Holiday greetings from Odeon Theatres

Source: The Toronto Star, Dec. 22, 1948

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.

Eric Veillette

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18 Responses to “Holiday greetings from Odeon Theatres”

  1. Martin Chapman Says:

    Eric:

    Thanks for the link on Cinema Treasures to your Odeon Carlton Christmas card.
    As you can see from my postings there I have more than just a passing interest in the Odeon Carlton. I loved going there back in the early and late 60′s. Most of the other big Toronto movie theatres back then were showing their age and for the most part lacked any kind of presentation quality. The Odeon Carlton was new and had class…both in presentation (especially with the organists) and appearance. I think this was Odeon’s goal but it was long-time manager Victor Nowe who helped the Carlton be so succesful with his promotopn work and attention to detail. The Toronto Star reports that in June 1969 the Carlton had taken in more money in a year than any other single movie theatre in Canada. It was also only one of two Toronto movie theatres (the other was the 3626-seat Imperial….now the Pantages) that had two projectionists on a shift. The union contract stipulated the two-man booths in theatres that seated more than 2 thousand.
    Odeon broke the stranglehold that Famous Players had on what was shown in Canadian movie theatres. when they set up shop in Canada in the late 1940′s. Rank had a tough time getting their movies shown here because Famous Players were only interested in showing U-S product. Odeon also showed National Film Board material which Famous Players mostly ignored.
    I have a file on the Odeon Carlton here at home with stuff I found in the Toronto Public Library and the Ontario Archives. Unfortunately there was not a lot of information available but I will be happy to pass any of it on to you if you need it.

    Martin Chapman
    Peterborough, Ontario.

  2. 32elvismovies Says:

    Martin, thank you for the comment. The Odeon Carlton was indeed quite the space, especially considering it was also designed for grand concerts at a time when that wasn’t in fashion whatsoever. Oh to have been a fly on the wall in thos city council meetings when they decided to gut it. “Well, we’ve got the O’Keefe Centre! What do we need this for?”

    It’s a nice historic corner now, with the Carlu and Maple Leaf Gardens in range. The Carlton would have made a nice addition had it managed to live through!

    Incidentally, and more of a sign of the times, The Pantages has once again been renamed to the Canon Theatre :/

    I’d certainly love to see what you’ve got in your files. I have a considerable archive of Canadian cinemas at home, but very little on the Odeon. There was another Odeon — not affiliated with the Rank O — on Queen St. E. I’m not 100% sure, but it must have been designed by the same person who renovated the Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles some years later, as the “tiling” on the wall is very similar.

    Cheers, and happy new year!

    Eric

  3. Jim Says:

    Interesting site. From 1968 until 1994 I worked for Odeon Theatres/Canadian Odeon Theatres/Cineplex Odeon Theatres; I was assistant managerat the Odeon Carlton in the year before it closed. Those were melancholic days indeed with many second-rate films (eg, THE HONKERS) playing continually to a near-empty auditorium. By that time the projection booth had been moved downstairs to improve the focus and the upstairs restaurant had been closed for years. Memories galore…I can remember the parking-lot attendant was dismissed for running his own private parking arrangements; Colin Corbett used to play the big organ on weekends……someone told me the wrecking contractor went bankrupt trying to flatten this place ! Over the years I also worked at the Odeon Hyland, Odeon Fairlawn, Odeon Danforth and Odeon Don Mills before moving in to head office at Consumer’s Road…….

  4. Martin Chapman Says:

    Jim:

    Thanks for posting your memories of the Odeon Carlton.
    The big thing I am missing from my Odeon Carlton file is a photo of the upstairs projection booth. Can you help?

  5. Linda Says:

    Does anyone have an idea where I could find photos of the old Don Millls Odeon? They are for personal use only. I’ve become quite nostalgic about my old stomping ground since they began the destruction of the Don Mills Centre. Thanks, Linda

  6. David Eagle Says:

    I was an assistant manager of the Odeon Carlton from 1964-66. Victor Nowe was the manager and Colin Corbett was the organist (who accidentily cut off four fingers down to the knuckle trying to fix his lawn mower and had them reattached. Six months later he was back playing the organ!). During my stay, we played Goldfinger (Christmas 1964) and Thunderball (Christmas 1965) both setting Canadian box office records. Thunderball had 40,000 people the first week and there were times when the ticket holder line-up would meet on Wood Street. One ticket holder lineup would go along Carlton, up Yonge and along Wood the other boxoffice lineup would go along Carlton , up Church and along Wood Street. In the fall of 1965, Victor Nowe arranged for all the staff (approximately 60) to have a free dinner at the Imperial Room Royal York on three different weeks. The night the senior assistant manager was to attend was the night of the big east coast power blackout but dinner was still on (by candlelight) and the theatre’s generator kept the movie going. I was one nervous 20 year old being left in charge for the evening. The restaurant on the second level was closed just after I started (Honey Dew). The projection booth had to be moved to the main floor to accomodate Cinerama (It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World -1963). Although my management career lasted until 2002, my strongest memories remain the two years at the Odeon Carlton which I considered the best theatre in Toronto. Unfortunately any photos I had have been lost over the years. To Linda: I was the manager of the Odeon Don Mills in 1969/70 but have no photos; just lots of memories.

  7. 32elvismovies Says:

    David, thanks for sharing your memories. What other cinemas did you manage throughout your career?

    Linda: Still no photos, but I did dig up a little bit of info on the Don Mills.

  8. David Eagle Says:

    Hi: I managed the Odeon Weston, Odeon Don Mills, Fairview (General Cinemas), Parkedale Brockville, Bellestar3 Belleville, Beverly Centre Cineplex Los Angeles, Cinerama Dome Los Angeles, Film Factory Newmarket, Trent theatre Trenton, Cinema 3 Owen Sound, Landsdowne Mall
    Peterborough,5th Avenue Cinema Vancouver, Cumberland Toronto, and Rainbow Cinemas Market Square. Plus district manager for OTG for cinemas in Cornwall,Brockville, Belleville, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Port Elgin and area supervisor for Tarrant Enterprises cinemas in Trenton, Newmarket, Guelph, St. Thomas. I think that covers them all.

  9. John Wallington Says:

    Hi David:
    You probably don’t remember me but I worked as a relief projectionist for you at the Odeon Weston June & July 1967 relieving George Trahern (SP?) It was great to see your name. You had quite a long career in show business. I worked as a projectionist in Toronto for 18 years at most of the Theatres you mentioned. I took a break in 1985 to work as a Locomotive Engineer for CN until my retirement this year. I have since started working again as projectionist at The Empire Theatre in Belleville. I have pictures of some of the theatres that you mentioned but mostly projection rooms. Sorry Linda, none from Don Mills. It’s a shame what Cineplex did to the business and some of the movie palaces in the Toronto area.

  10. Linda Says:

    Hi, I haven’t check back in quite a few months. I just wanted to say thank-you for making an attempt to find any Don Mills Odeon photos. I managed get one poor quality photo of the Don Mills Cinema after it had closed in 1986. Someone emailed it to me who had posted it on the Don Mills Collegiate 50th Reunion website last May. I also stumbled across 4 B&W images online in a B&W copy of an old Boxoffice magazine. I am going to try a find that issue on ebay someday, I missed out one a few months ago. Eventually I would to get down to the Toronto archives, they do apparently have photos but it something I can’t afford to do right now. I’m stuck on a government work share, hoping to keep my job! Happy holidays to everyone and all the best for 2010!

  11. carrol Boni Says:

    To anybody who worked at the Odeon Carlton Theatre in the early 50′s. The films that I remember most was Toulose Letrec in Moulin Rouge and Charlie Chapllin, can’t remember the name of his movie, except it was very sad. i was one of those girls who sold ice cream in the intermission. I know there a lot of pictures taken of the staff, when certain movies were showing. I always said when I go down to Toronto, I was going to go to the archives Wondered if they kept records of the people that worked for them. carrol

  12. David Alexander Says:

    enjoying reading about this theatre, btw Martin, can you contact me please

    David

  13. Brian Allen Says:

    Hi–My father was involved with the building of the Don Mills Theatre. I will see if I have any pictures.

  14. Peter Kalyniuk Says:

    I was one of the last employees to work at the new Carlton built in 1981 before Cineplex Odeon shut it down in December of 2009. Being familiar with the neighborhood and having studied several photos of the original Odeon Carlton I couldn’t help but notice what I believe to be a mistake, or inaccuracy in the historical write-up on this website. The write-up states that the original Odeon Carlton was built on the corner of Yonge and Carlton, but if you look at any of the photos of the original Odeon Carlton found online you will see that it was built only a short distance west of Maple Leaf Gardens, meaning that it could not have been built on the corner of Yonge and Carlton, but actually just east of the Toronto Hydro building at 14 Carlton Street, which existed since 1933.

    Other articles I’ve read about the Odeon Carlton state that it had the same address as the new one built in 1981 (20 Carlton Street) but was relocated only slightly east of the original location. Judging from the photos I would say that the rebuilt/relocated 20 Carlton Street of 1981 was rebuilt only ever so slightly east of it’s original location. Considering the size of the Holiday Inn (a.k.a The Days Hotel) located at 30 Carlton Street compared with the distance between the original Odeon Carlton and Maple Leaf Gardens, shown in photos to be a vacant lot until at least 1974, the original Odeon Carlton must have been located more or less in the exact same location as the new one (give or take a few metres) and not on the corner of Yonge and Carlton as above mentioned.

  15. Alex Fitt Says:

    I’d like to see any photos of the old Don Mills Odeon too and/or especially the original cinemas at Fairview Mall. Any photos would be welocme to joycealex@yahoo.com – thanks.

  16. Stephen Dunsmore Says:

    The comment about the Odeon Carlton NOT being on the corner of Yonge and Carlton are correct. The corner was taken up by Woolworths for many years and the theatre was along Carlton close to Maple Leaf Gardens. As a kid I used to go to movies there with my mother while my father and brother went to hockey games at MLG. I remember Colin Corbett rocking the place with the “Goldfinger” theme on the Hilgreen-Lane pipe organ, something which directed my life to organs. Ten years of working for Hammond Organs and Yamaha Organs in Vancouver and several years of playing the theatre pipe organ at the Organ Grinder Restaurant and the Orpheum Theatre also in Vancouver.

    What happened to Mr. Corbett? The organ went to Queens University in Kingston but I believe they have been trying to sell it for several years.

    Toronto has a lot of lost history about which they should be embarrassed, and the Odeon Carlton and the University theatres rank high on that list.

  17. Greg Says:

    The Odeon Carlton stood almost exactly (within feet) of where the Maples apartment complex stands today which also (ironically) houses the Carlton cinemas. There was a parking lot between the Odeon Carlton & Maple Leaf Gardens in the early 70′s that I remember, which is now The Holiday Inn (on Carlton) and in behind, the Carlton Court (33 Wood Street) apartments.

  18. Phil Corbett Says:

    Hello Mr. Stephen Dunsmore,

    What happened to Mr. Corbett?

    My Father (Colin Corbett) past away on October 25th, 1999 and my Mother (Margaret Corbett) past away on January 16, 2005 and they are together at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.
    My Fathers theme song was “We Will Gather Lilacs” and to this day I can still here him playing!
    I was very proud of my Dad for all the lives he touched with his music!
    Thank you for your comments about my Dad rocking the place, he sure did!
    I was always amazed on how my Dad blended the organ with the music from the movies ending and him and the organ descending into the stage with the lights on him!
    Thank you again, Phil Corbett

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