EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Movie theatres including the Regent in Chapleau an oasis of refuge during Great Depression, according to George Tremblay

Regent Theatre with Mike Mione in front
In 1929, two years after the movies "found their voice", economic disaster swept across the land, George Tremblay wrote in his fascinating book, 'Break at Nine: presenting those wonderful movies', his story about the movies and his years as a movie projectionist.

"The stock market crashed, savings were wiped out, jobs were lost, factories closed and the ranks of the unemployed grew larger every day," Mr. Tremblay, but the theatre became "An Oasis in the Terrible Thirties".

Interestingly, Mr. Tremblay noted that the introduction of sound in movies in 1927, adding the voice, just before the Great Depression started "probably saved the industry from a complete disaster. By looking back over the years we can now see that the movies started to enter their golden age a few years after the onset of the depression."

Although his mother would at times give Mr. Tremblay and his brother Noel the dime each needed to attend a matinee at the local Regent Theatre, they also had to come up with their own dimes if they wished to see a movie, and in the 1930's "it was never easy to find 10 cents".

Chapleau Main Street 1930s
"We soon realized that the sale of beer bottles was the best source of income for us. We could sell the small beer bottles for one cent each and the larger quart bottles, common at that time, would yield two cents each".

Finding the bottles presented a challenge for the boys, "but our favourite hunting spot was in the area surrounding the local arena, located on Lorne Street.

Some things never change quickly. When I was a kid growing up in Chapleau in the late 1940's and 1950's, behind the arena, the old old one and the Chapleau Memorial Arena opened in 1951, also on Lorne Street, continued to be a great spot to find empties, especially after a Saturday night hockey match.

High on the popularity list of movies were Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame, westerns and the Tarzan serials which drew them in "like a magnet". I had forgotten how popular Tarzan movies were, and different actors played the title role, much like occurred later with the James Bond movies.

Mr. Tremblay notes the infuence that the movies  could have on youngsters referring specifically to one called 'The Crusaders' depicting great armies of swordsmen and a great deal of sword play and battles. For a few weeks, he writes, it seemed that home made swords and shields were everywhere as kids re- enacted the movie.

I won't even try to recall the number of movies that my friends and I re-enacted after a Saturday matinee at the Regent Theatre, but we sure did many -- and in full costume for some. Ken Schroeder had the best back yard fort as I recall behind his home on Aberdeen Street, and Harry 'Butch' Pellow has the best memories of us playing at The Big Rock on the back river. 

Chapleau 1930s from Dr Young's Hill
At times, the location would shift to the Boston Cafe where Harry 'Boo' Hong lived and sometimes his older brother Jim would join us, depending on the action. 

Mr. Tremblay says the Regent Theatre suffered hardship during the depression, closed for a period of time but re-opened. The nighttime ticket price was 35 cents and a child under sixteen paid 15 cents for a ticket.

Chapleau, being a railroad centre on the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway was perhaps more fortunate than many  other communities in Canada. For many it supplied some income and  income.

However, he writes that not all were fortunate to have work and Chapleau suffered its share of hardship. There was no such thing as food bank to help the hungry and unemployment insurance was unheard of in the 1930's.

"However, people helped each other and when a family slipped into a desperate situation, their neighbours would organize events to help them out".

Mr. Tremblay later became an usher, and then projectionist at the Regent Theatre after Cecil Smith arrived in 1940 and took over ownership of the theatre business in Chapleau.

He kindly sent me a copy of his book and time and time again I go back to it to read about his experiences as a movie projectionist in "Break at Nine: presenting those wonderful movies." I imagine most readers will know what "break at nine" meant, but for those who don't, there were two shows per evening and there was a break between them at about nine p.m. nightly.

Mr. Tremblay commented that in the midst of all the tragedy of the great depression, "the movie theatres were an oasis of refuge where people were able to forget their troubles for a few hours and escape in a magical world of laughter, music and spectacle and adventure. What would the terrible thirties have been like without the movies?"  My email is mj.morris@live.ca

1 comment:

JM Charlwood (Charette) said...

I remember the candy machine at the show and making 3D glasses with our popcorn boxes....Saturday afternoon Matinees in the early 50's I think cost us 25cents 10 cents to get in 5 for popcorn 5 for a drink and a nickel for the candy machine....its funny how we can be reminded of such a fun time in our childhoods :)

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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