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Empress Theatre

Fort Macleod

Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Empress Theatre is a two-storey brick structure, located on one urban lot on Fort Macleod's historic main street.

Heritage Value
The Empress Theatre is significant as one of the last remaining examples of small town theatre architecture in Alberta. As the last remaining theatre in Fort Macleod, the Empress is also representative of the social and cultural life of the town since the theatre's construction in 1912.

The Empress Theatre was built during a period of prosperity for Fort Macleod: in the years before World War One, rail lines were being constructed, the ranching industry developed, and land opened for settlement. The theatre was important to the social life of any prairie town, and was often designed with ornate architecture and luxurious furnishings. Although the exterior of the Empress was quite plain, to match the streetscape of Fort Macleod, it was heralded as a first class theatre and eventually provided seating for four hundred with such amenities as plush chairs and tiffany-style lamps.

Although it has become exclusively a movie theatre, historically it was a cultural centre in southern Alberta, hosting vaudeville acts (indicating the importance of Fort Macleod to the North American theatrical circuit), community plays, concerts, lectures, meetings, and political rallies. It enjoyed a particular heyday in the early 1940s (and the interior was richly refurnished at this point) when the wartime economy fuelled money into movie-going and before the advent of television.

The building is an important part of the historic character of Fort Macleod's main street.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1083)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the exterior of the Empress Theatre include:
- rectangular form, scale and massing;
- brick facade of locally manufactured bricks including two corner projecting brickwork piers on south (front) facade;
- flat roof with curved parapet with decorative brick trim;
- large arched entrance;
- fenestration pattern including an oculus window that lights the projection room;
- projecting marquee sign;
- placement along the historic streetscape;
- projecting cornice;
- symmetrical decorative stucco panels.

Original remaining elements and fittings of the interior of the Empress Theatre such as the:
- theatre proper with its balcony;
- seating and decorative details;
- original dressing rooms, with graffiti from visiting performers;
- neon tulip on theatre's ceiling;
- projection booth.


Street Address: 235 - 24 Street
Community: Fort Macleod
Boundaries: Lot 23, Block 436, Plan 92B
Contributing Resources: Building: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
13 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
92 B

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
49.725734 -113.407387 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type
5510841 326498 Digital Maps NAD 83


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1982/03/10

Historical Information

Built: 1912 to 1912
Period of Significance:
Theme(s): Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Sports and Leisure
Historic Function(s): Leisure : Auditorium, Cinema or Nightclub
Current Function(s): Leisure : Auditorium, Cinema or Nightclub

Fort Macleod was the destination of the NWMP after their cross-country trek of 1874. Originally the town was located on an island I the Oldman River, but it moved to its present site in the 1880s. The years prior to the First World War were very prosperous for the town. At that time, four theatres, including the Empress, operated in town. Built in 1912, the Empress was heralded as a "first class theatre", on of a string of western theatres. It hosted many vaudreville acts in addition to being a movie house, indicating the importance of Fort Macleod to the North American theatrical circuit. Grafitti on the dressing room walls indicate that traveling performers came from as far away as Australia and New York City. The theatre was a very important component of the social life of any prairie town. The architecture reflected this and they were often luxuriously decorated. The Empress provided seating for four hundred in comfortable plush chairs. The ceiling of the building was of pressed tin upon which a neon tulip was superimposed during the 1930s. Handsome tiffany-styled lamps were used for lighting and the theatre, while by no means as elaborate as larger urban theatres, was comfortable and welcoming.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0489
Designation File: DES 1083
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 22344
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 1083)
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