Dawson Film Find

The Dawson Film Find (DFF) was the accidental discovery in 1978 of 533 reels of silent-era films in the Canadian gold rush town of Dawson City. Dating from the 1910s and '20s, the films had been buried under an abandoned hockey rink and included silent feature movies as well as newsreels. A construction excavation inadvertently uncovered the forgotten collection of discarded films which were composed of inflammable nitrate film that had been unintentionally preserved by the permafrost.

A documentary film about the find — Dawson City: Frozen Time — was released in 2016.[1]


The 533 film reels date from "between 1903 and 1929 and were uncovered in the rubble beneath [an] old hockey rink".[2] Works by Pearl White, Helen Holmes, Grace Cunard, Lois Weber, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, and Lon Chaney, among others, were included. Along with the lost feature films, there was also rare footage of historic events, including the 1919 World Series.[3]


Beginning in 1903, the Dawson Amateur Athletic Association (DAAA) began showing films in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. The unreturned films were deposited in the local Canadian Bank of Commerce and later stored in the local Carnegie Library basement. The DAAA later converted a swimming pool to an ice rink, but because of improper conversion the ice rink suffered from uneven temperatures in the middle of the rink. In 1929, Clifford Thomson, then-employed by the Canadian Bank of Commerce and also treasurer of the hockey association, solved the problem of the library's stock of film and the inadequate ice rink. Thomson took 500,000 feet of film and stacked the reels in the pool, covered the reels with boards and leveled the rink with a layer of earth. The DAAA continued to receive new nitrate films which would later fuel the destruction of the entire complex in a fire in 1951. The films stored under the ice rink were preserved and uncovered in 1978 when a new recreation center was being built.

The Dawson Film Find material was collected and preserved, with these prints becoming the last surviving records of some movie studios.[4] Owing to its dangerous chemical volatility,[5] the historical find was moved by military transport to Library and Archives Canada and the U.S. Library of Congress for both transfer to safety film and storage.

List of Films in the Dawson Film Find

Not all films are complete, as some were too damaged to restore in their entirety.


  1. Weschler, Lawrence (September 14, 2016). "The Discovery, and Remarkable Recovery, of the King Tut's Tomb of Silent-Era Cinema". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 20, 2017.
  2. "A different sort of Klondike treasure - Yukon News". 24 May 2013.
  3. "Footage of scandalous 1919 World Series saved by Yukon permafrost". CBC News. September 19, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  4. "Dawson City: Frozen Time". Picture Palace Pictures.com. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  5. Morrison, Bill (2016). Dawson City: Frozen Time. Kino Lorber. p. 1:53:45.
  6. Slide, Anthony (2000). Nitrate Won't Wait: A History of Film Preservation in the United States. McFarland & Company. p. 100.
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