I love movies! I love
them at home when I’m taking a deserved break.
I love them at the theatre when I’m with friends crunching on
over-priced popcorn. I love leaving my life behind for an hour and a half and
diving head first into a fictional and more exciting one. I love watching chick flicks when I’m feeling
lonely, action movies when I’m feeling weak, and comedies when I’m feeling
grouchy. I love what movies sometimes
teach me. It’s possible I love movies a
little too much.
Furthermore, I love (tired of that word yet?) the idea of
movies back in the “old days”. And the
epic old theatres they were watched in.
It was the early 1900’s. Movies
were a new, exciting, and even controversial thing. It was a treat to see a film; something
special. Now days there are so many
movies being released at all times that we can’t even hear about them all, let
alone see them. We are actually in quite
a transitional period in the movie industry right now. Everything is becoming digitized. I find this loss of the physical a little
depressing. The smell of a book, for
example; it’s just not same as the digital (and less expensive) version. Or the experience of the theatre: the smell of popcorn, the feel of the weird
carpet walls, or the sound of that one laugh amongst the many that is extremely
distinctive and loud. When I saw Seven
Pounds, there was more than one moment I could hear everyone around me
sobbing. I love that uniting feeling. Movies can feel like a personal experience,
but I think that what makes movies so great is how they bring people
together. The build up before the
release and the endless discussion as to the degree of success or failure
afterwards is all a communal experience.
At least we are not anywhere close to losing theatres just
yet. So I started looking up information
about movie theatres in Lethbridge’s history at the Galt. For my last article I researched Irma
Dogterom, and lo-and-behold, it was her book Where Was It?: A Guide to Early
Lethbridge Buildings where I found a great deal of my information. The Galt
Archives has a little library with this and other similar books based on
Lethbridge history (check it out). The
Galt also has files of newspaper clipping by subject which was very informative. I thought I’d share some of my findings with
It was August, 1897 when the first examples of moving
pictures were shown in Lethbridge (that we know of). They used a Theatrograph (the first
commercially produced projector), later called the Animatograph. This was quite soon after it had been
invented; apparently Lethbridge embraced them quite quickly. In 1898 they also used a Kinetoscope, a newer
better version of the Animatograph. They
were shown in the “Building Company Hall”, later known as The Opera House. It was sort of a town hall/entertainment
center located around where Express Coffee now is.
Oliver’s Hall, in April 1901, became the first site for the
Cinematograph. Here were held “the first
crude moving picture” shows, says Dogterom.
It still stands, empty I believe, right across from the King of
Trade. It even has OLIVER still written
in stone on top.
The movie business
caught fire fast. The first movie
theatre was the Bijou (meaning The Jewel) Theatre, later called the Variety
Theatre, in 1907. Burnt to a crisp in
1917. The second was The Lyceum (meaning
hall, who knew?) in 1908, which changed names and owners many times. It became Starland, then The Star, then The
Phoenix, then King’s, and then just Kings.
It closed in 1925. It was in a
little building to the right of the (now) Alec Arms Hotel. That same year the Eureka Theatre opened,
later called the Orpheum (derived from the Greek God Orpheus, whose poetic and
musical skills could charm anything). It
Another was born in 1910, the Griffith Theatre, quickly
changed to the Majestic Theatre. It only
started showing moving pictures in the late twenties. This theatre was the largest for quite some
time, seating 1000 people. It was the
first theatre in Lethbridge to show a talkie; The Singing Fool with Al
Jolson. This movie was “credited with
helping to cement the popularity of both sound and the musical genre” (Wiki).
The Grand Electric Theatre opened only for a few months (a
shame, cause the name is awesome) in 1910 while The Morris Theatre was being
built. The Morris and the Monarch
Theatre both opened in 1911. The Morris
Theatre changed its name five times: from Sherman Theatre to The Orpheum
(different from the other Orpheum) to Colonial Theatre to The Palace to Capitol
Theatre. When it opened it had a very
unique and elegant canopy on the front.
It also opened with very ‘modern’ padded seats, but students kept
swiping the cushions for padding for roller skate straps. Some believe the manager’s pleading at the
school, says Irma Dogterom in her book, only hastened the pinching. Soon the seats were just wood again. Meanwhile, the Monarch Theatre (later called
The Regent and then Lealta (meaning loyalty)) was the first theatre on the
Northside, on the corner of Third Avenue and Thirteenth Street in what used to
be a bank. At this time the rest of the
theatres were all very near to each other, some even neighbours, on fifth
street on the Southside. It was also one of the first theatres to show foreign
films and experimental films. The owner,
when it was the Lealta, used the old bank vault as a developing dark room for
his photography. It closed around 1962.
It’s really curious that Lethbridge felt the need for so
many theatres. Granted these theatres
often didn’t limit themselves to just films but showed other things like plays,
magicians, boxing etc. But still. Movies are as popular as ever these days and
we only have two. Interesting.
The last theatre to emerge during what I have deemed as the
Lethbridge’s theatre boom is the Empress Theatre, which later became Roxy
Theatre in 1913. It is remembered as the
first theatre with air conditioning. In
closed in 1959.
Our theatres since then may still be in some of your
Around 1950, the Western Drive-In, later known as the Green
Acres Drive-In, and Paramount (later ‘Cinemas’ was attached to the end)
emerged. The drive in closed around
1986. I saw one show in Paramount before
it closed in 2007. It was the first
theatre in Lethbridge with more than one screen. It is now a bank and some offices, which is a
little sad, but they have kept the outer structure unchanged. They have also posted pictures along the
walls of the interior of what the inside of the theatre used to look like. I really like that they have kept that
connection to its original use.
In 1969 College Cinema opened in the College Mall and closed
in 1994. In 1975 the Twin Cinemas, later
called the Lethbridge Center Cinema opened.
It closed in 2005.
Currently we have two theatres in Lethbridge; Galaxy
Cineplex at the mall and The Movie Mill.
We are actually quite lucky to have this contrasting balance. Galaxy shows the new releases on larger
screens. The Movie Mill shows either
movies Galaxy did not show or the big hits around a month after they are shown
in Galaxy, at a reduced cost. I like
being able to go to my must-see movies on the big big screen (does the fact
that they have two sizes of screens costing the same amount annoy no one
else?), like Batman or Inception, but not missing out on the less mainstream
movies. Like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise
Kingdom (I whole heartedly recommend this movie!!). Or if there is a movie I want to see mostly
for interests’ sake, I’ll wait for it to come to the Mill and save some money.
I was really surprised at how many movie theatres Lethbridge
has had since motion pictures were invented.
At one time there must have been at least five all running at the same
time. With the birth of TV and internet,
I wonder if the need for theatres has decreased. I do hope they’ll stick around though. They remind me that even though I could live
an increasing large portion of my life without any human contact, it’s not as
good that way. Being with people counts
for something, it enhances the experience of life.
What about you? Any
favorite movie theatre experiences you’d like to share?? I would really love to hear them!
-BY Steffi Reynolds
Steffi Reynolds is a third-year English major at the University of Lethbridge whose passion is stories; reading stories, hearing stories and telling stories to others. This fall she is the archives assistant social media contributor for the Galt Museum & Archives, earning Applied Studies credit while sharing some of the stories uncovered in the Archives.