From the West end to the Mile End, Montreal is home to entertainment venues that make its prolific cultural presence possible. The Tribune’s Arts & Entertainment team dug up the histories of some of the city’s notable venues for a look at how they became what they are today.
The Corona Theatre
The Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre that I’ve come to know during my time at McGill—through incredible live performances by Shad, Hey Rosetta!, and The Arkells—is the product of more than a century of evolution, vastly changed from what it once was.
The Corona Theatre was built in 1912, long before Virgin founder Richard Branson was running his billion-dollar empire—or even alive. Catering to the entertainment of the era, it housed showings of silent movies accompanied by music, and light comedy shows.
Up until the 1960s, the theatre flourished as a landmark of the south-west Montreal district of Little Burgundy. Then, however, its owners ceased to maintain it properly, and it was threatened to be demolished on several occasions.
Towards the end of the 1980s, the little-used building underwent a significant revival as a location for movie filming. A greater breakthrough occurred in 1997 when a non-lucrative arts corporation bought the theatre, began a renovation process, and had it reopened by 1998. More renovations occurred between 2003-2004, and Virgin Mobile became the official sponsor in 2012.
Today, the Corona Theatre is best known as a concert venue that treads between intimacy and spectacle. It also welcomes rental groups to make use of its space. Through the years of change and uncertainty, it has retained most of its core design features: the upper balcony seating and the distinctive arch that creates a grand presence on Rue Notre Dame Ouest. It’s off the beaten track for most McGill students, but it’s well worth the metro trip to take in a show.
— Max Berger
At the heart of Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, our famous entertainment district, you’ll find Metropolis. The building that we know and love today as one of the city’s most popular concert venues has undergone many a transformation since its construction over 100 years ago. Opened in 1884 as a skating rink, it was renovated as a theatre. With the rise of cinema in the 1920s, the venue was renovated to house a movie theater and then reverted to a playhouse in the early 1930s. From 1960-1981 it underwent a blue spell, playing host to an adult cinema. The venue closed its doors to the public from 1981 to 1987, but ended the six-year shutdown with a grand reopening as a popular discothèque.
When L’Éqiupe Spectra—a company devoted to developing and raising the profile of the Montreal cultural scene—acquired the venue in 1997, it became the place we know today. Under its current guise Metropolis has featured hundreds of entertainers from all ends of the spectrum. Showcasing huge stars and up-and-comers alike, Metropolis’ acts have ranged from Aziz Ansari to Ziggy Marley. While hosting live performances remains its lifeblood, it occasionally lends itself as a reception hall for launches, corporate parties and events of all sorts.
— Kia Pouliot
Resonance melds live music and the warm atmosphere of a small coffee shop into an appealing package.
The venue was founded by McGill alumni Martin Helsop and Colin Power in October 2012, based on an idea they had started seriously planning in January of that year. Helsop and Power, a bassist and saxophonist respectively, were inspired to create the venue by their love of performing and their desire to give more musicians a platform for self-expression.
Though Resonance does not identify as a club for one particular type of music, Power and Helsop aim to book more experimental and creative acts. While they tend to showcase mostly acoustic instrumental music, they’re open to having different types of artists, particularly ones who may not yet be getting many opportunities at other venues.
“I want to remind them of their personal reason for existing,” Helsop says.
The venue employs a pay-what-you-want rule for most of their shows. Helsop sees this as a way to encourage people to come without feeling any pressure.
“I hope that people will feel that they can come here on any given night; the audience will be very friendly, and they’ll get exposed to music that they wouldn’t otherwise get exposed to, all with a very low barrier for entry,” Helsop adds.
— Max Bledstein
Cinema du Parc
Despite Cinema du Parc’s current status as a hub for independent and foreign films in Montreal, the theater didn’t always operate under its current aesthetic. Cinema du Parc was founded by the Famous Players Film Company under the name Famous Players du Parc. After going through a variety of name and personnel changes, the art house was reopened under its current name by legendary cinephile Roland Smith. Smith invented the idea of “repertory cinema” (where venues can choose each film they want to show individually, rather than having to show a whole package of them), a method which he instituted at the theatre.
Cinema du Parc distinguishes itself in Montreal through its attempt to bring the Parisian style of cinematic programming, where many different kinds of current films and retrospectives are shown to the bilingual market of Montreal.
Cinema du Parc also plays a big role in the Montreal cinematic scene through its hosting of film festivals. They offer an affordable rate for festivals to rent out their theatres and show films that otherwise would struggle to find an audience in the city.
“What matters most to us is the quality of the film,” says head of press relations Rafaël J. Dostie. “Without us, a lot of films would never get shown.
— Max Bledstein
Theatre Rialto was built between 1923 and 1924, and originally functioned as a movie theatre. Its Neo-baroque architecture, which was designed by Montrealer Joseph-Raoul Gariépy, was inspired by Paris’ Palais Garnier, a large opera house built in the latter half of the 19th century; the large columns on Rialto’s exterior especially mimic those of its Parisian counterpart. Building on the French grandeur of the facade, Rialto’s interior was built by famous Canadian theatre director Emmanuel Briffa, and its various elegant ornaments, balustrades, cartouches, and pilasters are crafted in a Louis XVI style.
The impressive facade and illustrious interior of Rialto were the main reasons the theatre was designated as a National Historic site in 1993. The inclusion of a ballroom, a billiards room, a bowling alley, and a rooftop garden added to its grandeur, and its total of 1,370 seats made it an all-around entertainment destination in Mile End. However, the building ceased operation as a theatre in 1990, and its subsequent designation as a site of cultural and historical significance may have been part of an effort to preserve it from the fate of its old-school contemporary Theatre Seville, which was abandoned in 1985 and demolished in 2010.
In the 2000s, Rialto’s theatre seats were removed, but re-imaginings of its business purpose, including the proposals of a steakhouse and a nightclub, were short-lived. After years of sitting on the property, with no offers of purchase from either the city or private developers, owner Elias Kalogeras finally managed to sell it to businessman Carosielli Ezio, owner of daycare company Le Groupe Merveilles Inc. Now, it plays host to a wide variety of events, including tribute band performances, live author interviews, dance nights, and even speed dating.
— Will Burgess