History

A pictorial history of Main Street Wolfville’s Acadia Cinema building, its venues and some events, from 1911 to the present.

100 Years of Stage & Screen: A short centennial summary for history buffs

While the Al Whittle Theatre is the newest reincarnation, the site’s original life as a theatre venue began in 1911 when Marshall and Ellouise Black established the Opera House on the back of the existing T.E. Hutchinson building. Renamed, refurbished and rebuilt over the years, it became the Orpheum Theatre (1923), the Acadia Theatre (1947), Acadia Twin Cinemas (1986) and finally the Acadia Cinemas (a tri-plex, 1997), which closed when Al Whittle, manager of 47 years, retired in 2000. The Acadia Cinema Cooperative Ltd opened the doors of the Al Whittle Theatre with an anchor-tenant Fundy Film Society screening on November 7, 2004.

 

Background: The Acadia Cinema building has played an important role in the social life of Valley communities surrounding Wolfville beginning with the Wolfville Opera House in 1911.

In the year 2000, the Acadia Cinema closed. By this time it had evolved from a single screen movie theatre in 1947 to three small screens, in an effort to compete with the new multiplex chains. The closure was the result of several converging circumstances, but most importantly, A. Ellsworth (Al) Whittle, manager of the Acadia Cinema since 1953, retired. The owners, now called Ononette Investment of St. Johns, NB, but still the original family from 1947 to the present, chose to close the theatre rather than search for a new manager.

But, in addition to its role as a first-run cinema, the Acadia had also hosted the Acadia (University) Film Society and had run its own popular Sunday matinee series in recent years directed to film buffs. The desire for cinema alternatives to remain in Wolfville led to the formation of the Fundy Film Society (FFS) in 2001. After searching for screening facilities in Wolfville for more than a year, the group rented space at the Empire Theatres in New Minas. The Society was a resounding success, growing from an initial single screening of 120 seats to three screenings of 174 seats per film in only six weeks.

Bolstered by the success of the Film Society and learning from honourary FFS Board member, Al Whittle, that the Acadia Cinema building on Main Street, Wolfville, was again on the market, Fundy Film society members, including Al Whittle, began to look at the possibility of reopening the facility. Their investigations resulted in the formation of the Acadia Cinema Cooperative Ltd. (ACC) in December 2002 to carry out the purchase and renovation of the building.

Concept: The redevelopment plan for the Acadia Cinema building proposed a comfortable 160 soft-seat state-of-the-art theatre, suitable for live performance as well as film. The Fundy Film Society would be the anchor tenant for the theatre. Local theatre and music professionals and community groups lent their enthusiastic support to the proposal as there were no comparable venues of the size in the region. The lobby space for the theatre would be shared with a café, which would provide concession services for the theatre as well as a place to gather after performances, and possibly a future art gallery. The rental of commercial space on Main Street and remodeled residential units on the second floor would provide additional revenues to support the operation of the building.

Share Offering: The Cooperative initially proposed that the estimated $600,000 needed to purchase and renovate the building be raised through a share offering taking advantage of Nova Scotia’s 30% Equity Tax Credit (ETC) program. This allowed a 30% nonrefundable NS income tax credit on the amount invested in the Cooperative. While ACC explored other funding sources, the cooperative believed that community participation through share ownership would be essential for the success of the project. The first major goal was the sale of 3,500 $100 shares by March 1, 2003. In the beginning, individuals could purchase up to ten shares in any 365 day period.

The Unfolding of the Plans (2003 – 2004): Shares went on sale in January (2003) and the community response was, and continues to be extraordinary. From January 2003 to the opening of the Al Whittle Theatre in November (2004) the Acadia Cinema Cooperative Ltd brought in $211,200 in share sales with donations totaling almost $10,000. As of August 2010, the total shares sold has been 3,141! Talk about community support!

Following is an outline of highlights from the beginning up to the present. This segment of ACC History is now be concluded. As new material is posted on Home, Shareholders, or Volunteers as appropriate, each older item will move to archives by date or category on this new site.

Fuller details from the original ACC website about the process and the generous on-going volunteer and monetary contributions made to the Cooperative’s plans from the earliest days are available in our Original Archives. If interested in access to these, please contact Susan Hauer at (902) 542-5157.

Acadia Cinema Cooperative Highlights (2002 – 2010)

2002

December

  • The Acadia Cinema Cooperative Ltd. (ACC)* is legally established with Sara Lee Lewis, Isabel Madeira-Voss and William B. Zimmerman as the signing members.

2003

January

  • Shares went on sale.
  • Graphic designer Steve Slipp, with Ned Zimmerman, gave the new cooperative a logo and
  • Andrew Steeves of Gaspereau Press designed share certificates, both feature the Acadia marquee.

March

  • The Acadia Cinema Cooperative had its founding meeting at the Wolfville School and the first Board of Directors was elected: Michael Cussen, Sara Lee Lewis, Isabele Madeira-Voss, Jeff Moore, Peter Nathanson, Gerald Parker, Al Whittle, Lay Yong Tan, and Bill Zimmerman.
  • Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op, looking for a café site in Wolfville, joined the Acadia Cinema Cooperative Ltd to purchase the building to establish a café in the Acadia Cinema building.
  • Together the co-ops made a 33% down payment on the purchase of the Acadia Cinema building (ACC’s share was $54,688).
  • In a good-will gesture building owners, Ononette Investment of St. Johns, NB, offered an interest-free mortgage for the first year.

April

  • Web designer, Heidi Kalyani, volunteered to set up an ACC web site.

July – August

  • Just Us! opened the Wolfville café in the former theatre’s lobby.
  • A hard-working ACC committee undertook basic renovations allowing immediate rental of the second floor apartment.
  • With financial assistance from Kings CED (Community Economic Development) agency and ACOA (the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency), ACC began work on a business plan as part of the process of applying for funding assistance through ACOA.
  • George St. Amour and Bill Zimmerman carried out demolition work in the theatre.

October

  • ACC received a second Equity Tax Credit Registration for another ETC share sale period and the ten share limit was lifted and the deadline was extended to February 27 (2004).

November

  • ACC launched the “Open The Doors!” fund raising drive (full financial goals in Original Archives) to get the Fundy Film Society (FFS) into the new theatre.
  • As anchor tenant, Fundy Film would in turn generate income for the final phase of the project — “Bring Up the Lights” — to ready the theatre for live performance. Over $50,000 came in during this period.

2004

February

  • ACC and Just Us! refinanced the mortgage and began discussions with the Town building inspector re: design and construction requirements for a building permit to commence reconstruction of a new lobby area (also for an expanded Just Us! Café) and enough of a theatre for the Fundy Film Society to begin screening films. The Board mailed letters to potential contractors.
  • ACC submitted a grant application seeking federal government assistance through an ACOA SCIF (Strategic Community Investment Fund) grant to underwrite capital costs.

March

  • The grant entered the second application phase and with permission from ACOA, money spent became a part of a cost-sharing arrangement if ACOA approved the grant with an anticipated announcement by summer.
  • ACC issued bid documents to local concrete and general contractors to execute volunteer Bill Zimmerman’s design for the new theatre, and contacted interested interior designers to solicit their bids and concepts for the decor.
  • After extensive discussions, by mid-May, the ACC Board and Just Us! had hired Denyse Karn to complete the interior design of the new lobby (and expanded café area for Just Us)! and for ACC’s theatre, and Ideal Projects of Hortonville as prime contractor for all construction.
  • The initial contract focused on the lobby area and structural work required for the theatre. As more funding became available, work proceeded to complete the theatre.

May – June

  • Preliminary work began (31st).
  • ACC’s Board liaison to the project, Bill Zimmerman, kept ACC’s shareholders and interested people informed of the progress in an “Under the Hard Hat” web site column illustrated with a weekly photo.
  • The Town of Wolfville approved ACC’s building permit and the Board applied for and received a new Equity Tax Credit Registration from the Nova Scotia Department of Finance.
  • The Board announced a Summer Share Sale (June – September) to complete the “Open the Doors!” fund drive.

July

  • ACC Board began advertising for an arts centre manager for the new facility, to be hired by the end of summer.

August – October

  • The Town of Wolfville and Acadia University agreed to contribute $5,000 each toward the restoration of the Acadia Cinema building’s Marquee.
  • Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison announced that ACC had received a $316,000 ACOA SCIF Grant.
  • The Board held final interviews with manager candidates and the the facility hiring committee, Isabel Madeira-Voss and Lay Yong Tan recommended Bob “Video Bob” Brown to the Board as the first manager of the new theatre.
  • A great deal of volunteer painting in the theatre and the lobby during these months; the new seats arrived and were installed; the projection and sound equipment were fine-tuned; the screen and curtains were hung; the final contract work took place and the marquee restoration was carried out.
  • Many, many hands contributed all along the way, but in particular George St. Amour came to ACC’s rescue at a critical moment.

November

  • Fundy Film had to begin its autumn program in New Minas until the new theatre was ready. On the 7th, the new marquee was lit and the Fundy Film Society screened its first film, Since Otar Left, in the new Al Whittle Theatre, named for former Acadia Cinema manager (1953 – 2000) and board member of both the ACC and the FFS, A. Ellsworth Whittle.
  • In a formal opening on the 27th, one of Al’s favourites, Casablanca, was screened.

2004 – 2005

November (2004) – Spring (2005)

  • Professionals and volunteers continued work, focusing on the stage and stage lighting aspects of the theatre.
  • John MacKay of MacKay Real Estate of Wolfville, donated $10,000 to provide a sprung stage for the theatre.

March

  • A broad range of activities and events began to take place in the newly-equipped facility in a big way — an exciting start for the Al Whittle Theatre!

2006 – 2007

  • Facility use evolved and a broad range of live performance and community activity complimented the theatre’s cinema component.
  • Bill Zimmerman took on the role of volunteer manager of ACC facilities, with Bob Brown now serving as cinema projectionist with Tony Napoli.
  • Volunteers Heidi Kalyani and Ken Shorley developed the Acadia theatre’s official name (Acadia Cinema’s Al Whittle Theatre), logo and web site, binding the facility’s past to the present and future.
  • Social Development Canada recognized ACC in a national publication promoting the “social economy.”

2008 (see archives for details of many of these entries)

  • Pam Ackerman, Susan Hauer, Sheila Morrison and Nancy Saul-Demers formed ACC’s first PR Committee.
  • ACC initiated ARTS-542, and a nascent “Southwestern Circuit” for 35mm projector maintenance.

September

  • Susan Hauer and Bill Zimmerman applied for an Innovative Communities Fund grant from ACOA to complete the original capital plan including transforming the multi-purpose room above the Al Whittle Theatre lobby into a second stage/studio space for intimate live performance, digital cinema screening and community activities while serving as the main theatre’s Green Room/dressing rooms with new showers.

October

  • Sheila Morrision, John Robichaud, Nancy and Lorne Saul-Demers and Susan Hauer and Bill Zimmerman teamed up to strip out components from the former Kipawo Theatre, Main Street, Wolfville, when the Estate of the late Jack Sheriff generously donated items to ACC suitable for the plans for the multi-purpose room above the Al Whittle Theatre lobby.

November

  • With help from the new PR Committee, ACC initiated a “Sink the Mortgage” plan to pay down the debt to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the building’s use as a theatre.
  • The ACC Board also accepted the PR Committee’s recommendation to plan to celebrate the anniversary throughout 2011.

2009

April

  • ACC had received broad community and governmental support ($56,700) to purchase a digital cinema projector that arrived in April. A group of willing volunteers helped get the new baby up and into the projection booth and ready for use.
  • The Acadia Cinema Cooperative Ltd. lost a passionate advocate, volunteer and patron when Sheila Morrison passed away unexpectedly on April 24. Memorial donations were made to Acadia Cinema’s Al Whittle Theatre in her name.

July

  • Sheila Morrison’s dearest friend and life partner, John Robichaud, with a groundswell of community support, organized SheilaFest, a memorial concert (and silent auction) at the Al Whittle Theatre and lobby on the 25th, to honour her memory. All musicians’ performances and auction items were donated and proceeds from the concert and auction have been put toward the purchase of audio equipment to support and enhance live music in the theatre.
  • The Al Whittle Theatre gained a resident company, Valley Summer Theatre, with an initial four-week season.

August

  • ACC received an ACOA Innovative Communities Fund grant ($72,000) to complete the original capital plan and upgrades responding to stakeholder feedback.

November – December

  • Begun in the spring, work continued on the ACOA grant mandate in the theatre (insulation, swing stage and the multi-purpose room above the lobby) thanks to many volunteers but with on-going help from Trevor Dalgleish, Lorne Saul-Demers, John Robichaud, Mark Crosby, Pete Conroy and Bill Zimmerman.

2010

January

  • The newly refurbished and outfitted multi-purpose space above the theatre lobby opened for rental business, with work remaining to complete.
  • ACC’s PR Committee announced a community-wide naming contest for the new space.

March

  • marke slipp won the contest and the space is named Studio-Z for ACC founding member and volunteer facility designer/ manager, Bill Zimmerman.

April – August

  • Volunteers Pete Conroy, Trevor Dalgleish, Mark Ponikvar, George Pickford and Bill Zimmerman contributed time to further work on Studio-Z, installing and painting sound-lock doors inside the Al Whittle Theatre and painting the eastside staircase and stairwell up to Studio-Z.

This segment of ACC’s History is now concluded. As new material is posted on Home, Shareholders, or Volunteers as appropriate, each older item will move to archives by date or category on this new site.

Fuller details from the original ACC website about the process and the generous on-going volunteer and monetary contributions made to the Cooperative’s plans from the earliest days are available in our Original Archives. If interested in access to these, please contact Susan Hauer at (902) 542-5157.