Psychotronic NFB: TI-JEAN GOES LUMBERING (1953)

The National Film Board of Canada may be the nation’s venerable award-winning public film producer and distributor, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t weird gems lurking on the fringes of its impressive back catalogue. “Psychotronic NFB,” attempts to filter through the earnest docs on social problems, overserious animation and World War II newsreels to uncover the NFB’s weirdest works.

Who’s your favourite Canadian hero–the red-and-white clad Captain Canuck? Louis Riel? Maybe Terry Fox or Wayne Gretzky?  Well, they’re little more than pimples on the mighty backside of  Ti-Jean–a superstrong pre-pubescent workhorse who appeared in three NFB shorts in the 1950s. Supposedly based on folk tales about a mysteriously powerful 10-year-old French-Canadian hero, TI-JEAN GOES LUMBERING is a prime slice of Canadian kitsch where Ti-Jean breezes into town like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, embarrasses those lazy loggers with his super-skills then takes all their money before heading off into the sunset on his white horse. Gee, what a swell kid!

Based on this film, I can only assume that the NFB once employed scientists working around the clock measuring exactly how many Canadian stereotypes could fit into a single frame of film. Then, another team of technicians used dangerously experimental techniques to insert as many plaid jackets, pipe-smoking outdoorsmen, toques, rosy-faced lumberjacks, reindeer adorned sweaters, funny French-Canadian cooks, log cabins, deep woods moustaches and snowshoes as possible, resulting in films like this. It is also rumoured that the film stock for TI-JEAN GOES LUMBERING was actually developed in a big vat of poutine, but I was unable to confirm this.

Stories involving precocious children are staples of educational films, giving young viewers a point of view to identify with while they are subjected to detailed looks at farm machinery or the finer points of industrial jobs. Even though this is supposed to be a dramatzied folk tale, the narrative here seems to get lost in a blizzard of Canadiana, making me wonder if the point wasn’t just a loving look at logging camps. Regardless, the film was apparently one of the NFB’s more popular offerings at the time, and was quickly followed up by TI-JEAN IN THE LAND OF IRON and TI-JEAN GOES WEST, only with new, much less freckled children playing the lead role.

Bizarrest moment: Ti-Jean tries to get a job at the logging camp by headbutting a lumberjack in the chest.

Lesson learned: No matter what, don’t ask Grandpa to tell one of his stories–stick to beating your siblings in arm wrestling.

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  1. walkerp says:

    It looks like this movie was meant to be in french originally. I suspect that the Ti-Jean myth resonates more with Quebecers and it is possible that this was quite a popular kid’s short in French Canada back in the days. It sure seems stereotypie today, but back when it was made, a lot of people in Quebec were still working that way. I’ll ask my francophone friends and see if they have ever heard of it.

  2. Pat says:

    Awesome! I saw this in elementary school in PEI back in the mid-70’s and had been wondering about it occasionally over the last year. Googled it and found your site right away. Wanted my son to see it, he’s 8. So the whole family sat around the laptop just now to watch it. The colour is great, I seem to remember it in black and white, but maybe I just forgot. Otherwise my memory was pretty good, I remembered Ti-Jean polishing off his potatoes and turnips, the sawhorse pillow battle and him carrying his logs. Love the NFB for producing these kinds of films, times and sentiments have changed for sure. And love the premise of your website and your hilarious comments about the film. I’m part French Canadian, my mom grew up in northern Quebec, so it was really nice to be able to find this.