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Entertainments of the Past: The Theatre in Newmarket

As the weather gets colder, many of us might be preparing to go outside less and spend more time indoors; or maybe finding some movies to stream on Kanopy with your library card! However, finding entertainment was not so easy in the days before television and the Internet. For this week’s post, let’s see where people in East Gwillimbury had to go to see movies and other entertainments in person – the movie theatre!

In the 20th century, Holland Landing was such a small town that they never had their own movie theatre. Instead, they would instead have to make the trek into Newmarket.

The first theatre that was built in Newmarket was the Colonial Theatre, around 1910 or 1911. It held performances by acting troupes but showed moving pictures as well. It was located on Millard Avenue and showed movies such as “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” with an admission price of 10 cents.[1] Another movie theatre opened in 1912 called the Strand Theatre, located on the west side of Main Street. It remained until 1916 when it was renamed the Patricia under the ownership of Herbert Kinley. It was in the “Wesley Block” on the corner of Main Street and Botsford Street. It did not last for very long, as the Patricia relocated elsewhere in 1917; the building was converted into a barber shop and pool room by E. H. Adams.

Another theatre known as the Palace theatre opened in 1918, on Main Street. The former Strand theatre was purchased in 1923, repaired extensively, and intended to be turned into a restaurant owned Charlie Chu. In the following year, the building was purchased by Walter Blanchard with plans to convert it into an auction mart. But instead, it was converted back into a movie theatre, where it remained in operation during the 1930’s and ’40’s.

In his memoirs, Bill Watts fondly recalls going to Saturday matinees at the theatre in Newmarket, or sometimes the one in Bradford. The cost of taking a round trip bus down to the theatre in Newmarket, in addition to the tickets, tallied up to sixty-five cents per person! Going to the cinema “gave a welcome relief from the doom and gloom reported daily over the radio and in the newspapers. Movie houses were able to feature a never-ending supply of musicals, comedies, westerns, and dramas.”[2]

The Odeon Roxy theatre opened in the early fifties after the previous theatre had closed due to the old age of the building. The new theatre was located on 244 Main Street, directly across the street from the old theatre. It remained in operation for many years until at least the 1970’s after which it was closed. The building still exists on Main Street but is now occupied by a karate club and fitness center.

Figure 1: The Roxy Theatre advertising the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis film "Hollywood or Bust!", in May 1954. Retrieved from the Newmarket Era newspaper.

Do you have any memories of going to the movies, either in Newmarket, or in a different place like Bradford? Let us know in the comments section below!

[1] [2] Watts, Bill & Watts, Grace. (2004). Holland Landing in the Post War Years (In the Mid-1940s and Early 50s). Oshawa, ON: The Label Shop Plus. 35.

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