This Week in History


Canada’s first movie palace

For the week of Monday October 25, 2010

On October 26, 1928, the Metropolitan Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, began to screen “talkies” – otherwise known as “talking” films. Talking films were a revolution in the film industry. Replacing the orchestras and Wurlitzer organs that had provided music to silent films since the 1910s, the “talkies” allowed making a trip to the theatre more affordable to the masses.

Metropolitan Theatre, 1959
© Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg - Theatres - Metropolitan 1 (N16490)
Before the advent of talking films, patrons of the Metropolitan Theatre were treated to a silent feature film and other performances to fill their evenings, such as musical acts, stage shows, short films and other entertainment. The Metropolitan’s concert orchestra and jazz ensemble played music to accompany films before sound-synchronized talking films were introduced. Luxuriously decorated retiring rooms, smoking rooms and lounges created a welcoming atmosphere that encouraged theatregoers to socialize before and after their evening entertainment.

The introduction of talking film was not the first time that the Metropolitan was at the centre of a revolutionary change in the film industry. When the ‘Met’ was built in 1919, it was the first ornate movie palace in Canada. Its construction indicated the permanence of the film industry in Canadian culture. Designed by internationally recognized American architect Howard C. Crane, the theatre was Adamesque in its décor and architecture. With curved walls and ceiling domes, the Adams style mixed pastel colours, painted ornaments and intricate plasterwork on the walls, ceiling and balconies to reflect ancient Greek or ancient Roman decorative motifs. The central entrance, exterior box office, vertical theatre sign and elegant exterior details were all hallmarks of Crane’s unique and attractive theatre design. The theatre’s Canadian owners, the Allen Theatres, hoped that such elegant decoration would improve the poor reputation of theatre and film that was created by smaller theatres that hosted vaudeville shows for the working classes.

Allen Theatre (Metropolitan), 1922
© Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg – Theatres - Allen 1 (N9862)

The Allen Theatres, owned by Jay J. and Jules Allen, was a Canadian chain that was proud to promote Canadian culture and film. Before Hollywood dominated the film industry, Canadian films were played in Allen theatres across the country, and the company toted its Canadian heritage in advertising campaigns. Despite its early dominance, the Allen chain eventually went bankrupt and an American company bought the Metropolitan Theatre in 1923. The Metropolitan is one of only four surviving Allen theatres in Canada.

The Metropolitan Theatre, the first movie palace in Canada, was designated a National Historic Site in 1991.

For more This Week in History stories about theatres in Canada, please read The Grand Old Lady of Granville Street, The Show Place of Toronto, A Gem of a Theatre, Something for Everyone, Take a Bow, The Granada, A Theatre of Dreams, and There’s No Business Like Show Business.

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