Orpheum Theatre 1923-1947
An Era Ends
Nathaniel (Nat) Evans bought the Opera House (1921). The final presentation before extensive renovations began was D.W. Griffiths’ Orphans of the Storm (July 18, 1923). The Acadian newspaper suggested that “business in Wolfville was down” during the months of the facility’s closure.
Grand Opening: November 19, 1923
The Orpheum Theatre held a standing-room-only opening night. “The front of the the stage was banked with cut flowers.” Wm. Roche, Jr. played piano for the seven reel silent motion picture, The Dangerous Age. Sammy Shields sang and P. C. Shortis performed on banjo and violin. Wednesday of the opening week, the Swiss Bell Ringers provided a performance. They sang and played “handbells, xylophones, saxophones, musical glasses and other interments. Every number was thoroughly enjoyed and loudly encored.”
The new entrance was moved to the centre of the building with stores on either side. The brick front…“is a big addition to the business places on Main Street.” By 1924 an electric T-shaped “Orpheum Theatre” sign hung over the entrance.
When audience members stepped inside they saw a new arched ceiling “painted a delicate cream” and crimson walls decorated with “panels of gilt” Three “fixtures of great brilliancy and wall brackets in the form of candles” provided illumination
A new projector was installed and the old projector was “put in perfect condition.” A new Wurlitzer was also installed and furnished music for the feature on Tuesday of the first week–yet another performance with a “S.R.O. sign.”
The Wurlitzer is a whole orchestra in one instrument and gives some music. It is worthwhile going to the movies now just to hear the music. –The Acadian, Nov. 23, 1923
The variety of entertainment that first week reflected a sample of both what had come before and what lay ahead over the next 24 years, including those of the Second World War.
Events at the theatre included presentation and meeting of community and education groups—a small sample:
- Yearly high school Christmas season “extravaganza”
- High School Competition Concerts
- Acadia Seminary Glee Club Operetta
- “Liberal-Conservative Party gathering featuring G.C. Nowlan and Hon. W.. Hall” bracketed in the ad with screenings of Nothing But the Truth
- Local “amateur night” between film screenings on Saturdays
- Thanksgiving “union services at the local theatre”
- “Sing-Song” with a collection for war relief
Live Professional Productions
The local and traveling professional live entertainment also continued. “Hank the Yodelling Ranger” was one such act from October 1945. The “Extra! On Stage” was always something to look for in the weekly “ORPHEUM-WOLFVILLE” newspaper ad.
Extras at the Theatre
Ads for the weekly motion picture screenings were consistent throughout the Orpheum’s reign, usually in the same place on the same page of The Acadian. In addition to a photo poster for each feature film, the reader would also find “Plus”, “Added Extra” and “Also” for a variety of add-ons
The Features and the “Talkies”
Features were straight from Hollywood and screened every day of the week except Sunday. Eventually matinees were scheduled for the students at 3:40 (Tuesdays and Thursdays) with regular matinees (Sat. & Holidays) at 2:30. Community events were mostly advertised on-site at the theatre.
It was during the Orpheum Theatre years that films with sound first came to Wolfville. Early films used a series of records with music and sound effects to accompany the reels. The installation of RCA Photophone Sound Equipment in June 1930 heralded the coming of the “talking picture”. The Most Immortal Lady (July 6-8, 1930) was the first “100% Singing and Talking” motion pictures to be shown at the theatre. “Prices: Adults 44 cents, Children 27 cents.”