Capitol Theatre (Port Hope, Ont.)

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Corporate body

Authorized form of name

Capitol Theatre (Port Hope, Ont.)

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Other form(s) of name

  • Cameco Capitol Arts Centre

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Description area

Dates of existence

1930-present

History

The Capitol Theatre, located at 20 Queen St. Port Hope, was built by Famous Players in 1930 following the closure of the Grand Opera House the previous year. Built expressly to show talking movies, it became the first atmospheric theatre to be built in Canada. Costing 60,000 dollars to build, the interior was styled to resemble a Norman Castle. On opening night the theatre was outfitted with 648 seats (later scaled back to 550) and featured the film A Pair of Sixes, a musical comedy starring Laurel and Hardy, alongside a Mickey Mouse Cartoon.
In 1945 the Capitol Theatre was sold to Premier theatres. Premier continued to operate the theatre until February 1987, when declining profits led to the decision to put the Capitol up for sale in 1986. The last movies to be shown were Assassination and Firewalker, following which the seats were removed due to it being one of the conditions of sale. The reason for the removal of the seats was that Premier Theatres also owned the Park Theatre in Cobourg and did not want any future competition, which is why they also made a condition of sale that future owners could not show first-run movies. This was later struck down in court. Many Port Hope residents were upset about the theatre’s closure, and chose to form the Friends of the Capitol with the intention of making the building a community enterprise.
The Capitol Theatre was purchased by Susan Dewhurst and a group of local investors. The group initially gave the Friends of the Capitol sixty days to purchase the theatre for $135,000. The Friends of the Capitol were unable to raise the funds to buy the building in that time frame, and were not given the time extension that they requested – being told that Dewhurst and her group had other development plans. Whatever those plans might have been they were not pursued as the Capitol was again put up for sale in June of 1987, this time 160, 000 dollars. With the theatre again on the market, efforts to purchase the theatre resumed. This time the Capitol Theatre Foundation was established and again began to raise money to purchase the theatre. Included in its attempts to save it was requests to designate the Capitol as a heritage building. The Foundation also requested that the town purchase the Capitol. This request that was rejected, instead the town decided to give funding to the sum of 7,000 for a feasibility study. Due to the Capitol’s age it was believed that it could take up to 500,000 dollars just to get the Capitol back into business.
In June of 1988 Rod Stewart bought the Capitol, noting he would sell the movie hall to the Capitol Theatre Foundation at a break-even price. This purchase was a great relief to the Foundation because there was a great deal of worry that the building would be sold before the Foundation could gather the money to purchase it themselves. The year after, around $60, 000 had to be spent to refurbish the roof, with $12, 000 paid through a provincial grant. In a later reflection, Stewart noted “back in 1993, after spending most of my life savings on it, I realized in the nick of time that the restoration and redevelopment the Capitol was too big a task for one person.” After this Stewart decided to donate the theatre to the Capitol Theatre Heritage Foundation – formed in 1994 – which was able to raise the needed funds to restore the Capitol into a performing arts centre. In 2013, funding from the Ontario Trillium foundation allowed the Capitol to upgrade the projection room from 35mm films to digital projects – allowing the theatre to continue to screen newer releases.

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Authority record identifier

Capitol Theatre, Port Hope

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  • Clipboard

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  • EAC