature films and conducting lecture tours. As well, provincial politicians, local events, visiting dignitaries, aviation, nature, industry, agricultural scenes and Regina subjects are depicted substantially in the fonds.

Series and subject assignment were applied to certain parts of the fonds in 2000 by the archivist describing the textual records, under the following headings: Film; "Camera Trails" Radio Series; Lecture Tour Series; "Sixteen Frames, Hand-Cranked and Silent," Dick Bird's Autobiography; Scripts; Correspondence; Research; Trips; Clubs and Organizations; Personal Files; Photos and Films; Miscellaneous; Diaries; Memo Books; Notebooks; and Scrapbooks.

Photographs listed in 1992 were described under the following categories: Dick and Ada Bird; Natural History – Saskatchewan; Natural History – Canada; Foreign Excursions; Regina; General; and Filmstrips.

No series assignment was applied to the film records described in the 1990s, or to the photographic records described in 2003.

Additional films, diaries and correspondence belonging to the fonds were destroyed in a 1985 fire at the Bird residence.

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Physical condition

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Textual records arranged alphabetically by subject and type of record by the arranging archivist in 2000. The factors determining arrangement of the records in this fonds have not been documented during the description process. Photographs described in 1992 arranged by subject.

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Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Many film reels also available on videocassette. See VT R-12,866 to R-12,871. Some films also available on DVD. See DVD R-12,873 to R-12, 877.

Restrictions on access

Records are open for research use. Please consult reference archivist for access to artifacts.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Use, publication and reproduction of records are subject to the terms of an agreement with Yvonne (Bird) Ellis dated October 30, 1992. Copyright, commercial and broadcasting rights have been transferred to the Saskatchewan Archives.

Finding aids

SAFA 27 (old guides GR 635 and RPG 11) consists of a fonds level description, file level listings of textual records and item level listings of photographs, audio tape, videotapes and film reels. The electronic finding aid consists of item level database for certain photographs, films, and videotapes. Please consult the reference archivist for assistance. No series descriptions are available.

Associated materials

Related material: Textual records: Ken Liddell fonds (GR 484, Coll. R-803.1, File I.3). Column on Dick Bird. Clippings – Dick Bird (R-E1160) Regina Riot Inquiry Commission fonds (F 415; R-255, Vol. XXXIV, pp. 23-43, January 12, 1936 Proceedings) Testimony of Bird before the Inquiry. Film and videos (from private fonds, government agencies and selections from Library and Archives Canada Richard Bird fonds): FILM R-214; FILM R-327 (VT R-177.3); FILM R-469 to FILM R-470; FILM R-471(1) to (8); FILM R-485 (VT R-182); FILM R-1240 (VT R-2526.4); FILM R-2380 (VT R-6952); FILM R-3046; FILM R-3157; VT R-1286.1 through VT R-1286.7; VT R-4999.2; and VT R-9184.2 and VT R-9184.3.

Associated material: Records of Dick Bird are also located in the Richard Bird fonds at the Library and Archives of Canada (LAC), CAIN No. 188205. These records include news clips, short documentaries, unedited films and sound recordings. SAB holds videotape copies of certain films from LAC material. LAC also holds originals of nitrate film transferred from the SAB's Bird material in December 1992.

Related materials


No further accruals are expected.

General note

11 videotapes (53 min, 28 sec); 3 filmstrips; 1 audio cassette (26 min); artifacts.

Alpha-numeric designations

Other codes: Textual records: GR 635, Coll. R-1707; Certain photographs in guide RPG 11: R-A27,347 to R-A27,696; R-A28,570; R-B12,918 to R-B12,985; Photographs:R-A28,496 to R-A28,569; R-A28,571 to R-A28,592; R-A30,626 to R-A30,672; R-B13,523; R-B13,533 to R-B13

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