Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 6 – Canada’s first movie house

When I am researching one topic I often come across random historical tidbits that I think might be interesting to research one day.  These tidbits sometimes end up as full-fledged stories and sometimes they just stay as random historical tidbits.  I have collected quite a few, so I thought it might be fun to present them in the form of “treats” for a local history advent calendar. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Vancouver history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Day 6: The first movie house in Canada was located in Vancouver…

Back in 1898 in an old store/warehouse on Cordova Street, John A. Schuberg introduced the movies to Vancouver. Four years later in 1902, Schuberg, known professionally as Johnny Nash, opened the Edison Electric Theatre on the same street. It was Canada’s first movie theatre.

Portion of Insurance plan of the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, July 1897, revised June 1903 (Sheet 6). Library & Archives Canada

Schuberg (1874-1953), who was the son of Swedish immigrants in Minnesota, married a woman named Nettie Burrows from Winnipeg in 1898. They traveled to Vancouver for their honeymoon. They were still in Vancouver when Edison’s Kinetograph, the first movie machine, came on the market. Schuberg went to Seattle and bought a machine for $250 and some short subject films of the Spanish-American War. He set up a temporary shop on Cordova Street. Attendance for his silent films was low until he decided to add “sound” to his films:

“I got behind the screen with some tin to make thunder and a couple of guns to add some realism.” he recalled. “After that we had trouble emptying the place for the next show.” – Vancouver Sun, December 15, 1953

After a sold out two-week run, he decided to take his picture show on the road. Schuberg fashioned a black-painted tent as a portable movie house and toured Canada’s fairs and carnivals with his film show. They toured Canada and the US for the next few years until the fall of 1902, when they returned to Vancouver and opened a permanent theatre on Cordova Street called the Edison Electric Theatre. This was the first movie theatre in Canada and the second in North America. The first film shown? A 500-foot film, The Eruption of Mt. Pelee, directed by Georges Méliès.


I recently updated and expanded this story for Scout Magazine, “You Should Know That Gastown was Home to Canada’s First Movie Theatre

4 thoughts on “Local History Advent Calendar 2018 – Day 6 – Canada’s first movie house

  1. Really digging your Advent Countdown Christine, and was excited to see the namesake of my first little underground cinema at 916 Commercial Drive (1995-1997) celebrated today. I still have the sign I made from plywood and sheet metal hanging in my apartment. I didn’t know about the rear-screen handmade sound effects Schuberg/Nash was using, very cool. Keep ’em coming…! There is a picture of Schuberg’s black tent in this article: http://parkscanadahistory.com/series/chs/13/chs13-1f.htm

    1. Thanks, Alex! I never knew anything about Schuberg until I stumbled upon his obit in the newspaper. He is a fascinating early film pioneer. Thanks for the link.

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