Description of Historic Place
Winnipeg's Walker Theatre is a three-storey masonry cube containing an early 20th-century theatre with many intact original features. The main theatre is joined to the streetfront by a two-storey projection with a distinctive, ornate façade. Located at the hub of many busy streets, it is a prominent landmark.
The Walker Theatre was designated a national historic site in 1991 for its historic and architectural significance because:
- it is a fine and rare example of an early legitimate theatre surviving in Canada;
- the Chicago influences in its design and its associations with the prominent impresario C.P. Walker make it unique among those early surviving Canadian legitimate theatres;
- its close association with nationally important political rallies held there including meetings of the women's suffrage, particularly the Women's Parliament of 1914, and labour movements.
The heritage value of this site resides in its character as a rich, safe, convenient, acoustically and visually effective auditorium for patrons, and an excellent working stage environment, in the design elements inspired by the Chicago Auditorium, and in its historical associations with the political rallies, especially those of the labour and women's suffrage movements.
C.P. (Corliss Powers)Walker (1853-1942) built the Walker Theatre in 1906-07 and ran it as a live theatre until 1933. Walker hired Montreal architect Howard C. Stone and instructed him to design a fireproof theatre following the principles of Chicago's Auditorium (Adler and Sullivan architects, 1889) which was buried in the heart of a successful multi-functional commercial complex. In Winnipeg, the Walker Theatre remained the only completed component of a planned hotel/office/retail complex. the immediate area was at one time known for its concentration of theatre buildings. The two feuding movie palaces of the Metropolitan Theatre and the now-demolished Capitol Theatre were closely located at 281 Donald and #13 Donald Street respectively.
The Walker Theatre was also the location of nationally important rallies, including meetings of the women's suffrage movement, particularly the Woman's Parliament of 1914, and labour movements.
Many of the theatre's original surfaces were masked when Odeon converted it to a movie theatre (1945-1991). Purchased by the Walker Theatre Performing Arts Group in 1991, it was restored as a venue for live performance. In 2002, it was renamed the Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Sources: HSMBC Minutes, 11-13 June, 1991; 5-8 June, 1997; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2006.
Key features contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
- the stepped massing of the building with distinct two and three-storey portions,
- the decorative details of the two-storey street façade, particularly the definition, craftsmanship and materials of its cornices, arched window and marquee, and surviving electric and 'ghosted' wall signs,
- the surviving functional plan of the 1906-1933 legitimate theatre interior comprised of special-purpose areas for auditorium, stage, working wings, lounges, and ticket/box office in their respective volumes, inter-relationships, and functional roles,
- the theatre auditorium with its vast, unobstructed volume and series of repeating ceiling arches resulting in excellent acoustics,
- surviving original decorative interior finishes such as painted, marbled, gilded, carved, and applied plaster details, terrazzo and tile flooring, brass and lead staircase and rails, marble wall finishes,
- defined balcony levels including the surviving god's section on the second balcony and its associated staircase,
- the stage proper with its early proscenium, original stage surface, trap door and fly tower, deep stage, fly gallery, large wing area, and flexible backstage facilities,
- the working wings subdivided into special purpose areas including dressing rooms, property rooms, scenery docks and interconnecting hallways, doors, staircases and early stage elevator,
- the public lounges with finishes reminiscent of their early functions,
- the early 20th-century fireproof features of the structure including its steel and concrete construction materials, metal doors, fire exit areas, cantilevered support systems for balconies and marquee, electric lighting and early fire resistant curtain and finishing materials.