Image via Theater Corona
Back in the 1930s, Montreal’s cultural scene was very lively. Cabarets, movie houses and vaudeville theaters abounded and the nightlife was so renowned that people boarded trains every weekend from nearby provinces and states in order to join in on the fun. As the years passed, many of these beautiful venues closed down and they were either destroyed or they changed purposes. A few of these places have remained open and are being actively restored by owners who want to keep these architectural gems a part of Montreal’s past and present. Here are 5 beautiful Montreal cultural venues that will take you back to the 1930s.
Located in the Mile End neighborhood, the Théâtre Rialto was inaugurated in 1924, long before this area of Montreal became the cultural hotspot that it is today. The neighborhood cinema and vaudeville theater was nearly destroyed but locals successfully pressured against this. In 2010 it was sold to new owners who have turned the Theatre Rialto into a multipurpose cultural venue. The building has undergone restoration and both the Beaux-Arts facade and the impressive interior, designed by famous movie theater decorator Emmanuel Briffa have retrieved their past beauty.
Little Burgundy was a lively neighborhood in the 1930s. The Jazz music scene that Montreal is now famous for thrived here and many famous American musicians crossed the border to enjoy the cabarets and theaters that lined the streets of this area in Montreal’s south west. One of these spots was the Theatre Corona, on Notre-Dame Ouest street. Built in 1912 under the name of Duchess Theater, it was a popular movie house and theater venue with a lavish interior decor. The demise of the Corona Theater in the 1960s and its revival in the 1990s as a concert hall was covered in another Untapped Cities article Exploring Montreal:The soulful ghosts of Little Burgundy.
L’Olympia has seen the decades pass by in what is now the Gay Village. Back when it was built in 1925, the area was known as the Faubourg à M’lasse, (Molasses district) because of the distinct smell emanating from the barrels of molasses stored in factories nearby. The area’s citizens, mostly factory workers and working-class families, came to the Olympia to watch ‘Les vues animées’ (motion pictures). When cinema multiplexes gained popularity, most small movie theaters closed but L’Olympia was able to reinvent itself as a concert hall and theater venue.
Of this list, the Cinema Imperial is the only one that still operates mainly as a movie theater. It first opened its doors in 1913 as a vaudeville playhouse where film shorts were featured between theater skits and musical numbers. The 193’s were Cinema Imperial’s heyday, when vaudeville revues made way to full-length films. As the decades passed, the movie theater changed hands many times and underwent several transformations, eventually ending its activities as a full-time film venue. It is currently operated by Centre Cinema Imperial Inc. and is mostly used for festivals and private events.
Founded in 1930, the Lion d’Or was an authentic cabaret with a master of ceremonies hosting shows with the era’s most popular entertainers, like singer Alys Robi (seen in the mural above). It closed between 1974 and 1987, until it was bought by the owners of the restaurant next door, Au Petit Extra. Today, it is a popular concert hall, favored by newcomers and well-established artists looking for an intimate venue.
Over the years, the vast majority of these types of cultural venues were destroyed to make place for new buildings. Those that weren’t destroyed were often left to such abandon that renovations became extremely costly, so these 5 beautiful venues are among the lucky few that have found new owners with enough money and passion to find a new purpose for them, all the while maintaining their past grandeur.