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
Reginald Nalezyty, DCSC (Thunder Bay, ON)
Cost: $3 million (estimated)

Size: 30,000 sq. ft., 2,200 seats.

Former Rose Theatre
March 25, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press

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

The chain billed itself as presenters of "the ultimate in unusual film entertainment." This included independent films, foreign films and risqué offerings. Their first showings here were The Conjugal Bed 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 featuring live exotic dancers and foreign language films. By the end of the year the Towne name disappeared and the location became an adult theatre showing XXX films.

December 20, 1979, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1979 there was a rejuvenation of sorts in Winnipeg's downtown cinema scene.

The Garrick Cinema, Winnipeg's first multi-plex cinema, added two more screens. The Capitol Theatre underwent a major renovation and was subdivided into an upper and lower cinema. The new Eaton Place mall announced that its plans included a multi-plex of its own, (Cinema 7 eventually opened in 1981.)

With all this activity, Towne Cinema was looking to get back into the Winnipeg market with a downtown location of its own. By this time, Towne was Canada's largest independent cinema company with over 100 screens in in the Western provinces and owned by Alberta-based Landmark Cinemas.

The property Landmark was looking for presented itself in 1980 in the form of the site of a once-prominent local dairy.

Towne Cinema 8
Bottom photo, far left: City Dairy's stable building today

City Dairy was established in the late 1880s and was a leader in providing safe, sanitary milk products. It was the first dairy in Winnipeg to sell pasteurized milk and regularly had independent labs inspect their products and facilities above and beyond what the city's health department already did.

City Dairy built a new plant and offices at the intersection of Adelaide Street and Notre Dame Avenue in 1918 and expanded it in 1937. In 1928, they moved their sprawling stables and garage from Maryland Street at Notre Dame to a new, four storey building at 49 Adelaide Street.

n the 1940s, the national Silverwood Dairies purchased City Dairy, renovated the plant and eventually converted it to the Silverwood name. It remained at Adleaide and Notre Dame until 1974 when it relocated to the suburbs.

The buildings were put up for sale and in June 1980 the dairy plant portion was torn down. The stables remained and are now a condominium development.


Landmark bought the empty lot property and in 1981 built Canada's first stand-alone multiplex, (to this point they were always attached to malls or other attractions.)Reg Nalezyty of the Thunder Bay architectural firm DCSC Limited was the principal architectural designer, structural engineer and project construction manager. His design called for the use of load bearing precast concrete panels which made for quick construction: work began in early March and the building was open on August 21.

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 per screen.

Another unique feature of the 30,000 square foot Towne was its bi-level, 7,000 square foot which allows for hundreds of movie-goers to wait inside for their film to begin. It was a feature that their stand-alone 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.

Also in 1981, it hosted the world premiere of the film 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 titles.

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 cinema in the city to introduce discounted weekday admission prices. Most films were only $2.00 Tuesdays to Thursdays instead of the usual $4.25. They also offered parking discounts in nearby lots and a small arcade area to pass the time while waiting for your film to start.

Within a few years of the Towne's opening the downtown's first-run cinema market was taking a hit from new suburban mall multi-plexes. As a result, the Metropolitan closed in 1987, the Capitol in 1990, the Odeon / Walker in 1990, and Eaton Place's Cinema 7 in 1991.

The same pressures put a temporary end to the Towne Cinema 8's days as a first-run theatre. Attendance dropped and Landmark was not interested in running a discount or second-run cinema. In the early 1990s they leased the building to Cineplex Odeon.

In 1995, Cineplex Odeon announced that they would not renew their lease with Landmark and the Towne Cinema 8 closed on February 26, 1995.

The cinema got a reprieve when Landmark decided to reopen it in April with the two largest screens showing first-run films and the rest showing second-run and special features.

Towne Cinema 8

The Towne Cinema 8 is still owned by Landmark Cinemas and shows mainly first-run films.


  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.

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

  3. by the way i'm also the unknown comment too..

  4. In 1964 I was 17. I got in at the Towne to see The Conjugal Bed,my first R-rated soft porn movie. So many other worldly films would follow, but I remember trekking to Notre Dame from St. James by bus to get that opportunity. The theatre was quite attractive, as I expected movie theatres to be.