Toronto: Cinema City


I was incredibly honoured when the Images Festival called on me to curate an exhibit looking back at Toronto’s 116 year-old movie-going traditions. A culmination of the five years I’ve spent building Silent Toronto, I hope you all get a chance to check it out.

Toronto: Cinema City runs March 22-April 28, 2012 at Urbanspace Gallery, 401 Richmond St. W, Toronto.


Installation view of Toronto: Cinema City, featuring large-scale print of the interior of the Revue cinema.

Toronto’s movie-going history stretches far back to 1896, with the first projection of the Lumière Cinematographe at the Exhibition and a few days later at 96 Yonge Street. With the arrival of new technologies and changes in movie-going tastes over the years, several hundred theatres consisting of converted store-fronts, smaller neighbourhood houses and outright movie palaces, have graced Toronto’s streets.

Installation view of Toronto: Cinema City, featuring selection of archival photographs.

Installation view of Toronto: Cinema City, featuring selection of archival photographs.

Well over a century after the first flicker of the Lumière Brothers’ game-changing invention, most of Toronto’s cinemas are gone. Some, like the Fox and Projection Booth in the east end, as well as the Revue, the Kingsway and the Royal in the west, still operate as cinemas. Others, like the majestic Eglinton, a true art-deco palace, have been converted into event spaces.

Installation view of Toronto: Cinema City, featuring timeline of historical events.

But what makes a cinema? How important are plush velvet seats or a marquee blazing its neon glory? Alternative film-going spaces have long been a staple in Toronto exhibition, from the efforts of various film societies, the Funnel Experimental Theatre, the various incarnations of Reg Hartt’s Cineforum, CineCycle, and most recently, the Trash Palace.

Over the last century, Toronto has boasted over 300 cinemas. Toronto: Cinema City will visualize this density on a large map of the city, giving visitors a taste of movie-going locales throughout the decades.


Installation view of Toronto: Cinema City, featuring a map pin-pointing every location that has housed a cinema.

The sites, from art deco palaces to modern-day megaplexes, are only half the story, as none of them would have existed without the spirit of human endeavour. The exhibit will also pay tribute to the showmen, exhibitors, stage-hands, musicians, projectionists and patrons who injected a breath of life into the flickering images.

Archival photos, histories, print ephemera, artifacts from forgotten theatres and video of Toronto during the silent era will form the exhibit.

Images Festival programme notes
Urbanspace Gallery release


What the press had to say

“My grandfather ran the Orpheum at Bathurst and Queen, so this one had me at hello.”
Norm Wilner, Now Magazine

“The exhibit makes clear that the effect local cinemas have on communities extends far beyond the movies they show.”
Kate Fane, BlogTO

“[The exhibit] aims to shift the conversation from the silver screen to the movie theatres that house them.”
Ian Gormely, Metro News


Curated by
Eric Veillette
Nathan Storring

Special thanks to Paul S. Moore, Associate Professor of Sociology, Ryerson University.

Top image, showing the Lumiere Cinematographe at the 1899 Industrial Exhibition, courtesy of CNE Archives.

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