Photo from the Ontario Archives (AO 2122).
The above photo depicts the Oriole Theatre in 1945, when it was the Cinema. Its name was later changed to the International Cinema. Located at 2061 Yonge Street, it was on the east side of the street, near Manor Road. Plans for the theatre were submitted to the city by the architect Kirk Hyslop in June 1933. The simple unadorned facade of the theatre reflected the austerity of the years of the Great Depression. It was a modest-size theatre, with a concrete floor and 576 leatherette seats with plush backs. The balcony was exceptionally small, as the files in the archives reveal that there were only 29 seats. Perhaps it was the loges, reserved for smoking.
The theatre was renovated by Kaplan and Sprachman in December of 1941 for Botany Theatres, the changes completed by May 1942. Perhaps this was when the name of the theatres was changed to the Cinema Theatre. This was during the war years, when theatres played a major role in maintaining morale on the home front. During 1940s, other than the radio and newspapers, there were no visual images of the war effort. News reels in theatres were the public’s only source of actually viewing the devastations of the conflict. Today, viewing war movies from the 1940s, the films may appear overly simplistic and heavy on Allied propaganda, but they were an important tool of war in their day. The 1944 movie “The White Cliffs of Dover” is an excellent example. The speech narrated by Irene Dunne at the end of the film is inspirational, and even now, listening to it is a deeply emotional experience. It was films such as this, many of them screened at theatres such as the Cinema, which gave Canadians hope that the nation’s armed forces would be triumphant and that the men and women serving overseas would return home safely.
There were other great movies that were produced during the war years. The extravagant MGM musicals helped a weary nation sooth the wounds of war, and for a few hours forget the terrible news from the Allied front. I remember viewing films such as: “For Me and My Girl” (1943) with Gene Kelly,”Girl Crazy” (1943) with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland,“Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) with Judy Garland, and “Anchors Away” (1945) with Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson. At one time or another, many of the these great film played at the Cinema.
Eventually the Cinema Theatre became the International Cinema. Its sister theatre was the Town Cinema at Bloor and Yonge Streets. Both theatres specialized in art films and other adult entertainment. They did not screen cartoons or other films that appealed to children. In 1947, the movie version of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” played for a record-breaking nineteen weeks at the International Cinema. For the occasion, they decorated the theatre with streamers representing the colours of the French flag. During the 1950s, art exhibitions were displayed in the lobby of the International Cinema. They were curated and arranged by Beatrice Fischer. Air–conditioning was added to the theatre in 1954.
Auditorium of the Oriole, photo from the Archives of Ontario AO 2121
The site of the International Cinema at 2061 Yonge Street. Photo from City of Toronto Archives.
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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 also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.
To place an order for this book:
Theatres Included in the Book:
Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto
Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)
Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons
Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown
Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s
Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede
Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression
Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro
Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years
University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema
Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres
Savoy (Coronet), Westwood
Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes
Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)