Imperial Theatre, on the scene for 109 years

Posted on November 25, 2022 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments


Imperial Theatre in the early days (photo credit: Imperial Theatre)
When you step inside Imperial Theatre, it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of the historic entertainment venue. Standing for over a century, the theatre has undergone many changes but remains a staple of the arts and cultural industry of Saint John, N.B.

Opening act

The Imperial Theatre was constructed in 1912 by an American vaudeville theatre chain, Keith-Albee-Orpheum and its Canadian subsidiary Saint John Amusement Company. Located on King Square in Saint John, New Brunswick, it was said to be the “finest theatre in Eastern Canada”. It began as a venue for live performances and film and celebrated its grand opening on September 19, 1913, with a gala featuring local actors.

The four-story brick and concrete building was designed specifically for live performances and contained Italian marblework, English porcelain and artisanal lighting. Built as a response to the rising popularity of tourism and the entertainment scene, it’s believed to have housed performances by Ethel Barrymore, John Phillip Sousa and Harry Houdini.


The Imperial Theatre building was a place of worship from the 1950s until 1982 (photo credit: Imperial Theatre)
Changing scene
As film became more popular, Famous Players purchased the theatre in 1929 and renamed it Capitol Theatre. After a week of renovations, Imperial Theatre was transformed into a movie house and became one of Famous Players’ 700 cinema locations across North America. While movies were the main offering at Capitol Theatre, some live performances continued.

Over time, entertainment preferences shifted towards television, which resulted in the closure of Capitol Theatre. The building was sold to American sisters Carro and Susie Davis for $166,000, who donated it to the Full Gospel Assembly Pentecostal Church. Renovations were completed and the Imperial Theatre became a place of worship.


Live performances inside Imperial Theatre (photo credit: Imperial Theatre)
Community reboot
In 1982, Saint John citizen Jack MacDougall felt the Imperial Theatre should return to its former glory. With a down payment of one dollar, he entered into an agreement to purchase the building. Along with Susan Bate and Thomas Condon, MacDougall formed the Bi-Capitol Project to raise the remaining $999,999 needed for the transaction.

The local community stepped up and together, citizens helped reach the fundraising goal (seats in the theatre include names of each contributor). Architect Douglas Kochel was hired for the  $11.3 million refurbishment project and after 11 years the Imperial Theatre was restored to resemble its original design. The theatre celebrated its grand re-opening on May 24, 1994.


Modern view of Imperial Theatre in Saint John, N.B. (photo credit: Imperial Theatre)
The show goes on
Today, performances continue at the Imperial Theatre on King Square in Saint John, N.B. With 850 seats, patrons can enjoy a variety of live entertainment, including theatre, comedy, music and dance. The Imperial Theatre has also been recognized as a National and Local Historic Site, due to its architecture and significant contribution to the entertainment scene of Saint John.

After 109 years, the show goes on at Imperial Theatre.


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