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Gala evening launches Empress Theatre’s centennial celebration

brent hutchinson

Empress Theatre executive director Brent Hutchinson entertained Saturday afternoon during a street party in the Devonian Walkway

darren shaw

Auctioneer Darren Shaw coaxed a winning bid of $2,400 for a leather-bound copy of ‘Reign of the Empress.'

The Empress Theatre was launched Friday into its second century with an impressive gala that included a book, song and play commissioned for the 100th anniversary.
Close to 200 people turned out for the gala held 100 years to the day from the first public performance at the Empress Theatre when it was built in 1912.
Master of ceremonies Dave Coutts predicted more such celebrations to come.
“Tonight’s celebration is about a lot of things,” Coutts told young people in the audience. “More importantly it’s about the next generation, it’s about you sitting in these seats, and your descendants 100 years from now celebrating the bicentennial.”
Author Peter Scott read Friday from “Reign of the Empress,” the book he was commissioned by the Empress Theatre Society to write about the theatre.
Fort Macleod singer-songwriter sang the song he was commissioned to write about the Empress.
The audience was also treated to the premiere of “The Stage That Made Us” following an introduction by Ron Chambers, who was commissioned to write a play about the Empress.
“This is a celebration of 100 years of entertainment in what has become the historic theatre of total renown across Canada,” Coutts said. “It is not only here in Alberta that everybody knows about the Empress Theatre. It’s known across Canada.”
T.B. Martin in 1912 let the contract for construction of a new opera house on 24th Street in Macleod.
The theatre was designed by architect William T. Williams and built by Macleod contractor James Lambert.

emma sparks

Brenda Vandervalk paints a design on the face of Emma Sparks of Calgary during the Empress Theatre centennial street party.

The Empress was to have a seating capacity of 500 with a 14 ft. by 22 ft. stage.
Descendants of those men, known in Empress circles as the Big Three, attended Friday’s gala.
Since its construction the Empress has provided theatre-goers with all manner of entertainment, from Vaudeville shows and silent movies to concerts by world-class performers and local talent, and even wrestling matches.
The Empress has been, and continues to be the site of public meetings, recitals, and current movies.
“This night is about toasting her reign,” Coutts said.
Coutts recognized dignitaries who attended or sent greetings including Senator Joyce Fairbairn, Macleod MP Ted Menzies, Municipal Affairs Associate Minister Greg Weadick, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier, former MLA Evan Berger, and Town of Fort Macleod and MD of Willow Creek councils.
Coutts also recognized the contributions of past councils, as well as past and present members of the Empress Theatre Society and its centennial committee.
Ownership of the Empress Theatre has changed 19 times, Coutts noted. Martin owned the theatre close to 20 years, the town has owned the building almost two decades, and Dan and Edna Boyle owned it for just over 25 years.
Members of the Boyle family were present Friday, and through the Adopt A Seat program dedicated one of the love seats in memory of Dan and Edna Boyle.
Coutts also singled out Jim Mountain, who was co-ordinator of the Main Street Program in the 1980s through which historic Fort Macleod buildings were refurbished.
“This person helped build the vision for Main Street, knowing full well this building was a key for the success of the Main Street project,” Coutts said of Mountain, who now teaches about historic theatres in the school of architecture at Carleton University.
Coutts encouraged politicians and community residents to continue their support of the Empress Theatre for another century.
“We need this beautiful building here in Fort Macleod and southern Alberta,” Coutts said. “We are prepared to make sure she ages gracefully.”