Super 8 Filmmaker John Porter, Toronto, Canada
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John uses "frame blow-ups" from an old home movie to find a friend of his family.
Sackville Taxi Driver
During the week of November 6-12, 2000, I performed in I Needed You and You Were There, the 5th annual Symposium of Art at the artist-run and the Owens Art Gallery of Mount Allison University, in Sackville, New Brunswick. I had only that year discovered Sackville and my family history there, after some Toronto artist friends moved to nearby Moncton. My performance, titled and performed on Remembrance Day, involved my live narration and hand-held projection, around onto all the walls of the gallery, of super 8 film panoramas I had shot of personally historic locations, including in Sackville and at Mount Allison where my uncle, writer George Johnston, taught English in the late 1940s.
Incredibly, after my performance was planned I discovered my uncle's own 8mm films, including panoramas of Sackville! I quickly made super 8 copies of his panoramas to project in my performance. I also made many still photographs ("frame blow-ups") from his films to show to people around Sackville in the week leading up to my performance. I hoped to identify and revisit some of the people and locations in my uncle's films. One wonderful scene included a close-up of a taxi driver with his Hudson car, taking my aunt, uncle and visiting in-laws to the Sackville train station to meet a train. Who was the driver and was he the same one who took Aunt Jeanne to the hospital when my cousin Peggy was born prematurely while Uncle George was giving a speech at Mount Allison?
On Sunday, November 5 I arrived at the Moncton airport and was met by Vick, a middle-aged taxi driver with Sackville Cab. I showed him my frame blow-ups of Uncle George's taxi driver, thinking there would be few taxi drivers in a town as small as Sackville in the 1940s. Vick couldn't identify the driver but said there were several drivers and two companies back then. He gave me the names of some other drivers who might be able to help me - Bedford Amos, Irving Johnson, Nelson Milner, George Hicks and his son John Hicks who works part-time as a delivery driver at the Snack Shop on York Street.
Knowing where to find him, I visited John Hicks at the Snack Shop - a busy, fast-food outlet popular with the university students. John was nine years old and spending time at his father's cab company in the late 1940s when my uncle shot his film, but he couldn't identify the driver in it. He told me stories of his grandfather John Hicks owning a cab company in Sackville in the 1940s, and his father and uncle owning a seperate company - Hicks Brothers, which is still operating. He showed me a small, old, Hicks Brothers caling card which showed the same model of car seen in Uncle George's film. John had been carrying the card in his wallet for years intending to get it laminated, and he lent it to me for a day so I could have enlarged, colour, photocopies made of it at the University Bookstore.
I showed my frame blow-ups to several people and someone at Struts Gallery suggested I talk to Audrey Scott who is known to have a drink at Ducky's Tavern. Everyone including John Hicks agreed that she was the one to talk to. Like many people in Sackville she is smart, fun, and very helpful and supportive. At Ducky's she introduced me to some veteran Sackville artists who I had learned about in my personal history research but had no expectation of meeting. I showed her my frame blow-up of the taxi driver and she immediately said "That's Doug McCallum!" She pulled out the new issue of Mount Allison's weekly student newspaper The Argosy which had just come out that day, but she had read it already. She pointed to a recent photo of a Sackville war veteran who was interviewed in a Remembrance Day feature. "Look! You tell me! Isn't that the same man as in your photo, but fifty years older?" She was determined to put me in touch with him, saying it was important. We found his number in the phone book and she called him and his wife to introduce me to them. He said I could meet him at the Legion Hall that evening.
Not only was the frame blow-up of him while he worked briefly for Hicks Brothers, but he and Uncle George were close friends and had remained so until losing touch just in the last decade. He was glad to see me because he had become concerned about my aunt and uncle and I was able to assure him that they were both well but that at age 87, George was becoming forgetful. Doug told me that he and George operated a chickens and eggs business together while their families lived across the street from one another in Sackville. He identified which houses they lived in, so I was able later to find and photograph them. He was not the one who drove my aunt to the hospital. I photographed Doug in the Legion Hall, and the next morning on Remembrance Day, I photographed him in the Veterans Parade from the Legion Hall, past Struts Gallery, to Mount Allison University. That evening at Struts Gallery, I performed including Uncle George's scene of Doug MCallum, and I told their story.