The Conquest of Mt Logan: A Report on the Film Screening
Category : News
About 200 people filled the Comox Legion Hall on the evening of November 7, 2019 to see a film shot 94 years ago. What was the big deal? The film was The Conquest of Mount Logan and it documented the first climbing of Canada’s highest peak which towers 14,000 ft. above glacial ice and 19,551 ft. (5,959 m ) above sea level. Among the members of the expedition was Comox’s own Hamilton Mack Laing, who filmed the expedition’s progress on a 16-mm camera until the treeline. There he stayed to study the birds and mammals of the remote Chitina valley, passing on the camera to another member of the expedition to film the ascent.
The large turnout to see the film can perhaps be explained by the comment made by historian Richard Mackie that Mack Laing “hasn’t been done yet”. People continue to be surprised to hear about Laing’s accomplishments and they are hungry to hear more. Of course Mackie is doing his part in helping Laing to get recognized. Not only did he come out from Vancouver to help introduce the film, he wrote the only full-length biography of Laing so far (Hamilton Mack Laing: Hunter-Naturalist).
Other speakers also spoke to the Mack Laing legacy. Trevor Marc Hughes was back in town, after recently promoting the book Riding the Continent (his edition of Laing’s motorcycle memoirs). Hughes shared his fascination with Laing’s ability to sustain himself in the wilderness with a minimum of provisions, something he did not only on the 1915 motorcycle trip across the United States but also on the 1925 Mount Logan expedition. Architect Tom Dishlevoy emphasized the importance of preserving Shakesides, the second of Laing’s homes in Comox. He would like to see Shakesides upgraded into a LEED building (LEED = Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and he has the expertise to direct such an upgrade. Cale Lacasse, whose grandfather worked as a tree pruner for Robert Filberg, also spoke about the need for Comox to preserve the little that’s left of its heritage. In fact, Lacasse Construction has volunteered to take on the role of general contractor in restoring Shakesides.
If the crowd was responsive to the speeches and generous with its applause, it then became amazingly silent for The Conquest of Mount Logan-adding to the film’s silence. This “no-frills” film does not have the musical accompaniment we’re used to from commercial films of that era, though it does show title cards occasionally on the screen to convey map locations and other relevant information. For a short time, perhaps, we could wonder if we’re watching deleted scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, a film also made in 1925. But there’s no comic relief in The Conquest of Mount Logan. It is a story of skill, endurance, and determination under the most inhospitable conditions.
Thank-yous are in order to the Yukon Archives for providing the film, to the guest speakers who introduced the film (each from a different angle), to former MP John Duncan who underscored the need for cooperation across the political spectrum about heritage issues, and to the audience for being there. A thank-you is also in order to the interested people turned away because of lack of space, but who may very well inspire a second screening.