Arts & CultureCampus & CityFeatures

Garneau Theatre Celebrates 75 Years

75 years covers a lot of ground in the cinematic world.

In 1940, the world saw Disney release Pinocchio, Katherine Hepburn star in The Philadelphia Story and Charlie Chaplin fascinate in The Great Dictator. And as it happens, the bright, beautiful sign that bathes 109 Street with flashing red and green lights was there for all of it. The Garneau Theatre turns 75 years-old this week, and Metro Cinema, the company that currently occupies the space, is throwing a huge party to celebrate.

Fast Forward to 2015: The Garneau Theatre at 75 is a four day celebration of the rich history of the theatre. They are showing great films from the 40s, as well as some more current fan favourites, and hosting some events to show off the theatre’s rich history.

The Garneau was built in 1940 in a race to build the first theatre in what was, at the time, a blossoming Edmonton suburb.

“It’s hard to think of this as at the time, it filled the same suburban film niche as what South Edmonton Common is today,” says Metro Cinema’s executive director David Cheoros.

Since its inception in 1940, The Garneau has seen many tenants occupy its grand stage. Going from a suburban movie theatre, to being operated by a theatre company in the 70s and then being ran by the Magic Lantern movie company from 1990 until 2011, it has had many uses over the years.

“It’s gone through different iterations but has always had a community aspect to it,” Cheoros notes. “Especially as the neighbourhood grew up so much around it.”

The current occupant of the theatre is the Metro Cinema company, an Edmonton-based not-for-profit charity that has been operating in the city since 1977. Metro had mainly been operating in the downtown core, in venues like Ziedler Hall at The Citadel Theatre and the library. Now that they are using The Garneau space, they have taken a different approach to showing films than conventional theatres.

“In another theatre you would shave 20 or 30 different films over the course of the year, here we have about 350,” Cheoros says. “It is a new toy every day.”

Along with playing more films in a year than has been done in Edmonton before, Metro Cinema is working with the owners of the space (two Edmonton developers) to restore the Garneau to its original glory. Along with making staggering improvements to the sound, lighting and projection, they are also slowly working towards making the whole experience excellent for patrons. The owners renovated the entire front of the theatre, updating the retail spaces occupied by local businesses like Transcend and La Poutine. The dedication to making the Garneau into an updated theatre is part of their goal to make attending the theatre into more than seeing a movie, it’s an entire experience.

“There aren’t many single screen theatres left,” Cheoros says. “You go to a movie house and you’re shuffled into one of 18 little boxes. Trying to find a place where there is a sense of grandeur to the experience.”

Though Metro is updating the interior, those who love their glimmering sign need not worry that it will disappear anytime soon. The sign, and three of the theatre’s walls are protected historical structures. This is partly what helped to fund the renovations to the front of the block, as they could apply for civic funding to maintain the historic buildings.

Part of the 75th anniversary celebration is Flash Bash, where they will be showing Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, hosting a sci-fi themed photo booth and holding a silent auction. Metro is also encouraging anyone with fond memories of The Garneau at any point over its long life to email them to garneau@metrocinema.org so they can share them at Flash Bash!

The anniversary celebrations run this weekend. The full schedule of the festivities can be found at metrocinema.org

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