The Second Best Moving Picture House in the West

Janus: Cranbrook Then and Now takes a second look at the Rex Theatre and the history of Cranbrook cinemas.

Top: Movie posters and ads on the day were somewhat primitive but they still  attracted the crowds. – Courier

Top: Movie posters and ads on the day were somewhat primitive but they still attracted the crowds. – Courier

Jim Cameron

November 27, 1913, marked the first anniversary of the opening of the Rex Theatre at No. 17, Norbury Avenue.

Built by local contractor George Leask as the first true movie theatre in the city, theatre manager A. A. Johnson, on behalf of the Johnson Brothers, marked the occasion by thanking the public of Cranbrook for their patronage of the past year.

By that time the film industry, only a few years earlier little more than a novelty, had made great strides. The year 1913 saw the young community of Hollywood boasting over 15 film studios featuring young stars such as Lon Chaney, John Barrymore, Lillian Gish and Harold Lloyd. On a local note, the Rex Theatre inaugurated numerous features in its first year including proper ventilation with numerous well-lit exits, an asbestos-lined-fire-proof projection booth, the local four-piece Rex Orchestra — the highest paid orchestra in the Kootenays, according to Mr. Johnson — accompanying seven nightly shows and four matinees per week, and, perhaps most notably, a new projection machine which converted AC electric current to DC, thus doing away with the constant “flicker” of the movies on the screen.

A thirty-foot electric sign on the front of the Rex added a “citified appearance” to Norbury Avenue and the crowds continued to pour in.

The Rex Orchestra broadened its bases by playing dances and socials at other venues and thus became among the first (and possibly among the last) steadily employed bands in Cranbrook. Highest paid or not, they were replaced the following year by Mrs. Wallinger’s Orchestra, not too long after local Sheriff Morris served papers on the Johnson Brothers on behalf of owner George Leask, demanding unpaid rent. It appears things were not all rosy in movie land, certainly not for A.A. Johnson.

Things were patched up the following month, just in time for Mr. Johnson to have his hands severely bitten while attempting to remove a dog from the premises. In August, 1915, Johnson was accused of indecent assault upon his 14-year-old daughter and, unwilling or unable to provide the $900 bail, found himself languishing in a jail cell just up the block in City Hall. The anger and disgust felt by many did not seem to extinguish the public desire to catch the latest flick.

Mr. Johnson disappeared from the scene soon thereafter, replaced by various managers over the ensuing years. The theatre also saw frequent use for daytime meetings such as occurred in November, 1914, when Dr. Spencer addressed a male-only gathering on “Cranbrook’s Four Greatest Institutions.” Sadly, the institutions in question were not named. They may have included the fairer sex, one way or another.

Throughout the ensuing war years the theatre saw many entertainments and fund-raisers in honour of the boys already overseas or headed in that direction. Empire (Victoria) Day traditionally saw a large gathering of children in front of the old courthouse at the east end of Baker Street, where they were addressed by prominent men of the day and then marched to the Rex for a free patriotic movie following which they each received a bag of nuts, candy and oranges, a rare treat for the day.

In May, 1921, A. C. Blaine of the recently formed Cranbrook Theatres Ltd., announced the construction of the Star Theatre at No. 25, Norbury Avenue. The Rex responded by undertaking a number of renovations but it was, in the end, to no avail. The Star Theatre (now East Kootenay Realty) opened on October 10, 1921.

When the Rex Theatre was built in 1912, it was described by the local newspaper as “the best moving picture house in the west.” That was not the case by early 1922, when the neighbouring Star Theatre began featuring all the first-run movies, leaving the Rex to show lesser known titles. It heralded the final credits for the Rex; the same modus operandi, it is worth noting, that saw the closure of the Star Theatre when the Armond Theatre was built, and the closure of the Armond when the movie theatre at the Tamarack Mall was built. No matter the price of popcorn, it is safe to say that there has never been room for two movie theatres in Cranbrook.

In October, 1922, the struggling Rex Theatre was purchased by Mr. Blaine’s company and immediately closed down, the final show taking place on October 7.

The year 1922 may have been curtains for Cranbrook’s first movie house but not so for the building. Following the closure of the Rex Theatre the place sat idle until 1924, when the Cranbrook Co-Operative Society grocery store moved in. They conducted business in the former theatre until the spring of 1929, at which point Quality Grocery purchased their entire stock and themselves opened for service, becoming a popular fixture on the block for the next 21 years.  Robinson Stores took over the building from 1951 to 1955, at which time they moved to Baker Street. The building was then occupied by Hume Electric for many years. Most recently it has been the home of Muriel and Jane’s General Store until their move to 9th Avenue last summer.

As with many of Cranbrook’s oldest business buildings, it would take a large book to cover the complete history of the former Rex Theatre and the people who passed through. Suffice to say, if you enter the recently opened 1710 Workplace on Norbury Avenue, you have become yet another flickering image caught by the lens of Cranbrook’s past.

janusthenandnow@shaw.ca

Just Posted

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 13 - 19: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Prince Charles Secondary School
School District 8 votes in favour of name change for Secondary School in Creston

In an act of reconciliation, a new name will be chosen for Prince Charles Secondary School

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

John Furlong told the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 20, 2020 that he thinks the city could and should bid for the 2030 Winter Games. (CP photo)
PODCAST: John Furlong lays out a ‘provincial’ plan to host the 2030 Winter Olympics

Podcast: Chat includes potential role for Vancouver Island communities

The pilot of this single-engine propeller plane was unhurt after crash-landing in a Como Road orchard Friday, June 18. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Plane crash lands into Grand Forks orchard, pilot injured

RCMP have secured the crash site, pending investigation by Transport Canada

A tenant walks in front of her home on Boundary Road on Friday, June 18, 2021 after it was destroyed by fire the night before in Chilliwack. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Family homeless after fire rips through Chilliwack house

Turtle rescued, no one seriously hurt following Boundary Road fire in Chilliwack

BC Ferries’ newest Island Class vessel is experiencing an issue with one of its thrusters off the Algerian coast. Photo courtesy patbaywebcam.com.
BC Ferries newest vessel having mechanical issues in Mediterranean

Island 4 will be repaired in Spain before crossing Atlantic

Wild rabbits are all over Chilliwack, but people often think they’re someone’s lost pet and try to ‘save’ them. But the owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room says good intentions can have bad consequences for wild animals. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room asks people to leave wild animals in the wild

Amber Quiring says people who think they’re helping are actually doing more harm than good

Thousands of protesters make their way through the downtown core during a Black Lives Matter protest in Ottawa, Friday June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Chair of the House public safety committee says it’s time for a reckoning on ‘quasi-military’ structure

A case filled with packages of boneless chicken breasts is shown in a grocery store Sunday, May 10, 2020, in southeast Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski
One million chickens euthanized during labour dispute at Quebec slaughterhouse

Premier says waste amounts to 13 per cent of the province’s chicken production thrown in the garbage

Most Read