Over the 20thcentury, Windsor was home to almost 20 movie theatres of various size and success. A few of them, for the better part of that century, had a glorious run in this city and were staples of the local entertainment culture; two of them – The Olde Walkerville Theatre, and the Capitol Theatre, still have movie screenings in some form to this date. Their resiliency is incredible in the current online streaming culture of the day. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular ones from last century.
The Empire, The Palace, The Vanity, The Kent, and The Odeon (to name just 5, there are more) were at one point operating at the same time, these five cinemas were all mere minutes apart and operating within the city core. The Empire, Palace, Vanity and Odeon were all downtown, and The Kent was on Ottawa St; operating just down the street from it was the Park Theatre. Such success is emblematic of a time when movies were viewed one way, on the big screen. Their commercial success allowed not just for larger theatres to operate downtown, but also smaller theatres in individual neighbourhoods, such as the two on Ottawa St. and the Royal Theatre on Sandwich St. to operate as well. It seems like a vibrant time in this city to be so full of movie-going options.
Operating just a few blocks south of the Palace on Ouellette Ave. was the Vanity Theatre, opening in 1937, and closing in the late 1980’s. This building would later be several failed nightclubs, including its final incarnation as the Blind Dog, and demolished in 2016. Notably, Vanity Theatre once hosted a world premiere of The Devil’s Brigade in 1968. With such cinematic glory in its past, it’s tempting to believe such glory will return this century.
In the other direction, take a left on Pitt Street West, and on top of the current parking lot for the Federal Building, once stood the Empire Theatre. The Empire opened on December 5 1918 and proudly advertised to be ‘Windsor’s lowest price theatre’ – wouldn’t it be great if we saw more proclamations like this today? Wouldn’t it be great if we saw more theatres today?
The Palace will likely be the theatre and building most readers remember. It ran for nearly a century, eventually closing the doors permanently on Jan 7 2012 to make way for the new Windsor Star building. It originally opened in 1918 as the Allen Theatre, a national chain. Simon Meretsky bought it in 1923 and for nearly 30 years it was home to great vaudeville acts and Hollywood movies. From there, it carried on under several franchises – Famous Players, Odeon, I remember it most clearly as the Cineplex Odeon when I was growing up here in the 1990’s. Though it changed hands many times and opened under so many different names, it was always the Palace, a beautiful charming relic of the past, and for most of us, our favorite place by far in Windsor to see a movie. For more information on the Palace’s storied past, please see here: https://windsorstar.com/life/a-history-of-the-palace-theatre
In addition to these larger theatres, there have been several other smaller theatres over the years: Regent Theatre, Super Cinemas, Temple Theatre, Imperial Theatre to name a few. Older perhaps than even those are The Windsor, and the Wyandotte theatres.
There is not a lot of information known about these cinemas, so I reach out you, the cinematic Windsor community. Do you remember these theatres? Please use the Contact form to get in touch if you would like to share your stories with us. The rest of the cinematic Windsor community will greatly appreciate such a unique treasure. We look forward to hearing about the past from you in the future.