Odeon Theatres had much to be thankful for in 1948, as their flagship theatre, the Odeon Toronto, was built near the corner of Yonge and Carlton. The mighty British cinema chain opened its new theatre – dubbed “The Showplace of the Dominion” – on September 9 with a premiere of Oliver Twist, starring Alec Guinness as Fagin.
The Odeon Toronto, with 2300 green and gold seats, was an unconventional beast built at a time when most of the new theatres were modest in both size and extravagance. Its development signaled a near-renaissance of the Movie Palace, not seen since the construction of the Loews and Pantages in the 10s and 20s. Armed with post-war optimism, Odeon’s biggest competitor, Famous Players, would build The University theatre at Yonge and Bloor in early 1949. A grand and marvelous structure, it was profiled here earlier this year.
The theatre closed in September, 1973, at a time when many of city’s large theatres were facing the wrecking ball . Others, like the Uptown and the Imperial on Yonge St., were saved from that indecency and were converted into multiplex theatres. The Odeon Toronto, with its curved, streamlined street-corner facade, was not lucky enough to be saved. It had been offered to the City of Toronto, but petty disputes rejected the offer altogether. The building was destroyed soon after, and the signage on the pylon, jutting out into the sky like a wartime munitions factory, would never again light up the corner of Yonge & Carlton. No trace of the former theatre exists today, but next door to its former location is The Carlton, a small multiplex theatre well known for showing art house films.
At the time of Odeon Toronto’s opening, Odeon Theatres, a subsidiary of the Rank Organization, had made an aggressive expansion into Canadian territory, which would grow to 168 theatres by 1978. By then, Odeon Canada had become a wholly Canadian-owned corporation. A few years later, in 1984, Garth Drabinsky and Nat Taylor’s Cineplex Corporation swallowed up Odeon Theatres Canada to form Cineplex Odeon.
The Year Ahead
As 2008 comes to a close, I’d like to thank every single person who visited this site since it was launched in August. For all the research assistance, I’d like to thank the staff at the Archives of Toronto and Ontario, as well as Josee Gagnon of the Timmins Public Library and Karen Bachmann of the Timmins Museum. Many thanks go out to my editors and proofreaders, among them Roger Rousseau and Ellen Moorhouse.
Bringing to light the stories of Canada’s many movie palaces and neighbourhood theatres is a serious passion of mine, and I’m very happy with the feedback I’ve received so far. For the next year, expect more profiles about the theatres you remember from days gone by, but we will also be featuring modern profiles of those individuals who are making a difference in keeping the art of movie-going alive in cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and elsewhere.
Have a fantastic 2009.