Capitol Memories Linger On

Capitol Theatre, Cornwall, exterior, 1947
Theatre photographs
Reference Code: RG 56-11-0-46-1
Courtesy Archives of Ontario, I0011937

  (Visit The Archives Site)

The Capitol Theatre

A display in memory of the Capitol Theatre now greets the public as they enter the front lobby of the Cornwall Public Library.

Local officials cut the ribbon marking the official opening of  the Capitol Theatre display to the public at the Cornwall Public Library. From left are: Former Heritage Cornwall (LACAC) Chairman, Denis Carter-Edwards; Former Cornwall Public Library board Vice-Chairman, and Heritage Cornwall  member, Bill LaSalle; Dena Rozon, Manager, Ontario Communications Services, Parks Canada; former Mayor Brian Sylvester and Bill Manson, former local Chief Librarian.

Four former members of Heritage Cornwall (LACAC) pose in front of the Capitol Theatre display at the Cornwall Public Library. From Left are: Former chairman, Dennis Carter Edwards; former Vice-Chairman and Secretary, Marjorie Thorpe; Media Consultant and Webmaster Bill LaSalle and Achim Jankowski, former Treasurer.

Death Of The Capitol Tragic Blow 

Demolition Photos By Ida Hurtubise

One of the great tragedies in the 90s was the destruction of the Capitol Theatre. After a long and faithful struggle to protect the historic site, it was demolished. 

The first Save The Capitol committee spent years keeping the theatre alive. The first attempt offered classic movie hits from the past and live theatre. Later a changed committee turned to first-run new movies. But as it was later learned distributors offered the best of the new releases to theatre chains that have more than one building. The one-theatre people get what's left. That's one of the reasons you now see so many multi-theatre buildings replacing the historic buildings of the past.

Thousands of other people and groups across the country offered financial support. With the provincial government clinging to earlier statements they had no plans to use the Capitol property it remained a bump in the earth as memories of lost heritage plucked at our heart strings. 

A letter written a while back by Cornwall's Gary Villeneuve said it best. 
So here are some excerpts from his writings.

"Before the Capitol, seven other city buildings had been used to exhibit movies. Two were genuine theatres, four were makeshift installations in commercial buildings and one was a public meeting/reception hall. There was no looking back when the 1360-seat Capitol opened in January of 1928."

 Gary said the Capitol was one of about 100 large motion picture palaces built in Canada between 1915 and 1930. Considered a phenomenon in the history of architecture, the palaces were spurred by a burgeoning Hollywood industry and although movies were their main raison d'etre, most were equipped with large stages since vaudeville acts regularly accompanied movie presentations. The palaces worked wonders on attendance figures and gave movies the respectability which Hollywood had sought since its early days.

"Movie theatres of the 1920s were among the most ornate buildings ever conceived. Generally, Canadian palaces were decorated on variations of the Adam style, and such was the case for the Capitol's inner and outer lobbies. However, 15 of the original 100 palaces stood apart by sporting unusual atmospheric auditoriums, so called because of their exotic decorative themes and sky ceilings on which stars and drifting clouds were projected."

Gary went on to note that above the audience, clouds, stars and other celestial effects hovered against a dark blue, elliptical ceiling. The idea was to show movies amidst the splendour of far away places which most patrons could only dream about. "In the largest palaces, the architecture was mind-boggling and the surreal beauty of the auditoriums left early movie-goers awestruck. Some theatres easily outdazzled everything being shown on their screens."

Gary's letter said although the Capitol looked terrible in the final days, specialists from the Ontario Heritage Foundation found the damage to be mostly cosmetic and very repairable.

"Because the Capitol had been declared a national heritage building, federal and provincial governments would have provided nearly 75 percent of the nearly five million dollars required to restore it." Gary notes that the costs incurred by the Cornwall Aces franchise would have more than paid for the city's share of restoring and upgrading the Capitol with enough left over to maintain and operate it for a generation.

His letter noted that written concern was offered by several major heritage and architectural agencies and major magazines and newspapers featured the Capitol within their pages because of their concern and interest in the building before and after its demolition.

Let's hope that mistakes from our past will help us to be better prepared for future decisions.