Saint John, New Brunswick

Imperial Theatre Saint John, New Brunswick

   Saint John has recently added an old addition to its uptown sites. The Imperial Theatre of Saint John reopened its doors on May 1994 after along period of restoration. The Imperial Theatre of Saint John is one of Saint John's old historical sites beautifully restored to its original splendor. Since the first day of it's reopening the Imperial Theatre had packed audiences for all it's shows. Saint Johners are proud of their Theatres success and expect to see it continue on well into the future. Come in and enjoy the "Greatest Little City in the East", Saint John, New Brunswick!

   The original Imperial Theatre was designed by Philadelphia architect Albert Westover, and was built in 1912 and 1913 by the Keith-Albee vaudeville chain of New York City and their Canadian subsidiary, the Saint John Amusements Company Ltd. The theatre was designed as a modern adaptation of the Italian Renaissance, and opened on September 19, 1913, and was used both for live vaudeville acts as well as "talkies". In 1929, it was renamed the Capitol Theatre, and like most vaudeville houses across the continent, became a cinema.

   The Imperial Theatre reopened in May, 1994 after being restored to its original 1913 Victorian splendor. Imperial Theatre is Atlantic Canada's busiest and most beautiful venue for live performance. Incorporating state-of-the-art theatrical equipment and an enlarged stage. It seats 900 in comfort, affording excellent acoustics and sightlines. Imperial Theatre is fully accessible to the disabled, and features a listening assistance system for the hearing impaired.

   The people of Saint John are proud of 'their' theatre. This claim of pride has been made indisputable by the attendance rates for shows at Imperial Theatre which have been 88% on average! Sold out performances, box office breaking records, and standing ovations have become the norm at Imperial Theatre!

The article below was taken from the New Brunswick Reader, September 19/98.

   0n Friday, Sept. 19, 1913, the Imperial Theatre opened to the public with a gala performance by Saint John performers. Seats were sold in advance and the alphabetical list of patrons was included in the opening-night program. It was a year and three months in the making and workmen specialized in marble, stage equipment, decorative work and plaster garniture were brought from New York and Philadelphia to give touches of exclusiveness to the building on a site formerly occupied by stables and rickety buildings.

   It was officially opened by Lieutenant-Governor Josiah Woods, who pulled the long ribbon that started the curtain rolling upward amidst a shower of American Beauty roses falling from the proscenium arch. A. Paul Keith, heir to the large Keith-Albee theatre chain, clapped Walter Golding, the Imperial's first manager, on the back and said "Now sir, we Americans are going back home and will leave this theatre in your hands. Use it as if it were your very own, keep it clean on the screen, stage and in its upkeep, and don't be a dog in the manager if some good road shows come along."

   It was conceived as a Broadway roadhouse at a time when Saint John was a major theatre town; it was one of seven other theatres in the city. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the owners wired from New York that: "Your country is at war - ours will follow shortly. Use house as your own and forget profits." The theatre became the centre of the recruiting and fund raising for the war effort in the city and ran a major deficit each year of the war. Actor Donald Sutherland remembered being in the theatre with his father during a civil defence meeting during the Second World War. Citizens were concerned about a German air attack and Sutherland says his father stood up and addressed the gathering in an attempt to cut off increasingly hysterical debate: "If German planes happen to come near Saint John, chances are it will be foggy and they won't see anything ... and if it's not foggy, they'll look down and figure the place has already been bombed out."

   It was converted to a movie house when Famous Players bought the building in 1929 and changed the name to the Capitol. The last theatrical performance took place in 1952, the Dominion Drama Festival. It remained a movie house until 1957 when then-owners the Davis sisters, gave it to the Full Gospel Assembly. In late 1982, Jack MacDougall and Susan Bate put a dollar down to buy the building, with a commitment to raise the million-dollar balance within a year. The community responded, but it was not until May, 1994, after a $11.3-million reconstruction project, that the theatre officially reopened

   The original architect was Albert E. Westover from Philadelphia; the architect who oversaw the reconstruction in the 1990s, Douglas Kochel, was a native of Philadelphia living in Saint John. It was renovated much to the way it was in 1913, especially in terms of the plaster decorations and the colours of the walls and the ceilings. There is no longer a green cork floor and the seats are now burgundy instead of green leather. The original capacity was 1,500 to 1,200 seats and standing room for 300. But the original theatre didn't have any lobbies and the seats were smaller and closer together. Capacity now is 908. Seven tractor-trailer loads of ornamental plaster were required as part of the reconstruction.

   The fifth Imperial season of entertainment kicked off this week.

   "For performers it's a wonderful space," says acting manager Peter Smith. "There's something really special about the shape of the balcony. Performers have told me it feels like its embracing you - that it's giving you a great big hug when you're standing on the stage. There's nothing else quite like this in Canada."

   "We don't have any ghosts in the building, but I do have a picture of Walter Golding, the original theatre manager, sitting in my office and he's watching me all the time to make sure we do it right."

   Reader staff in conversation with Peter Smith, acting manager of the Imperial, and from files.

Imperial Theatre View from StageImperial Theatre ChandlerImperial Theatre Exterior
Imperial Theatre InteriorSaint John String Quartet

Imperial Theatre Seating Plan

Main FloorBalcony

For more information on the Imperial theatre please visit the Imperial Theatre