The Avalon Theatre opened at the corner of Bank Street and Second Avenue on Saturday 17 November 1928. Reportedly the first movie theatre in Ottawa to show “talkies”, the theatre was on the cutting edge of new sound technology. Its opening warranted a three-page spread in The Ottawa Journal, which declared that the “atmospheric effect is astounding”. The opening night featured screen, stage, and orchestra performances. “To greet and serve our patrons properly”, Nolan announced, the theatre offered the services of uniformed attendants, young men who had received “physical training, schooling in courtesy, instruction in first aid…” and who would refuse gratuities because they were “hosts”.
The Ottawa Journal, Nov. 23, 1929
The theatre building was inspired by Spanish architecture, as is evident from this exterior view. On the inside, the stage was set off with “stately Moorish drapes” and featured a vaulted ceiling painted like the midnight sky, equipped with 150 small light bulbs to recreate a starry night. This night-sky even included projected clouds, using a machine called the Brenkert Master Brenograph. The foyer had wrought-iron frames. “Spanish windows”, and elegant furniture.
The Ottawa Evening Journal, 17 November 1928
The Avalon Theatre was built and owned by P. J. Nolan, and was one of three in his repertoire in Ottawa, which included The Empress and The Columbia. P. J. Nolan later went on to run and succeed as the Mayor of Ottawa in the 1930s. His son, P. Ambrose Nolan, was manager of The Avalon on its opening.
Source: Library and Archives Canada
In April 1931, four workmen employed by The Avalon, The Colombia, and the Rexy appeared in court charged with illegal picketing outside The Avalon. Members of the International Union Operators and Stage Hands’ Union (Local 257), they had been picketing to protest owner P.J. Nolan’s firing of two of them and their replacement by non-union employees from Hamilton. Two women testified that they had been struck by signboards carried by the men and business owners complained about the blocking of the sidewalk. P. Ambrose Nolan testified that they carried their signs in a “slovenly manner.” The four men were fined $10. In our installation the picket line is wonderfully imagined by artist Ross Rheaume.
The Avalon Theatre closed its doors in 1956 (although by this time, it had changed ownership and was now called the Glebe Theatre.) Although nothing much remains of the theatre apart from its stucco exterior, it’s original layout explains the curious juxtaposition of a double-entranced hardware store (occupying the original auditorium) and a Mexican restaurant (occupying the original foyer and ticket office). More importantly, The Avalon remains in the memories of many. Here we feature two clips from interviews conducted with former patrons. by researcher Emily Keyes who asked them “What do you remember about The Avalon Theatre?”
This story was researched and developed by Emily Keyes as part of the CapitalHistory.ca project of the Carleton Centre for Public History in association with the Workers’ History Museum. Her work was funded through a Mitacs Development Grant made possible by the generosity of Know History.
The story was revised by Adam Mahoney as a contribution to the Workers’ History Museum’s Capital History Kiosk’s project for Ottawa 2017. It formed part of his course work for Professor David Dean’s graduate seminar on museums, national identity, and public memory (Department of History, Carleton University).
We are grateful to Megan Michie and Linda Cheslock of the City of Ottawa and Marie-Soleil Bergeron of Ottawa 2017 for their assistance, and to councillor David Chernushenko and the Glebe BIA for their support.
This revised entry for capitalhistory.ca and its related installation at Bank and Third was made possible by Ottawa 2017, CIBC and the three Arts, Culture and Heritage Program Stewarding Partners AOE Arts Council, Ottawa Arts Council and Council of Heritage Organizations of Ottawa, funded by a City of Ottawa 2017 Arts, Culture and Heritage Investment Programme Grant.