For 50 years, the National Film Board of Canada’s logo was a familiar sight when you were near their building on Côte-de-Liesse Road in Ville St. Laurent. Thousands glimpsed it every day from the elevated Metropolitan Highway. For Robert Turgeon of Heritage Montreal, “Man Seeing,” the humanoid figure with the giant eye, is “part of the city’s collective imagination.”
Turgeon was speaking at an April 24th ceremony to mark the removal of the aluminum icon from the building. In a few months, headquarters will relocate in downtown Montreal, where many assumed it would be after the Film Board moved from a converted Ottawa sawmill in 1956. Meant to be a symbolic transition and affirmation of continuity, the ceremony began in the cafeteria, a repository of innumerable memories. It ended in the parking lot as workers on a cherry picker removed “Man Seeing.”
Speakers included NFB Chairperson Claude Joli-Coeur, who told current staff, media, and guests: “We’re going to continue to treat the logo like the prized possession that it is, just as we will continue the tradition of creation and innovation that it represents, a tradition that has always been at the heart of the NFB.” The logo will eventually be on display in the new NFB building on Bleury Street in Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles.
NFB Archivist Marc St-Pierre explained how “Man Seeing” was created in the late sixties. A competition within the Board yielded fifty-three submissions from staff, including one from master of film animation, Norman McLaren. His design placed just behind winner Georges Beaupré, at that time the creative director of the NFB’s publicity department.
Beaupré’s son, who also spoke, pointed out he was born the same year as the logo, during the era of Expo 67, widespread innovation, and feelings of hope and glory. The logo was intended to embody a forward-looking, celebratory image of humanity, its design suggesting indigenous art.
91-year-old Robert Verrall, brought into the NFB by McLaren as an animator, and eventually an English language Animation Department chief and head of the English program, summed it all up. The Film Board building is “haunted by people who made treasures that will last forever.” Verrall emphasized that he wasn’t just talking about figures like John Grierson, Norman McLaren, Donald Brittain and Arthur Lipsett. He was honouring everybody from directors and producers to those who worked in the film processing lab (defunct once the digital age kicked in), to technical services and the mailroom.