1204 St. Catherine Street East,
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In Montreal, Canada, on August 31st 1907, the world’s first and largest cinema theatre, the Ouimetoscope, was inaugurated. With 1,200 seats and, for the first time, air conditioning, it was built by Ernest Ouimet. He made his mark with his own policy “to provide the best moving pictures and illustrated song exhibition that can be provided”.
Ouimet would open his first movie house in 1906, at 1204 Ste-Catherine Street East. The abandoned cabaret, transformed into a cinema theatre with 500 chairs and a small screen in the back of the room, would be demolished a year later to make way for the luxurious Ouimetoscope. It was the world’s first theatre to open exclusively for movies.
“The Ouimetoscope was the father of all cinema cathedrals and lavish auditoriums that dot the continent today” Hye Bossin, the Toronto Film Chronicler wrote in the 1950’s. “It was the first to challenge the stage and offer movies in first class surroundings and comfort, at prices which enabled the average person to attend.”
Ouimet would obtain French movies from France and would translate the English ones he got from the United States. But after many years of success, the competition grew stronger and forced Ouimet to sell his theatre.
His movie palace, renamed Le Canadien was changed back to Ouimetoscope in 1980 to become a repertoire cinema venue, which lasted until 1992. (Twinned in 1980, third screen added 1989).
Presently, a retail shop occupies the former lobby with a small noodle shop on the corner. The auditorium is abandoned. A small commemorative plate is affixed on the outside wall. It is the only sign of this building’s important place in cinematic history.
(portions of this text from The Cinema Show, Monique Corbeil, Feb. 2002)
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