100 years and counting

Lisa Goudy
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Mae Wilson Theatre at the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre celebrating centennial this year with six-part concert series

From the moment the Allen Theatre opened on Aug. 18, 1916, performing arts have been a central focus.

"I found a newspaper report in the Sept. 9, 1922 edition of the Moose Jaw Evening Times when the theatre was still the Allen Theatre," said Mandy Higgins, marketing co-ordinator with the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre. "It was reported that the first in a series of Allen symphonic concerts had taken place the night before and 15 local musicians had performed a 30-minute symphony concert."

Now the Mae Wilson Theatre at the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre, the theatre is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with a six-part performing arts series, made possible by a Canadian Heritage Grant. The first concert, featuring Moose Jaw-based group The Bromantics will take place on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. All six shows in the series include at least one local person.

The theatre, designed by Calgary architect James McTeague in 1913, was originally to be the Monarch Theatre, but because of the First World War, it was never completed. The Allen Theatre chain then took over the project and changed some of the original plans.

Known from 1916 to 1922 as the Allen Theatre, it showed silent movies, travelling vaudeville shows and featured local and regional performing artists. The 910-seat theatre was the largest theatre in Saskatchewan at the time. In 1922, it was renamed the Capitol Theatre.

"Of course the Capitol was known as a movie theatre for many years and many people will primarily remember it as being a movie theatre. There were performing arts way back from the very beginning. So it's kind of coming full circle with the performing arts series," said Higgins.

"When the Capitol Theatre took over, it continued to offer performing arts from local people, such as a contest of local fiddlers in 1926."

In 1929, the theatre had its first major renovations. At a cost of $50,000 in 1929 dollars, the theatre became fitted for sound. It was Canada's 21st theatre in the Famous Players Chain to have Movietone and Vitaphone equipment.

On June 14, 1929, 'Close Harmony,' was screened in the Capitol Theatre and it was the first talking picture to be shown in Moose Jaw.

"The Capitol was a popular movie destination in town," said Higgins.

In 1983, because of demand for a modern theatre, the Capitol Theatre was divided into a three theatres as a 652-seat triplex, known as the Capitol 3 Theatre. It operated this way until its closure in 2001.

"That's when the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre builders, under the leadership of the late local arts advocate Gary Hyland ... raised the money necessary to purchase the Capitol Theatre and surrounding buildings in order to renovate them fully and form them into the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre," said Higgins.

The theatre, named the Mae Wilson Theatre, was named in honour of the mother of the late Larry Wilson, who provided a significant sum of money for the purchase of the theatre. The theatre seats 420 people.

"In 2004, the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre officially opened with the Mae Wilson Theatre refurbished to its former glory," said Higgins. "It's got a lot of original mouldings in the theatre. The cherubs that were there when the theatre first opened and if people come and see shows, they'll notice insignia that says 'A' and 'T.' That stands for the Allen Theatre."

Over the last 12 years, thousands of performers have come to the Mae Wilson Theatre with hundreds of people attending each year, including musicals, shows, plays, concerts, ballets and recitals by local and international performers.

"The Mae Wilson Theatre is a recognized and valued performance theatre of many singers, musicians, bands and theatre performers. Several performers expressed during concerts that there are few such venues left in the country with the same ambiance and acoustics," said Higgins.

In the early days of the theatre, many famous vaudeville acts came to the theatre. Since the Mae Wilson Theatre has opened, it has featured performances by artists such as Serena Ryder, Johnny Reid, the Tenors, formerly the Canadian Tenors who have performed there four times, Ian Tyson, Brent Butt, the Stampeders, Connie Kaldor, Susan Aglukark, Buffy St. Marie and George Canyon, to name a few.

Some of those performers were presented by some of the many organizations that rent the theatre each year, including concert performers, three local high schools to put on their annual musical and RuBarb Productions' shows in their season.

"On average when you take everything into account, there's something going on here in the theatre every week of the year," said Higgins. "The theatre is just beautiful. It's great to sit in, beautiful to enjoy acts in and it's come this far and held people in it enjoying the performing arts for 100 years. It's amazing."

The Events: Six shows for theatre's centennial

Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. - The Bromantics. This Moose Jaw-based group performs '50s and '60s rock, motown and funk.

April 2 at 7:30 p.m. - West of Mabou with fiddler Scott Benson of Moose Jaw. "They're going to be playing Cape Breton style fiddle and pipe music," said Higgins. "He usually plays with the Scott Benson Band. A lot of people have heard about that band and for this one, he's returning to his roots and he's bringing some different band members with West of Mabou."

June 4 at 7:30 p.m. - Stadacona Soul. The group is a four-member R&B and pop band. This performance will also include special guests including Sweet Saturday, a local vocal trio.

Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m. - Singer/songwriter Megan Nash.

Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. - The New Montagues, a band fronted by Aaron Ruston of Moose Jaw. This group performs '70s funk and R&B.

Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. - Johnny 2 Fingers & the Deformities. John Dale of Moose Jaw is the frontman of the band.

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy

Organizations: Mae Wilson Theatre, Moose Jaw Cultural Centre, Allen Theatre Capitol Theatre Canadian Heritage Grant The Bromantics Monarch Theatre Canadian Tenors Stampeders

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Calgary, Saskatchewan Canada Mabou Cape Breton

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page