I hope you enjoy this article on the history of the Champlain Theatre!
I chose this subject because I am very interested in the history of the film industry and, since we have our own small theatre in town, I thought that it would be interesting to go over the history of how it came to be. Also, with COVID-19 closing down everything, including all theatres, it made me realise how much times have changed and how important these theatres were, and still are, to small communities.
The History of the Champlain Theatre
The Champlain Theatre is a big source of entertainment for our small town. Whenever it’s open and has an interesting or popular movie playing, you can be sure to see lots of familiar faces gathering to watch the film. It was built by two brothers 71 years ago and this is its story.
According to various rumours, brothers Max and Lou Consky were passing through Mattawa one day and noticed how busy the town was. This sparked an idea that this town would be a great place to house a theatre. It is said that they then approached the Hydro Dam and proposed that they would build a theatre for the town of Mattawa on one condition, that the Hydro Dam would supply the concrete. It would appear that they agreed and the construction of the theatre would be completed in 1949.
Lou and Max Consky were well known for building and opening theatres in small towns across Ontario. Lou spent most of his life running the Molou Theatre in Haliburton and Max ran the Champlain Theatre in town.
While the entrance and the lobby of the theatre is made of sticks and stones, the auditorium is made of a Quonset hut. Quonset huts were created during the beginning of World War II for the U.S. Navy who required lightweight all-purpose buildings that could support the military. These huts could be shipped anywhere and could be easily and quickly assembled without skilled labor. The design of these buildings would later be used in Canada to serve the First Nation Reserves, loggers, fishers and farmers. They are typically made of curved pieces of steel that are bolted together but can also be made of tin or aluminum as well.
Various Images of the Champlain Theatre through the years
Did you know that in total the theatre houses 225 seats for its patrons?
The first film to be viewed in the Champlain Theatre was “Family Honeymoon” starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in 1949.
During the 50s and 60s, 3 movies would be shown each week, twice a night with a matinee on Saturday afternoons. The matinee consisted of a 15-minute serial that was usually The Lone Ranger by Republic Pictures.
It is said that the place was typically packed during showings. At the time, it costed 25¢ to see the show and another 25¢ for a pop and chip. An interesting tidbit that people remember very clearly is that people used to line up for chips from Turcotte’s Chip Stand before lining up to see the show.
From 1960 to 1987, Roy and Shirley Parizeau would operate the theatre along with Conrad Belanger and Remi Gravelle who would fill in as projectionists when needed.
The RCA 35mm film projector …
In 1971, Remi would begin operating the theatre for the Consky family after Roy fell ill and he would later purchase the theatre on March 11th, 1994. During that time, he would operate his barber shop in the lobby during the day.
In 2004, Tim Smith and Michel Royer would purchase the theatre and performed its first major renovation since 1949.
In November of 2007, Denis and Claudine Janveaux would purchase the theatre and operate it under the business name “Mariette Productions”. This was a tribute to Denis mother, Mariette Janveaux.
The building has housed various events over the years such as the Cinéfest Champlain Film Festival in 2005, Not Clyde’s fashion shows, an episode of CBC’s Still Standing, local band concerts, birthday parties, etc.
Some of the CBC Still Standing episode for you to enjoy…
At the moment, the theatre is closed due to COVID-19, but there are still plenty of ways to see movies. Many people had been using Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, etc. before the pandemic hit and it seems that the usage has gone up since the lockdown had begun.
Stay tuned for when your local Champlain Theatre might reopen…
What was the first movie you saw at the Champlain Theatre and when?
The original projector from the Champlain Theatre is an artifact at the Mattawa Museum. We encourage you to visit when we are open next season to take a look at it!