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Let's All Go to the Lobby! - Historic Theatres

Published: March 2015

How enjoyable is it to go to the movies on a cold or rainy weekend? Synonymous with awkward first dates and overpriced popcorn, going to your local theater to catch the latest Hollywood film has been a popular past time in Canada for decades. While large movie theatre complexes have dominated the market in recent years, the old run down theater remains a popular destination for local cinephiles. There's something oddly charming about being in an institution that has entertained generations for years. Perhaps it's the old squeaky, yet oddly comfortable seats that adorn the room. Or the feeling you get as you wonder which famous Hollywood stars graced your silver screen in days of old. Regardless, historic theaters have played an important role in preserving a culture unique to municipalities.

ElginAndWinterGardenWhat's better than one movie theatre? Two movie theatres in the same location! The Elgin and Winter Gardens Theatre in Toronto remains the last untouched example of "Movie Palaces" in Canada. Created by Thomas Lamb from 1913-1914, this Toronto institution features a double-decker, with the Winter Gardens Theatre on the top and the Elgin Theater on the bottom. The Winter Gardens Theatre was so grandiose that it could hold up to 33,000 patrons a night! The top theatre's atmospheric features included trailing vines, beech leaf components, garden furnishings and garden murals. This decor provided a true vessel of escape for the daily grind that many patrons faced. The Winter Gardens Theatre certainly was the most exuberant of the sister theatres. However, the grandeur of the upper floor eventually came to an end, as the theatre closed its doors in 1928 and remained untouched for a quarter of a century.

ElginAndWinterGarden2The Elgin theatre on the bottom floor remained functional and evolved over the decades to meet the changing nature of the film industry. It featured Renaissance Revival Decor with classic motifs, gilding and scagolia. Opening in 1913, the Elgin has had many renovations in its long history, most notably in 1960 when it converted to a wide screen cinema. Furthermore, the Elgin theatre was much more affordable for the average patron, with tickets costing 10 cents, versus the 25-50 cents cost for the Winter Gardens. Despite their differences, both theatres re-opened their doors in the 1980s as part of an 8.5 million dollar restoration project through the Government of Ontario.

VogueThe Vogue Theatre has been an entertainment landmark in downtown Vancouver since the 1940s. As part of "Theatre Row" on Granville Street, the Vogue is a fine example of Modern Canadian architecture. Prominent features of this architectural style included textured concrete walls, Vitrilux and terrazzo panels, textured terra cotta piers, wrought-iron screens, and stainless steel mullions. Whereas the Elgin and Winter Gardens Theatre in Toronto featured architecture that was aesthetically pleasing, the Vogue retains features that enhance the experience of moviegoers. Curved walls improved acoustics within the building, while modulated lighting gave the theatre a unique atmosphere. The Vogue was not merely a movie theatre, but also served for live theatre performances. As a result, there is open space in the theatre to accommodate an orchestra. With 1347 seats, the Vogue was a relatively small theatre, but the seats were much larger than average, giving the patron a sense of intimacy, whilst retaining enough space to enjoy the movie.

PalaceThe Palace Theatre in Calgary is a beautiful four- story building in Edwardian Classical style. Built in 1921, it is famous for being one of the few palace-style theatres that showed silent films. Prominent features of the Allen Brother's building are the red brick facade, arched windows, sidewalls that angle towards the stage, a marbled staircase and molded-plaster reliefs that adorn the balconies. Throughout the years, the Palace has been renowned for displaying a diverse range of films and entertainment for the public. Saturday matinees were geared towards the entertainment of students, and weekday matinees were dedicated to women. Perhaps the Palace's most famous member was William "Bible Bill" Aberhart, who transmitted his biblical broadcasts from the theatre in front of a live audience. Aberhart would go on to become Premier of Alberta from 1935-1940. From the 1940s to the 1950s, the theatre saw a rise in visits from celebrities such as Lena Horne and Jan Pearce. As a result, the Palace became one of Canada's most successful vessels of public entertainment.

Bringing Hollywood glam to our local silver screen has been the role of old theatres for decades. These institutions not only serve as a means of entertainment, they also provide cities an important link to their past. Moreover, the intricate architecture of historic theatres enhances the viewer's experience, creating a unique atmosphere that is rarely replicated through modern chain-style movie theatres.


Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres National Historic Site of Canada

Mattie, Jones. Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada Agenda Paper. Palace Theatre, 211-Eight Avenue SW Calgary, Alberta. 1996-04

Mills, Edward. Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada Agenda Paper. Vogue Theatre,918 Granville Street, Vancouver, British Columbia. 1993-35.

Palace Theatre National Historic Site of Canada

Russell, Hilary. Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada Agenda Paper. The Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. 1985-24.

Russell, Hilary. Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada Agenda Paper. The Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. 1985 24A.

Vogue Theatre National Historic Site of Canada