Monday, March 19, 2012

301 Notre Dame Avenue - Towne Cinema 8

© 2012, Christian Cassidy. Updated 2023.
Location: 301 Notre Dame Avenue (Map)
Opened: August 21, 1981
Architect:
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 entered the Winnipeg market in 1964 after it purchased the former Rose Theatre on Sargent Avenue 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 offering too risqué for mainstream cinemas. The first films show was a double-bill of The Conjugal Bed followed by Fellini's 8 1/2. In 1968, The Graduate played there 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

There was a rejuvenation Winnipeg's downtown cinema scene starting in 1979.

The Garrick Cinema, Winnipeg's first multiplex cinema, added two more screens for  total of four. 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 multiplex of its own and Cinema 7 eventually opened in 1981.


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 more than 100 screens in Western Canada and was now 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, is 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 the standards of the city's health department.

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

I
n the 1940s, the national Silverwood Dairies purchased City Dairy and renovated the plant. It was eventually rebranded under the Silverwood name.

In 1974, Silverwood relocated its dairy operations to the suburbs and the downtown building were put up for sale. The dairy plant was torn down in June 1980 but the stable building still exists today.


3ex150

Landmark Cinemas bought the empty 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 pre-cast concrete panels which made for quick construction. Work began in early March 1981 and the building was opened on August 21.

Unlike the other downtown large multiplex under construction, Cineplex's Eaton Place Cinema 7 which had only an average of 80 seats per screen, the Towne's capacity ranged from 125 to 450 seats per screen.

Another unique feature of the 30,000 square foot Towne was its bi-level, 7,000 square foot lobby that allowed 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 the following films on offer at its eight screens: 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.


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 with the Supreme Court of Canada overturning the lower court's decision.)


July 20, 1982, Winnipeg Free Press

The Towne was the first cinema in the city to introduce discounted weekday admission prices in 1982. 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, downtown's first-run cinema market was taking a hit from new suburban mall multiplexes. As a result, the Metropolitan closed in 1987, the Capitol in 1990, the Odeon/Walker in 1990, and Eaton Place Cinema 7 in 1991.

The same pressures put a temporary end to the Towne Cinema 8's days as a first-run theatre. Attendance was dropping and Landmark was not interested in running a discount or second-run cinema. In the early 1990s they leased the building to Cineplex Odeon but the deal was not renewed in 1995.

Cineplex Odeon walked and Landmark closed the Towne Cinema 8 on February 26, 1995.

Towne Cinema 8


Landmark reopened the Towne Cinema 8 a few weeks later in April 1995 with the two largest screens showing first-run films and the rest showing second-run and special features. Eventually, most screens showed first-run movies.

It also kept its policy of discount pricing with films only $5.00 as of October 2021.

No Time to Die at Towne Cinema 8 on October 16, 2021

Like all Manitoba cinemas, the Towne Cinema 8 closed in March 2020 after Manitoba declared a state of emergency and wide-ranging restrictions on public gatherings. It reopened along with other Manitoba cinemas in July 2021 at 50 per-cent capacity and requiring proof of vaccination.

Post-pandemic staff shortages at Landmark's Grant Park Cinemas led the chain to temporarily close the Towne on July 7, 2022 so that staff could be redeployed.

That closure became permanent when the building was put up for sale in January 2023. According to the Free Press story, there is a "no cinema" clause that goes with the purchase ensuring that the building will most likely be torn down. (The official boundaries of the Exchange District National Historic Site exclude the Towne Cinema 8 property.)

The Towne Cinema 8 was the last commercial cinema in Winnipeg. The only others to last into the 2000s were the Northstar Cinemas, which were closed by Famous Players in 1996 but reopened from 2000 - 2001, and the former Portage Place Cinemas which became the Globe Cinema when Landmark Cinemas took them over in 2002, that closed in 2014.

For more about the rise and fall of Winnipeg's downtown cinemas, see my West End Dumplings post "And then there were none".

5 comments:

  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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  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

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

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  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.

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