Saskatoon Heritage Society seeks metropolis council assist to revive a part of historic Capitol film theatre
The Saskatoon Heritage Society is looking for city council’s support in honouring a unique part of the city’s past.
The group wants to restore and publicly display artifacts from the Capitol movie theatre. For 50 years, the building reigned as the city’s grand movie palace and doubled as a public gathering place until its bitterly-opposed demolition in 1979.
“This year [Dec. 1] marks the 40th anniversary of the demolition,” Peggy Sarjeant, the society’s president, recently wrote to city councillors. “Memories of this grand theatre abound.”
Located downtown on 2nd Avenue — where the Scotia Centre mall stands today — the Capitol boasted a massive 1,561-seat auditorium and the one-part-glamorous, one-part-gaudy decor that distinguished the “atmospheric” theatres built in the late 1920s.
The Globe and Mail’s current architectural critic recently named the Capitol one of “10 iconic Canadian buildings that we’ve lost.”
The theatre played first-run movies and also hosted many civic events: on-stage cooking shows for Depression-era housewives, live plays performed by University of Saskatchewan students, hypnotism shows by Reveen.
Transfixing travelling hypnotist Reveen was a popular non-movie draw at the Capitol. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)
When the theatre was demolished despite a “Save the Cap” campaign in 1979, several artifacts were stored in a city warehouse — everything from the stage’s painted backdrops to the large columns that lined the theatre’s carpeted ticket-line.
Columns from the Cap’s long hallway are among the artifacts stored in a City of Saskatoon warehouse. (Saskatoon Public Library Local History Room; item PH-7725-42)
The items remain there, gathering dust.
“These artifacts are large and impressive and, once restored, could be brought together to replicate the entrance and part of the interior of the theatre,” Sargeant said.
Large painted theatre backdrops, which stood behind the Capitol stage curtain, are also stored in the warehouse. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)
“It’s time we found a home for these artifacts — somewhere the public can view them and catch a glimpse of the former grandeur of the theatre.”
Sarjeant mentioned the city’s planned downtown entertainment district but added, “We’re not pinpointing anything” location-wise.
Many other Capitol artifacts found their way in Saskatoon homes and businesses.
A theatre “exit” sign bids visitors adieu at the Saskatoon Public Library’s local history room, for example, and Saskatoon-area resident Richard Perry made off with rolls of auditorium carpeting that had been dumped in an alleyway during the demolition.
“The carpet was really incredible in that theatre,” Perry said. “So I gathered a few soaking wet pieces, threw them in my old Volvo station wagon and said, ‘If nothing else, I could use it in the back of my car or something.'”
- Watch below: 5 Saskatoon Places With Capitol Theatre Relics
Perry’s wife Verna said recapturing the theatre’s opulence would be no easy task.
“I think it would be very difficult [to] do it justice, to really give people the feeling, if they hadn’t been [there],” she said.
‘We have enough on our plate’
City councillors are scheduled to hear from Sarjeant Monday morning at city hall.
It’s a tough sell for Coun. Darren Hill.
“I’m not prepared to consider any new capital projects,” Hill said. “However, I would not rule out displaying them in a current building.
“We have enough on our plate right now, and my priority is to see the arena and convention centre studies through.”
Not that Hill doesn’t have memories of the Capitol.
He remembers seeing “Jaws” at the Capitol when he was seven.
“I clearly remember being scared to go to the washroom at the theatre because I thought the shark would come out of the plumbing and get me!” he said.
- Read a full oral history or watch a three-part documentary on the Capitol theatre at www.cbc.ca/thecap
The Day They Tore Down The Capitol, featured at cbc.ca/thecap, features rare and never-before-seen interviews with key figures in the Capitol affair. (CBC)