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The Imperial Theatre in Saint John, NB: A Historic Gem

A Century of Culture and Community

Located in the heart of Saint John, New Brunswick, the Imperial Theatre stands as a cultural treasure with a storied past. Its remarkable journey through time has left an indelible mark on the city's cultural landscape. Designed by Philadelphia architect Albert Westover, this historic theatre, opened in 1913, has borne witness to the evolution of entertainment, from vaudeville and silent films to contemporary live performances. In this article, we'll peek behind the curtain into the history, architecture, and significance of the Imperial Theatre.

 

History

The Imperial Theatre's origins trace back to 1912 when it was constructed by the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Corporation vaudeville chain and its Canadian subsidiary, the Saint John Amusements Company Ltd. In its early years, it hosted acts by renowned performers, such as The Dumbbells, one of Canada's pioneer comedy troupes. It also screened silent films featuring iconic stars like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Greta Garbo. "In 1929, it was renamed the Capitol Theatre," the historical record tells us. This shift mirrored the broader trend of vaudeville houses transforming into cinemas across North America. However, from 1957 to 1982, the theatre took on a new role as a meeting place for the Full Gospel Assembly, and its original purpose as an entertainment hub faded into history.

 

Renaissance of the Imperial Theatre

The Imperial Theatre's story took a dramatic turn in the mid-1980s, as a grassroots movement rallied to save this cultural gem. A local taxi driver famously initiated the effort with a symbolic $1 down-payment on a $1 million option to purchase the theatre Over $1.1 million was raised, primarily contributed by the citizens of Saint John, demonstrating a deep sense of community ownership. "The theatre has been restored to its 1913 glory," a quote from the historical record echoes the sentiment of a city that came together to rejuvenate its cultural icon. Original moldings and intricate plasterwork were meticulously repaired or replicated, reviving the theatre's grandeur. Notably, this extensive restoration earned the Imperial Theatre the prestigious designation of a National Historic Site of Canada.

 

Architecture and Technical Details

The Imperial Theatre's architecture, reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance, seamlessly blends classical aesthetics with modern design. "A beautiful old theatre with amazing acoustics," praises a visitor from Waterloo, Ontario. This fully restored Victorian proscenium arch-type facility boasts a spectacular arch that frames the stage beautifully from all angles. Key technical details include a proscenium arch width of 42’ - 6’, height of 26’ - 2’ (at centre line), and various stage dimensions that cater to a wide range of performances.

 

The Imperial Theatre in Saint John, New Brunswick, is not merely a venue for entertainment; it is a testament to the resilience and dedication of a community. Its history, architecture, and ongoing commitment to cultural enrichment make it a cherished institution. Whether you're a local or a traveler, the Imperial Theatre offers a unique blend of historical significance and contemporary cultural experiences. It continues to be a venue where the performing arts thrive, and where history comes alive on stage.