Léo-Ernest Ouimet

Léo-Ernest Ouimet, director, producer, distributor, exhibitor (b at St-Martin, Qué 16 Mar 1877; d at Montréal 2 Mar 1972). Ouimet, one of the most important men in the history of Canadian cinema, was a true innovator.

Ouimet, Léo-Ernest

Léo-Ernest Ouimet, director, producer, distributor, exhibitor (b at St-Martin, Qué 16 Mar 1877; d at Montréal 2 Mar 1972). Ouimet, one of the most important men in the history of Canadian cinema, was a true innovator. Director, producer, distributor and marketer of Canadian films long before others adopted such roles, Ouimet confronted the dilemma since faced by others - a vision of a local cultural product which met with indifference at home and imperialist attitudes in America.

On 1 January 1906, he opened the first permanent cinema in Montréal, the Ouimetoscope, and a year later opened one of the first large cinema theatres in North America (1200 seats). Ouimet became one of Canada's first film distributors. To add local flavour to his programs he also made shorts, some based on his family (Mes espérances en 1908, 1908) and some on current affairs (L'Affaire de la gare Windsor, 1909 and L'Incendie du Herald, 1910). More than 80 titles of films made by Ouimet have been recorded (although almost all of the actual films have been lost), making him the most important Canadian film producer before World War I. Clashes with the clergy over Sunday opening of cinemas forced him out of the exhibition business. He produced a feature-length drama, Le Feu qui brûle (1918), and organized the British Canadian Pathé News. In Hollywood he produced Why Get Married (1924), which virtually marked the end of his career in cinema.

After spending approximately 10 years in California, Ouimet returned to Montréal to develop francophone films. Sadly, his venture failed after 2 years and he finished his working career as the manager of a liquor store.

Every year L'Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma awards a prize in Ouimet's honour to the director of the best Québec feature film.

Suggested Screenings: La Conquête du grand écran (André Gladu, 1996).


Further Reading

  • Léon Bélanger, Les Ouimetoscopes (1978); André Gaudreault et al, Au pays des ennemis du cinéma (1996); Germain Lacasse, Histoire de scopes (1988); and Mathieu-Robert Sauvé, Léo-Ernest Ouimet, l'homme aux grandes vues (1996).