Sheila Burnford, who was born in Scotland but spent most of her life living in Thunder Bay (Port Arthur) and was the creator of several books, including The Incredible Journey. The book was published in 1961 and told the story of three house pets who undertook a 300 miles trek through the Canadian wilderness to return to their family home. The story became famous world-wide when Disney made the book into the film The Incredible Journey in 1963.
Part of the popularity of the book and subsequent film is following the young Labrador Retriever Luath, the capable Siamese cat Tao and the aging and partially blind bulldog Bodger as they face the varied challenges of their journey over streams, past dangerous animals, pushing through physical ordeals and lack of food as they pursue their single-minded goal of returning to their home. Readers who grew up in Thunder Bay should have no trouble imagining these perils as the story was based on the true-life pets of Sheila Burnford and the setting is none other than the natural environment of the Thunder Bay region.
There is a project underway to celebrate “our” Sheila Burnford and to gather together all of the historical information about her, her own life and many adventures, her writings, drawings and collaborations with artist Susan Ross and memorabilia about The Incredible Journey, both the book and the film which actually held its world premiere in Port Arthur. LU professor Ron Harpelle and local filmmaker Kelley Saxburg have been working on a documentary about the author’s forays into Canada’s far north and it has led them on their own “incredible journey” of documenting her life. All of their research and contact with the Burnford family itself has led to a wealth of documentation, including photographs, manuscripts, artwork, memorabilia and the like which is all being scanned, preserved and digitized. The Thunder Bay Public Library has partnered with them on the next stage of this project which is to preserve and bring Sheila Burnford’s local connections and great achievements to a larger audience – the citizens of Thunder Bay, the researchers, the book lovers and the wider world. Eventually, this will lead to a Sheila Burnford Research Room at the Library but right now the partners would like to invite you to learn more about all of this and to that end we are hosting a special film screening of the original Incredible Journey. We will also have many fascinating objects and documents for you to view on site so that you can see and in some cases, remember Ms. Burnford and her time in Thunder Bay and her many travels.
If you knew her or Susan Ross, or have good memories of the premiere or of reading her books, or if you would like to know more we invite you to this free screening. We would love to meet you. We also invite you to bring any objects or photos or letters you might have to contribute to this ongoing project. Rather like the Antique Roadshow model, we will have people on site to accept your contributions and get their story or to scan the objects prior to the screening. You can be a part of this important and relevant local story as it is evolving! Help us to preserve and celebrate this legendary author who is part of our local history.
Screening: At Trinity United Church Hall
Saturday May 13th
Doors open at 1:00
Screening and opening remarks by Jonquil Burnford and dignitaries at 2p.m.