Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chilliwack's Opera House

The Knight Block

I recall my first visit to the Mediterranean island of Malta and a grand tour, albeit at night and in a car, of Valletta. We were hosted by the grand doyen of Maltese history, A.E. Abela and I was very excited to have finally arrived. I recall now one of two* lasting memories of that first night. As we approached the hotel I remember the magnificently dressed Maltese arriving at Valletta's operetta center the Teatru Manoel at 115 Old Theatre Street . As our car slowed to allow these patrons of the arts sweeping passage across our stern and bow it was as if I was transported to another era,bending time and arriving in the late Victorian or Edwardian age.

It’s the opera though that I wish to journey upon further as all of us in Chilliwack know, that soon, the new Chilliwack Cultural Centre will be opened. Certainly it is a hive of activity in its preparations and the grand gala will soon be upon us. However, at one time there was another similar center, another hive of activity that was also the center of Chilliwack entertainment, the Chilliwack Opera House.

Located in the Knight Block, on the south-west corner of Main and Wellington,
construction commenced in 1907 and at the time it was the largest building in Chilliwack and the first three story structure in town. Through its years of operation it was continually improved upon raising its seating from 200 to 600 chairs, added a gently angled floor rising from front to back for better viewing of the stage and making sure that it was fitted the latest in decoration and theatre design.

Performances, concerts, public gatherings, dances and moving pictures were offered at the venue. In 1909 for the St. Andrew’s and Caledonian Society’s First Annual Scottish Concert reserved seating could be secured for 75 cents at Cowen’s Drugstore also located within the Knight Block. The headliner was the dance troop of Professor James Henderson named the Glengarry Quartet and the best piper on the west coast, James Begg, also performed. For moving pictures, better known today as the movies, admission for adults was 20 cents and 10 cents for children. (Seems to me movies cost 10 cents when I lived in Sardinia!)

When the Chilliwack Minstrels performed at the Opera House on May 28-29, 1908 the local advertisement reminds us of proper theatre etiquette of the time. “Late Comers not Admitted during the Singing of Any Number”. (Chilliwack Progress May 27, 1908, page 8). It seems so very reminiscent of today’s understanding, “Please Turn Off all Cell Phones during Performances”.

Image: "The Mikado" by Gilbert and Sullivan at the Chilliwack Opera Houee, June 1909.

*The second memory was seeing the Grand Harbour for the first time – truly wonderful, with the three cities across from Valletta, the lights, the ships, the forts, limestone and water.

Teatru Manoel Website: http://www.teatrumanoel.com.mt/