Sunday afternoon in December. After multiple unanswered calls to the owners, we dared to walk through the doors of 6956, rue Saint-Denis. Upstairs, no doubt: we are in an old cinema room. However, between the stage and the rows of seats, acrobats jump on trapezes. This is normal since we are in the premises of the Château de cirque school, formerly called Trapézium.
On the ground floor, there is the big Sunday meeting of the Metropolitan Christian Center community, but we will not be able to go further than the entrance hall.
The former Le Château cinema is one of the best preserved “neighborhood palaces” in Montreal. While strolling along rue Saint-Denis or rue Bélanger, very close to the Jean-Talon market, you can still admire the facade of the listed heritage building.
Several old cinemas have been converted into places of worship throughout Quebec, underlines Pierre Pageau, author of the book Cinemas in Quebec: 1896-2008. Further north, at 8610, rue Saint-Denis, just south of the Métropolitaine highway, this was also the case for the former Crémazie cinema.
Around 1915, “scope” type cinemas with around 200 seats began to give way to more luxurious and larger establishments: “palaces”.
Le Château opened in 1932. It was a “neighborhood palace” type cinema. It was practically next door to another cinema, Le Rivoli, which had some 1,500 seats (today occupied by a branch of Pharmaprix). “The phenomenon of twin cinemas, which I call bessons, was very common at the time,” underlines Pierre Pageau. At the corner of Sainte-Catherine Street and Saint-Laurent Boulevard, for example, we found the Crystal and Midway cinemas practically “glued together”.
In Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, we also find not far from the Château and the Rivoli, on rue Saint-Hubert, another cinema, the Plaza theater, opened in 1922. The Beaubien cinema will open its doors later, in 1937 .
Confederation Amusements Limited owned the Château and also the Outremont Theater. The two Art Deco style rooms are the work of the architect René Charbonneau and the great decorator Emmanuel Briffa. The latter has left its mark on more than 150 cinemas in North America, including the Empress, the Rivoli, the Rialto and the Snowdon Theater.
In 1937, there were 59 cinemas in Montreal. After the palaces – which will be divided – more modest theaters like the Paris Cinema will be built. The arrival of television will change people’s habits, so much so that cinemas will focus their programming with repertory or… erotic films!
Disney films and The War of the Tuques will be shown there, but screenings stopped in 1985, and the building was acquired in 1989 by the Metropolitan Christian Center.
As for the Rivoli, it closed its doors in 1982.
In the 1980s, more theaters closed than opened. “In 1983 Super Écran arrived. For the first time, you can tune into a television set that only shows films. »
Today, Pierre Pageau emphasizes that we are witnessing a renaissance of “small theaters of Quebec films and repertoire”. He cites the Moderne and Public cinemas, and Station Vu, for which he is responsible for programming.
Who knows, maybe the days where “cinemas were the center of everything” will return.