Vintage Photos Of The Empress Theatre Are A Blast From The Past

A look at an NDG cultural relic.
Vintage Photos Of The Empress Theatre Are A Blast From The Past

What to do, oh what to do, with the remains of the Empress Theatre in NDG? There was some brief talk years ago of converting it into a multi-use cultural centre, but the municipal government axed that idea. Then there was, of course, the profitable idea that it could just be torn down and condos could be built in it's place, but for some reason the notion of tearing down 88 years of history and a Canadian heritage monument didn't sit so pleasantly with the residents of the borough. Finally, in 2012 a group called Cinema NDG had their proposal to renovate the upstairs into a cinema approved. But as with all change (and construction) in Montreal, things move slowly. And so the Empress sits quietly, it's inside still scorched from a fire in 1992, awaiting its fate.

The Empress Theatre is the oldest surviving Egyptian-themed art deco theatre in Canada. It was built in 1927 to host Vaudeville performances, burlesque acts, and first-run films - basically as an all-purpose entertainment multiplex. Throughout the past century it's function adapted with the changing of the times, sometimes a dinner theatre venue, sometimes a second-run arthouse cinema. It was purchased by Famous Players in 1988 to play first-run features, but after the fire gutted the interior, the Empress closed it's doors for good.

In their bid to restore this shambling relic of Montreal's Golden Age, Cinema NDG was kind enough to lend us their dossier of historical photos, giving a first-hand look into the original splendour of the Empress Theatre's original construction in a time when Montreal was still known as "Sin City". For more information, check out Cinema NDG.

Exterior, c. 1943.

Original Stage, c. 1927.

Vaudeville Stage Show.

Empress Tea Room, 10 September 1943.

"Royal Follies" dinner theatre cast, c. 1960's.

Original Lounge from 1927.

Exterior, 1928.

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