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Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site of Canada

Magic Lantern

Around 1890
Brass plated tin on wooden base
Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site
X.68.204.10

Location: Sales Shop

Magic lantern angled with the projecting arm and lens toward the left. Magic lanterns are early slide projectors used to present individual images. The magic lantern was used as a source of public entertainment long before the invention of modern video technology.
© Parks Canada

Magic lanterns are early slide projectors used to present sequences of individual images. Invented in the mid-17th century, the magic lantern was used as a source of public entertainment long before the invention of modern video technology. The devices were popularized in the18th century and early 19th century, when they were often used to present shows of frightening images: a genre of theatre known as phantasmagoria. By the mid-19th century the technology was also applied to more morally edifying and educational ends, including current news, Bible stories, and children’s tales. Travelling showmen went from place to place, offering magic lantern shows in community venues like public halls, churches, and homes.

The magic lantern currently housed in the Sales Shop at Lower Fort Garry is a German model from the 1890s. The device, resting on a wooden base, is comprised of an oil lamp and an arm that juts outward ending in focusing lenses. Individual slide images could be projected through the lens when the lamp was lit. While there are no official company records that point to the shipment of magic lanterns on HBC boats, there is documentation of a magic lantern in Gimli, Manitoba, by 1878. Travelling showmen may have made journeys up to the Red River Settlement – travelling, for instance, by steamboat from places like St. Paul. Since prices for lanterns and slides were becoming more reasonable by the mid-1800s it is also possible that HBC employees ordered these items themselves.

Site Collections Staff conduct regular cleaning and inspections of the magic lantern to ensure its continued preservation and survival.