I live in the city of Cambridge, Ontario, located about an hour west of Toronto, Canada. Our city began in 1973. when the small city of Galt merged with the nearby towns of Preston and Hespeler to create the city of Cambridge. While new residents don’t have any difficulties with telling people they are from Cambridge, long time older residents still call their area by their original name, defining for everyone which part of town they are from.
As developers came into the area and began to slowly change the various areas, several older residents began to feel the loss of their past. One of the defining moments were the eventual closings of each and every theatre in the city. To see a film today, you have to drive to a strip mall and enter one of those mega-mall type theatre complexes. Theatre goers today do not realize what they are missing, as they have never experienced the grand old theatres in their prime.
It used to be an occasion to go to the theatre to watch a movie. Couples got dressed up to attend. Each theatre had uniformed ushers that would check your ticket, then lead you to your seating area. The national anthem was played at the start of the evening’s presentation. The projectionist high above the seated crowd would flash an “intermission” announcement across the screen halfway through the movie for several reasons. This would give him time to rewind the first 16 mm film back onto the reel, then load the second reel onto the projector. Intermission also gave patrons time to purchase snacks at the concession stand outside the seating area, which brought in more revenue for the theatre.
These old theatres were built in prominent locations usually in the downtown area, when these areas were regarded as the most important high profile areas of the city. The fronts of the theatre typically had the finest and grandest signage available so they would stand out and catch as much attention as possible. These large signs and grand marques were often lit up with neon lighting, which glowed brightly at night. To see these signs from a distance, they had the power to lure you towards the entrance.
Here in Cambridge, we had three theatres in the downtown Galt section, with the Palace on Main Street, and the Grand and the Capitol on Water Street. In Preston, there was the Park Theatre on King Street, and in Hespeler, there was the Queens Theatre on Queen Street. Sadly, none of these theatres exist today.
Today, going to the theatre is a very different experience. Perhaps the sound is clearer and louder, and the image is digital and crystal clear. Those reclining chairs are very comfortable, and the popcorn bucket is huge. However, after the movie ends, there is no looking over your shoulder, getting one last glimpse of the wonderful and ornate building you are in. There are no such details in these new movie houses today. Those magic moments can only be experienced in a single screen vintage theatre, of which so few actually remain anywhere today. If you can, though, go to one of these vintage theatres and see for yourself what you are missing. It is an experience like no other, and something you will never forget.