By Brendan Miller on December 21, 2023.
On this day in 1911 the two-storey Monarch Theatre opened its doors as a motion picture theatre and amusement house, the first of its kind in Canada.
The 560-seat theatre featured a movie auditorium with a pool and billiards room and tobacco shop with a spacious lobby and richly decorated auditorium.
It was the largest and most extravagant theatre in Medicine Hat at that time and represented the growth of the city.
The original auditorium showed two movies daily with a matinee each afternoon.
Now, 112 years later, the Monarch Theatre is being brought back to life after it was purchased by the Monarch 1911 Society, a non-profit created by members of all four local Rotary Clubs.
The society was handed the keys to the theatre in November after raising $100,000 for its purchase.
Over the past month several members of the society have been removing historical clutter from the building and bringing it back up to code.
“The Monarch theatre was kind of the go-to theatre for more than just movies. I remember going to magicians there. I remember going to see people singing; there was a lot of things, different things going on,” says Frank Devine, president of the Monarch 1911 Society.
The society wants to run affordable afternoon matinees, host small groups and one-person shows like comedians or musical acts.
The society is looking for a theatre operator and currently is in negotiations with Plugged in Media.
“Downtown has changed dramatically over the years. It would be nice to make a focal central point, a destination place for people to go through again,” says Devine.
The society says the theatre is in sound shape structurally for its age.
“That’s because back then they built stuff to last, not like today,” jokes Devine.
It has passed inspections from both the fire department and Alberta Health Services.
The Monarch has a new security system and the camera projector is up and operating again after repairs.
However, the theatre will need to have its roof replaced. In the new year the society plans to redo the roof at an estimated cost of $150,000.
The Monarch is a designated heritage property and protected as a Municipal Historic Resource. It’s also listed on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.
In 2024, the Monarch 1911 Society also plans to apply for protected status from the Alberta Heritage Foundation that, if granted, will provide more funding to help restore the theatre and preserve its history for another 112 years to come.