Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 4 – Broadway Theatre

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

The Broadway Theatre in 1917. Photo: VPL Special Collections 20365

The southeast corner of Broadway at Main (now a parking lot) was once home to Mount Pleasant’s own movie theatre! The Broadway Theatre (2530 Main St)  was built on property owned by Charles M. Bowman in 1916 for the Broadway Theatre Company Ltd. and was designed by William Frederick Gardiner (1884-1951), who designed many institutional and commercial buildings in Vancouver during the course of his long and prolific career. Retail businesses occupied the street-level spaces along Main street and there were offices above on the 2nd floor. The grand opening was held on October 16, 1916, and featured Pauline Frederick in “The Moment Before”.

Vancouver Sun, December 23, 1921

The history of the Broadway Theatre in Mount Pleasant is an interesting one. The first Broadway Theatre opened in 1912 with a seating capacity of 450 at 114 East Broadway (at Quebec) and was operated by Frank H. Gow (later with Famous Players Canadian Corp. Ltd.). Frank H. Gow managed the Broadway Theatre for the remainder of his career. A classified advertisement for a doorman for the new theatre stated that the ideal candidate was to be “sober and industrious”.

Screen Shot 2019-12-04 at 9.28.55 PM
Advert for the Broadway Theatre from the Vancouver Daily World Oct 11, 1912.
Vancouver Daily World. June 7, 1913.

In 1934, the Broadway Theatre was completely renovated and reequipped offering “Mount Pleasant citizens a completely new standard of motion picture entertainment”. The refreshed theatre reopened Christmas day complete with new “Dunlopillo” seats and a modern front entrance designed by Townley & Matheson in conjunction with Dixon & Murray Ltd.

The Province< December 22, 1934.

The Broadway Theatre closed in 1961 and was torn down shortly thereafter. The lot (actually two city lots) has been empty ever since.

Screen Shot 2019-12-03 at 11.17.04 PM
Google Streetview from April 2009 of the former location of the Broadway Theatre.

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