Why the story of Walt Disney sort of begins in Canada

His father was born in pre-Confederation Upper Canada, after all.

Animation pioneer told CBC-TV's Telescope about his Canadian roots in 1963

Walt Disney's Canadian connection

4 years ago
Duration 2:39
Featured VideoThe animation pioneer talks about his father's origins in Ontario.

Should Walt Disney count as an almost-Canadian?

His father was born in pre-Confederation Upper Canada, after all.

"Let's talk about your father," said Fletcher Markle, host of the CBC-TV biography series Telescope, interviewing Disney for a program aired in two parts in the fall of 1963. "He was born in Ontario and lived a good part of his life in Canada." 

"Yes, he was born in a little town, they called it Bluevale," said Disney. "And the Disney family were Anglo-Irish."

Bluevale is about 50 kilometres east of the Lake Huron community of Goderich, Ont.

Disney said his father had left Canada at the age of 20 to accompany his own father to a farm in Kansas, and that's where the Canadian roots ended.

Disney said he'd been back, though.

He told Markle he located the Disneys' Ontario homestead on the advice of locals who told him where to find it, and photographed it "from every angle."

"When I got through I found I'd photographed the wrong homestead!" he said, with a laugh. 

Animation before Mickey Mouse

The early years at Walt Disney Studios

4 years ago
Duration 2:42
Featured VideoWalt Disney discusses his animation efforts before Mickey Mouse.

Disney talked about the origins of Walt Disney Studios, and his earliest efforts at animation.

"I started ... to make my first animated cartoons [in] 1920," he said. "We didn't draw them like we do today, we used to make little cutout things, and joints with pins, we'd put them under the camera and manoeuvre them and make them do things."

"This was before you came to Hollywood," said Markle.

Disney said at the time he'd been working in Kansas City, Missouri, making advertising signs for movie theatres.

It wasn't until 1928's Steamboat Willie that Disney's best-known character, Mickey Mouse, made his debut.

"In the days of Steamboat Willie it was picture first," said Disney, going into detail about the process of mixing sound and image before overdubbing was possible.

"We used to have to do everything at one time. We used to have to run the cartoon, we'd have the fellas with the sound effects, the people with the voices, we had the orchestra going and everybody had to synchronize."

More Disney magic

Walt Disney demonstrates an animatronic bird

4 years ago
Duration 0:37
Featured VideoA parrot that appears to hold a conversation? Why not!

By 1963 Disney had branched out into live-action films, and the studio's forthcoming effort was The Incredible Journey. It's a tale of two dogs and a cat making their way home through the Canadian wilderness.

Markle himself directed the movie, some of which was filmed in Ontario, according to the Globe and Mail.

Besides making movies using animation and live action, Disney had opened his California theme park just eight years earlier.

And at Disneyland, visitors would encounter more Disney magic in the form of animatronics.

"This is one of the characters from the Tiki Room," he said, indicating a tropical bird on his desk. 

"We have four macaws, master of ceremonies," Disney went on. "They keep the show rolling. Along with them are other birds that sing, flowers that sing."

He manipulated a joystick on his desk to demonstrate, making the bird move in a convincing, lifelike way.

According to Reuters, in December the original birds from Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room attraction are among a block of the theme park's memorabilia going up for auction. They are expected to fetch between $80,000 and $100,000.