Imperial Theatre

June 9, 2009

The Imperial Theatre was built in 1914. It closed in 1955 and was eventually reopened as Barrymore’s, a music venue.

The former Imperial Theatre, now Barrymore's, Bank and Gilmour

The former Imperial Theatre, now Barrymore’s, Bank and Gilmour

Interestingly, The Imperial and other Ottawa theatres appear to have ignored the “Lord’s Day Act” as late as 1950 and incurred the wrath of the chairman of the Motion Picture Censorship and Theatres Inspection Branch. He wrote the Ottawa theatre owners:

“the theatres in your city have been used [on Sundays] more than any others in Ontario and in most cases you have ignored our arrangement with the Lord’s Day Alliance of Canada. You are all familiar with the requirements. They are quite simple. You write me for certain forms which are to be completed twenty-one days prior to any performance, and they must be completed in full…From this date should any of your theatres be opened on Sunday for any event, without the necessary forms being completed, I shall ask the Provincial Secretary to deal with the matter” *

Imperial Theatre sign

Imperial Theatre sign

This one was a smash and grab as I was illegally parked in a dodgy spot, left the car running while I dashed to the corner, and the parking authority guy was writing a ticket on someone a few feet away. But I managed to get the photos I wanted and not get a ticket or the car stolen!

Detail of the sign

Detail of the sign

Imperial Theatre, circa 1937

Imperial Theatre, circa 1937*

In case you are interested, the theatre was showing “Forty Naughty Girls” with Zazu Pitts (1937) and “Men Are not Gods” with Miriam Hopkins, Gertrude Lawrence, Sebastian Shaw, and Rex Harrison (1936).

As run down as Barrymore’s is, I am thankful that because it was purchased and the facade kept more or less intact, we still have one existing old theatre in Ottawa. One of the great tragedies is that the wonderful Capital Theatre which opened in 1930. with 2580-seats and was  originally and Loews theater. It was the largest movie theater ever built in Ottawa. It was torn down in the 1970 and replaced with a forgettable office tower and a cineplex, now gone, as well.

For more on classic theatres, check the Cinema Treasures website (it appears to be down at the moment. I hope this is temporary!).

* Archives of Ontario
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9 Responses to “Imperial Theatre”

  1. peter craig said

    I worked at Barrymore’s starting in 1981 doing fix-ups around the club. I repainted the Imperial Theatre around 1984 over what was probably the original painted brick. I later opened the “Nervous Onion” downstairs and ran it until we closed in Sept 1991. Sign still looks good despite almost 30 years..cheers Thanks Gord and Sherry

    • David Agar said

      You painted the ghost sign on the exterior wall or you painted the theatre interior?

      • peter craig said

        Both..I was referring to the sign but funny enough in working at the club that long pretty touched everything except the gold leaf trim which I believe Gord(R.I.P.) and Sherry did. Probably around 1982? I did the ghost sign..I remember it being a perfect day and Sonny Thompson absolutely loving it.

    • Geoff Parr said

      Hey Peter, I worked at the arcade next door and I remember you painting that Imperial Theatre and I think it was around 1986. That was a while ago but I remember Pete’s Nervous Onion and I loved the name. You had black and white checkers tiles on the floor and we built an Arkanoid machine and painted it black and white to match the place for when we brought it in. Good times!

  2. Laura said

    You should visit again and have a meal at the James st. pub on the patio. It’s really nice in the summer, and the tilapia fish is great. You need to get there early, because it’s usually packed! Popular place to relax.

  3. Chris said

    Although the Imperial was brutally altered to create retail floorspace at grade, much of the interior escaped demolition, and can be found buried in walls and below floors.

    The masonry and plasterwork was of such good quality that it has lasted nearly a hundred years. The new life of the building as a venue guarantees it will be around for many years to come.

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