Monday, March 19, 2012

301 Notre Dame Avenue - Towne Cinema 8

Towne Cinema 8
Place: Towne Cinema 8
Location: 301 Notre Dame Avenue (Map)

Opened: August 21, 1981
Cost: $3 m

Size: 30,000 sq. ft., 1,200 seats.

Former Rose Theatre

Towne Cinemas, a Toronto-based chain, first arrived in Winnipeg in 1964. They purchased the Rose Theatre on Sargent at Arlington and retrofitted it into a modern, 600 seat cinema.

March 25, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press

The chain billed itself as presenters of "the ultimate in unusual film entertainment." This included independent films, foreign films and risqué offerings. Their first show was The Conjugal Bed, soon followed by Fellini's 8 1/2. In 1968 The Graduate played for over four months.

In 1974 the theatre evolved into an odd mix of burlesque films with live exotic dancers and foreign language films. In early 1974 the Towne name was dropped and it became an adult XXX theatre.

December 20, 1979, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1979 two downtown cinemas underwent expansions. The Garrick Cinema, Winnipeg's first dual-screen house, added two more screens in a new addition to the north. The Capitol Theatre underwent a major renovation and was subdivided into two screens.

That same year Towne Cinemas, by then owned by Alberta-based Landmark Cinemas, wanted to get back into the Winnipeg market. At the time, Landmark was Canada's largest independent cinema company operating over 100 screens in in the Western provinces.

In 1980 Landmark found the property that they were looking for when the site of a once-prominent downtown dairy became available.

November 5, 1918, Winnipeg Free Press

June 13, 1956, Winnipeg Free Press
(The arrows point to where an explosion took place.)

City Dairy built a plant at Adelaide and Notre Dame in 1918. The company's origins dated back 20 years earlier and were an industry leader in providing safe milk products. They were the first in Winnipeg to sell pasteurized milk and regularly had independent labs inspect their products and facilities, above and beyond what the city health department already did.

Towne Cinema 8
Left: City Dairy's stables

November 7, 1942, Winnipeg Tribune

In 1928 they constructed 49 Adelaide Street, which still stands, as the company's stables.

By 1950 national company Silverwood Dairies purchased City, renovated the plant and converted it to the Silverwood name. They remained there until 1974 when they relocated to the suburbs.

The buildings were put up for sale and in June 1980 the dairy plant portion was torn down.


Landmark bought the property and in 1981 built Canada's first stand-alone multiplex, (to this point they were always attached to malls or other attractions.)

Unlike the other downtown multiplex under construction, Cineplex's Eaton Place Cinema 7, which seated an average of 80 people per screen, the Towne's seating ranged from 125 to 450 each.

The 30,000 square foot, completely concrete building boasted another interesting feature. The 7,000 square foot lobby that spans two floors allowed for hundreds of movie-goers to wait inside for their movie to begin, something that most of their competitors could not offer.

August 15, 1981, Winnipeg Free Press

The Towne Cinema 8 opened on August 21, 1981 with: Breaker Morant; Paul McCartney and Wings' Rockshow; a re-release of Blazing Saddles; This is Elvis; The Four Seasons; Italian film Così come sei; Lunch Wagon and Just a Gigolo with David Bowie.

It was a busy first few months for the cinema. In 1981 it hosted the world premiere of the movie Tulips, brought Apocalypse Now back to Winnipeg so that it could be shown for the first time in 70 mm with Dolby Sound. In early 1982 it hosted the world premiere of If You Could See What I Hear and began showing Arthur, which it held over for more than a year.

As with its earlier Winnipeg incarnation, the Towne did not shy away from controversial movies. In December 1981 it screened the National Film Board's Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography. The following month came Caligula, which played here without the protests and obscenity charges that it faced in Alberta. (A 1980 Edmonton showing of Dracula Sucks brought an obscenity conviction that led Landmark on a five-year court battle that ended up with the Supreme Court of Canada overturning the lower court's decision.)

July 20, 1982, Winnipeg Free Press
In 1982 the Towne was the first chain in the city to introduce "inflation buster" prices. Most films shown from Tuesday to Thursday were only $2 instead of the usual $4.25. They also offered parking discounts and, of course, the bonus of being able to wander around indoors, visit the concessions and play some pinball until your movie started.

Metropolitan Theatre Old Sign

Within a few years of the Towne's opening, downtown's first-run cinema market was taking a hit from new, mall-based complexes. Many  closed: the Metropolitan in 1987; the Capitol in 1990; the Odeon / Walker in 1990; and Eaton Place Cinema 7 in 1991.

The same pressures put an end to the Towne's days as a first-run theatre. Landmark was not interested in running a discount house so in the 1990s they leased the building to Cineplex Odeon.

April 8, 1995, Winnipeg Free Press
In 1995 Cineplex Odeon announced that they would not renew their lease on the building and the Towne closed on February 26, 1995. Landmark decided to reopen it that April with two first-run screens and the rest showing second-run and special features.

Towne Cinema 8

Towne Cinema 8 is still owned by Landmark Cinemas and shows mainly first-run fare. They also own the nearby Globe Cinemas in Portage Place.

Towne Cinema 8 home page Landmark Cinemas
A new theatre for the exchange district One Man Committee (2012)


  1. Funny thing is I don't have fond memories of this theater as to me it was where movies went to die...I mean like after Return of the Jedi had been out for 3 or 4 months (in the Garrick) it would go to the Towne. So for me it was sort of sad.
    Silly that it would make me remember it that way, as I'm 40 now and live overseas and if you gave me a time machine I;d love to go see a movie at the Towne.

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  3. very informative, and provided me with a lot of details I never knew about it....going on tesday to see the belko experiment....thanks

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