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Key Number: HS 54219
Site Name: Garneau Theatre
Other Names:
Site Type: 0204 - Social and Recreational: Theatre or Cinema


ATS Legal Description:
Twp Rge Mer
52 24 4

Address: 8708-8712 - 109 Street
Number: 8-12
Street: 109
Avenue: 87
Town: Edmonton
Near Town:


Type Number Date View


Style: Art Deco or Moderne
Plan Shape: Rectangular
Storeys: Storeys: 1
Foundation: Basement/Foundation Wall Material: Concrete
Superstructure: Brick
Superstructure Cover: Composition: Plaster or Stucco
Roof Structure: Flat
Roof Cover:
Exterior Codes: Massing of Units: Single Detached
Wings: Unknown
Wall Design and Detail: None
Plain Eaves
Roof Trim - Eaves: Plain Soffit
Roof Trim Material - Eaves: Wood
Roof Trim - Verges: Plain Soffit
Roof Trim Material - Verges: Wood
Towers, Steeples and Domes: None
Dormer Type: None
Chimney Location - Side to Side: None
Roof Trim - Special Features: None
Window - Structural Opening Shape: Flat
Window - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Head: Plain Flat
Window - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Sides: Plain
Window - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Material: Wood
Window - Sill Type: Plain Slip Sill
Window - Sill Material: Wood
Window - Trim Within Structural Opening - Head: Plain
Window - Trim Within Structural Opening - Sides: Plain
Window - Number of Sashes: One
Window - Opening Mechanism: Single or Double Hung
Window - Special Types: None
Window - Pane Arrangements: 2 over 2
Main Entrance - Location: Centre (Facade)
Main Entrance - Structural Opening Shape: Flat
Main Entrance - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Head: Plain Flat
Main Entrance - Trim Outside Structural Opening - Sides: Plain
Main Entrance - Trim Outside Structural Opening Material: Wood
Main Entrance - Trim Within Structural Opening - Head: Plain
Main Entrance - Trim Within Structural Opening - Sides: Plain
Main Entrance - Number of Leaves: 1
Main Entrance - Number of Panels Per Leaf: 1
Main Entrance - Leaves - Special Feature: Glass
Main Stairs - Location and Design: None
Main Porch - Type: Closed Porch
Main Porch - Special Features: None
Main Porch - Material: Concrete
Exterior: The rear brick structure rests on concrete foundation walls. Clay tiles are used in the partitions to provide a high level of fire resistance. The flat tar-and-gravel built-up roof is supported by an open-web steel truss.
The marquee is supported by a three-tiered striped buttress-like structure finished in white stucco, which creates an effective contrast with the exposed brick of the auditorium block. On that portion, red brick is enlivened by strips of brown brick, and at the south end, panels of glass blocks. The theatre's name is spelled out in the same brown brick, and over it a white cantilevered canopy acts as a rain hood.
Interior: The basement contains a residential suite, and a lounge for ushers. There is also an office over the lobby on the south end of the theatre. Colour was used to great effect. The walls of the auditorium featured stripes of sea-green and ultramarine, the ceiling was similarly decorated but with colours ranging from gold through fawn to dark brown, while the proscenium was highlighted in gold. The seats (excluding the 'two's company' seats) were covered in blue leather with mohair backs. The walls and ceiling have since been refinished in an acoustically-dead white finish and the proscenium has been covered by red curtains. The lobby features a curved, stepped-down ceiling, and a pair of columns that define an alcove. Glass blocks originally illuminated the alcove; they have been hidden behind a curtain, and can only be seen from the exterior. The lobby had a carpet that featured an assertive curvilinear pattern, the doors and columns were gumwood, and the ceiling had attractive semi-cirular light fixtures. The theatre was fitted with steam heat and an effective ventilation system that function today with few improvements.
Environment: Neighbourhood: Garneau The theatre portion is contained within a brick rectangular block, 60 by 125 feet and approximately 30 feet high, and is located at the rear (west) of the property and oriented north-south. The stores and restaurant face 109 Street. The entrance to the theatre is inserted between two storefronts beneath the marquee. The tall sign above the marquee spells out 'Garneau' in vertically-stacked letters. From the theatre entrance, a passage leads past the ticket booth, up a few steps, and widens into a lobby situated at the south end of the theatre block. This opens onto the theatre auditorium, with the screen (and a small stage) at the north end. The Garneau Theatre is a distinctive landmark in the area between Old Strathcona and the University of Alberta. The Garneau district consists of Edwardian homes, 1930s and '40s bungalows, modern apartment blocks, as well as the retail area along 109 Street. In this area the Garneau Theatre is a conspicuous structure, and prior to the demolition of the Varscona Theatre on 99 Avenue and 109 Street, the Garneau district featured Edmonton's only two Moderne theatres.
Condition: Good (1993)
Alterations: The penthouse addition in 1942 added a roof level fan room as well as a lounge area. Few changes have been made to the exterior of the auditorium block, principally the blocking in of a few minor openings on the west wall next to the lane. The 'love seats' were removed in 1960 when the theatre was re-seated, and the larger red seats installed in their place provided a reduced capacity of 630 seats. 1952-69 - A variety of interior and exterior additions and alterations are done to the theatre, restaurant and shops.


Construction: Construction Date:
Construction Started
Usage: Usage Date:
Motion picture theatre
Owner: Owner Date:
Arthur E. Glover
Imperial Oil Limited
Suburban Theatre Ltd.

Architect: W. G. Blakey
Builder: Suburban Theatres Limited
Craftsman: N/A
History: In Canada and the United States the first generation of moving-picture theatres occupied downtown locations. In response to the development of the suburbs in the 1930s, theatres began to be built in outlying areas. Edmonton's first 'neighbourhood theatre' was the 500-seat Roxy at 124 Street and 107 Avenue, built in 1938 by Suburban Theatres Limited. Two years later Suburban Theatres Limited built the Garneau Theatre, named after its location in the Garneau district.

This south-side community adjacent to the University of Alberta, commemorates Laurent Garneau (1840-1921), a Métis trader and politician, who homesteaded in Strathcona in 1874. (Garneau's house at 11103 Saskatchewan Drive stood on the site of the Humanities Building at the University of Alberta). In 1913 the land around the theatre was subdivided by Arthur E. Glover, and six years later the site at the north-east corner of 109 Street (formerly 5th Street N.W.) and 87 Avenue (formerly 5th Avenue N.W.), near the south end of the High Level Bridge, was purchased by Imperial Oil Limited. The oil company built a service station, which was demolished to make way for the Garneau Theatre.

The Princess Theatre (1914) at 10335 Whyte Avenue in Strathcona had been the only theatre showing films on Edmonton's south side.
When the proposed construction of the Garneau Theatre was announced, the former president of Suburban Theatres, I. F. Shacker, quickly built the Varscona Theatre five blocks to the south at Whyte Avenue and 109 Street, and opened it in July 1940 (three months before the larger and more expensive Garneau).

The Garneau Theatre was designed by an Edmonton architect, William George Blakey (1885-1975). Blakey was born in England and received his architectural training and experience in Sunderland, County Durham. He emigrated to Canada in 1907, made his way to Edmonton and was employed by A. M. Jeffers, the Provincial Architect, for one year.

He then worked in the office of Roland W. Lines until 1915, when he left for World War I. In 1919 Blakey returned and began his own practice. Six years later he went into partnership with his brother, Richard Palin Blakey (1879-1963). William Blakey joined the Alberta Association of Architects in 1913, and served as Association President 1924-1925. He was also a member of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Blakey designed a number of important Edmonton buildings, including Christ Church (1921), the Edmonton Journal building (1920-1921; demolished in 1988), the R.C.M.P. Administration Building (1934), the Masonic Temple (1930), and Roxy Theatre (1938).

Blakey's transition from traditional to modern design is evident when contrasting the Moderne styled Garneau Theatre to the Gothic Revival Masonic Temple. The Varscona Theatre was designed by Rule, Wynn and Rule, an important local architectural partnership that helped to establish modern architecture in Alberta. Together the Garneau and the Varscona introduced and early modern design often called Art Deco or Moderne to Edmonton and Alberta more generally.

Since the subsequent changes to the Roxy Theatre and the demolition of the Varscona in 1987, the Garneau stands as the City's best example of early modernism.

The Garneau opened evening of October 24, 1940. The first film was the 'Great White Waltz', starring Louise Rainer and Fernand Gravet.
The theatre was originally an independent house, but within a year it joined the Famous Plays chain, ensuring access to good first-run movies.

The construction of the theatre included commercial space on either side of the theatre entrance. The space at the corner of 87 Avenue was designed to be a restaurant and is still used as one, while the stores north of the theatre entrance have housed a series of retail and service businesses. The first restaurant was Joan's Coffee Bar, followed by the Garneau Theatre Coffee Shop and is presently occupied by Pharos Pizza Restaurant. In 1942 architects Rule, Wynn and Rule designed a penthouse for the building, which houses a fan room and a lounge area. The original two-room restaurant was remodeled by architects Blakey and Blakey in 1948 to become a single large room with counter service, but that layout has since been changed. The Beauty Spot, a beauty salon directed at university women, was another original tenant. The theatre and the shops are currently vacant.

The Theatre originally had 780 seats - large for a suburban theatre - in a deep auditorium, with the balcony (or the lodges and terrace) situated behind, rather than over, the orchestra. This arrangement was popular among American film and vaudeville theatres from the 1920s to '40s. It was also less expensive to build than the traditional arrangement of a balcony overhanging the orchestra. The middle section originally featured 'two's company' seats - better known as 'love seats' - at the aisles in alternate rows. These double seats without armrests, coloured red in contrast to the blue leather of all of the other seats, allowed couples to sit together, but caused some embarrassment when strangers were forced to share them. This was their first use in Alberta. They were removed in 1960 when the theater was re-seated, and the larger red seats installed in their place provided a reduced capacity of 630 seats.

The original furniture in the lobby was supplied by Eaton's to the MacDonald Hotel to be used for a reception held there for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their Royal visit in June 1939. The ensemble consisted of the two throne chairs, two blue settees, six gold chairs, and two side chairs. Suburban Theatres purchased the furniture from the Canadian National Railways, then the owner of the MacDonald Hotel. All of it has been removed from the theatre.

1919 - August. Imperial Oil acquires the site.
1929 - Imperial Oil builds a service station on the property.
1940 - March. Suburban Theatres Limited takes out a building permit to construct a theatre and stores. W. G. Blakey is retained as the architect. (Drawings in Provicial Archives of Alberta).
1940 - October 24. Garneau Theatre opens.
1941 - February. Suburban Theatres Limited purchases the property from Imperial Oil. The Assurance Fund Value is $80,000.
1941 - August. Suburban Theatres Limited takes out a permit 'additional to' the previous one, to construct a theatre and stores valued at $50,785.
1941 - September. Property is leased by Suburban Theatres Limited to Famous Plays Canadian Corporation for ten years. (Lease is subsequently renewed.) 1942 - Addition to building. Penthouse holding fan room and a lounge is designed by Rule, Wynn and Rule. (Drawings in Canadian Architectural Archives.) 1943 - April. Building permit is acquired for alterations and additions for office accommodation.
1948 - April. Building permit is acquired for alterations to coffee shop, Blakey and Blakey Architects. (Drawings in City of Edmonton Archives.) 1952-69 - A variety of interior and exterior additions and alterations are done to the theatre, restaurant and shops.
1978 - June. Title is transferred to current owner.
1991 - Theatre and shops are vacant.


Status: Status Date:
Designation Status: Designation Date:
Municipal A List

Register: A60
Record Information: Record Information Date:
S. Khanna 1992/12/11


Alberta Register of Historic Places: 4664-0218
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