BY KEN R. JOHNSON
The construction of the Strand Theatre in Geraldton in 1936 was eagerly anticipated by the townsfolk and, until its closure in the mid-1980s, the cinema played an important role in the community.
Prior its opening, films were brought in by a local film club and were shown in often cramped spaces to limited-size audiences.
With the arrival of the big screen and the theatre's 500-plus seats, came the opportunity to view the more current full-feature films and enjoy treats that could be purchased from the ever-busy snack bar.
The Theatre Holding Corporation Ltd., owners of the Strand, also laid the cement foundation for a second 800 to 900-seat theatre for Geraldton in early 1938, but for various reasons, it was never completed.
For the town's youngsters, the Saturday afternoon line-up offered an opportunity to go on some often exciting, far-away visual adventure. For the older residents, the matinees and evening performances gave them the opportunity to see at least three different single or double features, extra short films and fairly up-to-date news reels.
It is interesting to note that, originally, Geraldton's movie house was to be called the Rita, but in mid-October of 1936, the name was changed to the Strand.
Mr. Alfred C. Schwartz, was the manager and he and his family occupied the living quarters next door. As a lawyer, he also had an office in the same building.
Mr. Joe Deslaurier was the dedicated and very professional projectionist who spent countless hours at the theatre.
More often as not he was there for afternoon showings as well as the evening performances. His daughter Jeannette, fondly remembered her early days at Geraldton and mentioned that the family actually lived in the theatre for several months.
Along with her sister Rita, she used to cut up movie magazines; her father then used the images of various movie actors to make up the Coming Attractions lobby display board. She also stated that "the films that came to Geraldton were on a circuit," so Mr. Deslaurier really "didn't have a lot of choice in what he wanted to show".
It is possible that the films came to Geraldton after (or before) they were shown at Strand theatres in such communities as Atikokan or Dryden.
Jeannette also stated that she "used to enjoy helping her father pick up and drop off the film canisters at the local train station."
Rita would later be employed as cashier in the ticket booth.
Some of the other dedicated staff who worked at the theatre over time, included Mrs. Dorothy Rose, the ticket taker and (thankfully) the one who kept the house in order. Wilhelmine Smith (former door lady) and Mrs. Kay Penziwal looked after the concession stand.
Friday, Nov. 13, 1936, marked the theatre's formal opening. The feature that day -- entitled Adventure in Manhattan -- starred Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea. Other films that followed soon after included Call of the Wild, Klondike Annie, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
The evening admission was 50 cents (including tax!) while children were charged 10 cents for the Saturday matinee.
A newspaper notice informed the viewing public that pictures were to be changed five times a week and would include features, cartoons, comedies and musical programs. In April of 1947, new projectors were installed and the theatre was refurnished in an "effort to increase the comfort and enjoyment" of the theatre's patrons.
Until the 1950s, the theatre also served as an auditorium for charitable concerts and meetings.
One such event was a war savings stamp show that was produced early in the Second World War.
The Strand also hosted an annual free show for children during the Christmas season.
Often sponsored by various in-town businesses and benevolent groups, they were held on a Saturday morning in mid-December and generally included a feature film and several cartoons or short comedies.
Santa Claus made an appearance and ensured that every youngster "received a bag of candy" as a treat. Hundreds of youngsters from all parts of Geraldton lined up early and eagerly waited for the doors to open and for the magic to begin!
Although Geraldton's Strand Theatre closed in early 1986, the memory of "going to the movies" lives on, as does the recollection that, for a few hours at least, it was possible to leave the northern bush behind mentally and become part of the celluloid world that was being portrayed on the silver screen.
Looking Back is written weekly by one of various writers for the Thunder Bay Museum. For further information visit the museum at 425 Donald St. E., or view its website at www.thunderbaymuseum.com. This article was published in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, August 23, 2015. It is re-printed courtesy of the Thunder Bay Museum.
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