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Toronto’s old Odeon Hyland Theatre

01 Nov

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In the photo of the Odeon Hyland, the film “Blanche Fury” is on the marquee. Released in 1948, the year the theatre opened, it was a British movie, as were many of the films screened at the Odeon chain of theatres.  The theatre was located at 1501 Yonge Street, on the east side, a short distance north of St. Clair.

I have many fond memories of this grand theatre. On a Sunday morning in 1959, a friend and I had listened to a sermon in church in which the movie “Room at the Top” had been vociferously condemned. It starred Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret. The preacher had given the film better publicity than the newspapers, since after listening to the sermon, being teenagers, we decided that seeing the movie was a high priority. The following Saturday evening, off we marched to the Hyland to see the X-rated feature. However, when we were leaving, we came face to face with one of the elders of the church, along with his wife. There were a few awkward moments, and then we all broke into laughter. We made a pact that no one would ever admit that we saw the movie. By the way, the movie was indeed “hot and steamy,” at least that was the way we viewed it in 1963. In later years, I saw the movie on TV and failed to see why it had been considered risqué. Time destroys more than just our youthful appearance.   

“Room at the Top” was one of a group of films that became known as the “Kitchen Sink” movies. They were part of a British cultural movement that reflected the lives of working-class Britons. It began in the late 1950s and lasted until the end of the 1960s. Some referred to it as “angry theatre,” while others considered it “social realism.” It portrayed angry young men who lived in cramped, cheap accommodations, and who spent copious amounts of time in the local pubs. The first film in the genre was “Look Back in Anger,” in 1959. A few of the other films were “Room at the Top,” also released in 1959, followed by “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” (1960), “A Taste of Honey” (1960), and “Alfie (1966). The final “Kitchen Sink” film was “Spring and Port Wine,” released in 1970. However, the genre continued in the TV shows, “Coronation Street” and “The Eastenders.”  When I saw “Room at the Top” in 1959, I was not aware that it reflected a social/cultural movement in Britain. 

Another visit to the Hyland that I can recall vividly was when and friend and I went to see the movie, “Tom Jones,” starring Albert Finney. It was based on Henry Fielding’s novel, “The History of Tom Jones.” It was considered a very risqué film for its day (1963). When the film opened at the Hyland, there were so many people trying to purchase tickets that the management of the theatre arranged to serve coffee to those who were standing in line. The movie told the story of a promiscuous young man in 18th-century England who romped his way across the beds of the ladies whom he encountered. When a friend and I saw the film, sitting behind us were three elderly women. They giggled and snorted each time Tom landed in the bed of another woman. The comments of the women were rather mild in nature, with an occasional “Oh my goodness, “ “Mercy me,” and “Oh my goodness gracious” being heard amid the giggles. However, when Tom ended up in bed with a woman whom he later believed to be his mother, the three ladies were silent. They departed the theatre shortly after, deciding that the film was perhaps a little too racy for their delicate sensibilities.

The Odeon Hyland was just a few doors south of the Hollywood Theatre. At night, the brightly-lit marquees of the two theatres dominated the street. Toronto’s darkened streetscapes have been diminished by passing of these great neon displays. The Zanzibar Tavern on Yonge Street is one of the few that remains from this golden era.

The Hyland’s architect was Jay English, who also designed the Odeon Fairlawn and Odeon Carlton. The Hyland opened on November 22, 1948.  It possessed 884 seats in its auditorium and a further 473 in the balcony. One of the Hyland’s managers, Victor Nowe, won the Quigley Award three times. It was given each year to the manager who exhibited the best promotional activities. For the film “Tight Little Island, “ based on the novel “Whiskey Galore,” Victor Nowe covered the outside of the theatre in plaid. The stunt was highly successful, as it caught the eye of those passing on the sidewalk and in cars on Yonge Street. “Tight Little Island” told the story of a shipwreck off the coast of Scotland. The ship’s cargo was whiskey, which the villagers wished to retrieve for their own purposes, much to the dismay of the government. In another advertising gimmick, for the film “Bridge on the River Kwai,” Victor Nowe had an enormous model of the bridge constructed in the theatre lobby.

The Hyland Theatre was eventually split into two auditoriums, to increase revenue. When the renovations occurred, the marquee was dramatically altered.  However, this did not save the theatre, and sadly, it fell to the wrecker’s ball in 2003.             

Odeon Hyland OA 2155

The auditorium of the Hyland. Photo from the Ontario Archives, AO 2155.

Odeon Hyland OA 2157

Lobby of the Hyland, photo from the Ontario Archives, AO 2157.

          Odeon Hyland

The Hyland, after it was split into two auditoriums. The film “The Real McCoy” and “Hard Target” were both released in 1993.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous posts about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern, and Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

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   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016, entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” 

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage buildings. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 

 

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