Thursday, April 23, 2015

1300 Portage Avenue: Valour Theatre / Advance Electronics

Place: Valour Theatre / Advance Electronics
Address: 1300 Portage Avenue at Stiles
Architect: Unknown
Opened: 1937 (as Valour), 1967 (as Advance)
Contractor: H. Keegan

 November 20, 1937, Winnipeg Tribune

Western Theatres Ltd. announced the construction of the $20,000, 414-seat Valour Theatre in April 1937. Western was one of two locally based theatre chains in the late 1930s owned by the Miles family. 

Allied Amusements was created by Jack Miles in 1912 with a single theatre and by this time operated a number of neighborhood cinemas such as the Palace, Plaza, Roxy, Rose and Uptown. 

Western Theatres, half owned by the Miles Family and half by Famous Players Ltd., ran the  Lyceum, Rex, College and Wonderland. (Ownership changed often during the 1930s as some chains folded, new partnerships formed and some theatres shuttered during the Depression came back online as cinemas.)

Bottom: October 3, 1940, Jewish Post

The investor who built this theatre was was Hyman Schulman, a lawyer who also acted as its first manager. For a number of years he even practised law from the building. In 1963 he became Queen's Council and was involved in many community organizations, such as president of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue and president of the Canadian Council of B'nai B'rith, before his death in 1973.

November 25, 1937, Winnipeg Free Press

Construction got underway on the brick and reinforced concrete, 40 x 80 structure in August and the excavation work was complete by mid-September. The general contractor was H. Keegan, subcontractors included excavation by Theo Kotschorek, concrete by Cowin and Company and bricklaying by S. Liss and Co. of College Avenue. I could find no mention of who the architect was.

The Valour opened for business on November 25, 1937 with the film Golddiggers of 1937. After that, doors opened daily at 6 pm except Saturdays when it opened at 10 am with a children's matinee.

As a small, neighbourhood cinema it was not get mentioned in the news very often, so ownership and management is a bit hard to trace. Schulman was the manager until the early 1940s then came a long line of short-term managers, none of whom appeared to last more than two years. Perhaps being part of a chain co-owned by a national player made it an ideal training location for theatre managers.
Western Canadian Pictoral Index, Longman Collection 39157

In 1949 the Valour Theatre was cut loose from the chain and it was purchased by Albert D. Cohen under the name Valour Theatres Ltd.. I believe this is the same Albert D. Cohen who, along with his brother, were operating a pair of retail stores in downtown Winnipeg called Surplus Army and Navy (SAAN).

Before it reopened on September 2, 1949, the theatre underwent a 20 foot expansion to the rear, which increased its seating capacity to roughly 500. It was redecorated and the chairs, screen, sound equipment and air conditioning system were replaced.

May 11, 1949, Winnipeg Tribune

The new Valour Theatre was as a foreign film house. The first movie shown was the Italian film version of the opera "L'elisir d'amore." Ben Lepkin, a Winnipeg Tribune arts critic, wrote just weeks after it opened: "The Valour Theatre has already gone a long way towards establishing itself as a distinct adornment to this city's cultural life." 

Graham H. Beatty was appointed the revamped theatre's first manager, though he seems to have lasted just a few months.

May 9, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press

The Valour had a quiet existence showing a range of movies from British blockbusters to niche, foreign language art films. Around 1959 Cohen sold the theatre to E. Diamond, but the new owner was unable to make a go of it. In May 1960 the Valour quietly closed. The last film shown there appears to have been the Russian musical Eugene Onegin.

Albert D. Cohen likely sold the theatre because he had a budding retail empire on his hands. Aside from SAAN stores which went on to become a national retailer as Gendis Corporation, in the mid-1950s he formed a partnership with Japanese radio manufacturer Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Corporation and introduced the first transistor radios to the North American market. In 1958 that company changed its name to snappier SONY and Cohen's partner company became Sony Canada. (For more about the remarkable Albert D. Cohen.)

Another famous alumnus of the Valour Theatre is Barrie Nelson, who worked as a ticket taker in the 1950s and fell in love with film, especially animation.  After schooling in Winnipeg he went on to produce shorts of for the NFB, then in television, including a number of Charlie Brown specials. His film credis include a sequence director in the feature film Heavy Metal and an animator for Watership Down. (For a filmography.)

July 19, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press

The Valour did not stay vacant for long. In July 1960 Spruce Funeral Homes applied for a permit to convert it into a funeral parlour with a retail flower shop. They remained there until 1963.

After the funeral shop moved, the building contained a trio of businesses: Norman Brown's Canuck Billiards Lounge, Sheridan Florists and the West End Coffee Shop. By the end of 1966, just the flower shop remained.

Above: June 2, 1954, Winnipeg Free Press

The building's owner since 1967 has been Advance Electronics.

Advance was created in 1954 as Advance T.V. Sales and Service at 1415 Main Street near Atlantic, now demolished. According to the 1955 Henderson Directory the original proprietors were Sam Gilman (wife Ann) of 69 Aikins Street and Sidney Markell (wife Sylvia) of 9 St John's Avenue. (Note that this is not the same Samuel Gilman who co-founded the Donut House on Selkirk Avenue as he is listed separately in the same Henderson Directory).

Advance was a dealer for many of the big name TV manufactures of the day, including Sylvania, Admiral and Fairbanks-Morse. It also sold second hand televisions.

August 16, 1954, Winnipeg Free Press

A few years later, Advance billed itself as the city's first specialty TV service company. It is a claim hard to prove for sure, though it certainly would have been among the first. Many TV sales and service companies in those early years were electronics, radio and furniture dealers that expanded their product lines. 

There were four TV-related companies listed in the Henderson's Directory of 1954. RCA Victor on St. James at Ellice which sold, of course, RCA Victor televisions, radios and other appliances. Ackland and Son on Higgins sold CBS / Columbia brand televisions and radios, Globe Radio and Furniture 423 Portage Avenue and Kummen-Shipman Electric Ltd. on Fort, the latter was the only one listed as a offering both sales and service

The directory was published prior to Advance's opening and prior to the arrival of the city's first television channel, CBC, on May 31, 1954. From mid-1954 on there was a flood of new retailers, some presumably also offering repairs, catering to the thousands of Winnipeggers now in the market for TV sets.

December 2, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press
below: November 29, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

In late 1959 Advance relocated to an 800 square front store in the Kirkwood Block  / Club Morocco Building at 575 Portage at Langside. It appears that by then Gilman was the sole proprietor with one employee.

The reason for such a long move from the North End may have had to do with the location's proximity to the CBC building on the next block.

 Frieman ca. 2000

In 1961 Advance was sold to Arnold Frieman for $5,500.  Born in Hungary, Frieman spent his teenage years in a concentration camp. His parents and three siblings were killed in the Holocaust. After the war he went to Israel where he fought with the Israeli Air Force during their War of Independence (1947 - 1949). Soon after, he and wife Myra left for Canada and a new life.

The couple's first appearance in the Winnipeg Henderson Directory comes in 1953, living at 426 Anderson Avenue. Arnold was a clerk at Factory Products Ltd., 88 Arthur Street, which sold overstock and reconditioned televisions, radios and record players and had a record department. By 1956 he was their sales manager.

In 1961 the couple lived at 214-1880 Main Street at Royal, (the Royal Forest Apartments).

November 29, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

Frieman soon added another technology to Advance's line-up: car radios. It became a repair and parts depot for the Automatic Radio Company of Boston, then added Motorola in 1963. Both divisions advertised separately as Advance TV Centre and Advance Car Radio Centre.

In 1963 Advance moved to a new 4,000 square foot building at 636 Sargent Avenue at McGee. With the move came an increase in staff from two to over a dozen. At the new site they could cater more to their car radio division by offering drive-in service bays.

Grand opening ad: October 3, 1967, Winnipeg Free Press

The business thrived and Advance soon outgrew their Sargent Avenue home. In 1967 Frieman purchased the former Valour Theatre. A parking area and service bay were added to the east over the summer and the "Advance Television and Radio Centre" opened on October 3, 1967.

The much larger location allowed them to expand their TV and car radio lineups to cover most major brands. It also featured a new tape recorder centre, demonstration rooms for TVs and stereos, and a tape department featuring 4 and 8 track tapes. In 1971 Advance added its Professional Division and in 1974 a Technical Services Department. 

The name change to Advance Electronics appears to have come in 1973. It is Western Canada's largest independent electronics retailer.

Frieman has won many accolades, including Retail Excellence Award from the Retail Council of Canada (1995), Manitoba Business Magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year (2002) and was inducted into the Order of Manitoba (2006) for not only his business achievements but his work with a variety of community organizations. 

In 2015 he was feted at the Rady Jewish Community Centre annual sports dinner and added to the Deer Lodge Centre Foundation Honour Roll.

Our History Advance Electronics

June 27, 1967, Winnipeg Free Press


  1. I was a kid there in the late 50's and I remember watching the tearing out of the interior theater. The seats were all there aw we watched workers inside the building. A group of kids on our bikes hung out near there and Sal's.

  2. I was a kid there in the late 50's and I remember watching the tearing out of the interior theater. The seats were all there aw we watched workers inside the building. A group of kids on our bikes hung out near there and Sal's.