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Trail Blazers: The quintessential moviehouse

The Royal Theatre started as the Rialto Theatre way back in 1927
The former Odeon Theatre, now the Royal Theatre, in the late 1940s. (Trail Historical Society photo 12644 courtesy the Trail Museum and Archives)

There’s likely many movie buffs in Trail hankering to get out of the house to watch a film on the silver screen and munch the best popcorn in town.

Read more: Trail Blazers

Read more: Trail Blazers

Once the pandemic ends, that is.

For two months the south end of Bay Avenue in downtown Trail has been eerily quiet, and in the dark, after the iconic Royal Theatre shuttered its ticket window and turned off the marquee lights to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

That’s why featuring the historic Silver City moviehouse for this week’s Trail Blazers was a no-brainer. With the long weekend coming up - Victoria Day is Monday - there won’t be the usual blockbuster attraction splashed on the big screen, offering a good-time holiday outing for family and friends.

Collections coordinator Jesslyn Jarvis sent the Times an 72-year old image of the Bay Avenue landmark, dating back to the days when it was called the Odeon Theatre.

Playing that night was Mark Hellinger’s movie intriguingly titled Naked City, starring Barry Fitzgerald.

A quick Google search reveals that Hellinger was the producer of this 1948 American film noir, depicting a police investigation that follows the murder of a young model. Interestingly, the movie was partially shot in documentary-style on the streets of New York City. It also won two Oscars in 1949.

Back to the moviehouse itself, Jarvis says the bricks and mortar went up in 1927 for what was originally called the Rialto Theatre.

“But after fire destroyed the stage in 1944, the building reopened as the Odeon in January 1945,” she explained. “In 1977, it was renamed the Royal Theatre.”

Clearly this brickhouse beauty has had its ups and downs through the decades, including major flooding, but it’s always rebounded to screen the best films, again.

And like past proprietors, current owner Lisa Milne is full of grit and determination as she readies to bring the theatre back to life after this modern-day catastrophe, caused by coronavirus contagion, ends.

“The last showing was Monday, March 16 at 7 p.m. for Disney’s Onward,” Milne shared. “Such a sad night. I worked it alone and we only had a handful of people.”

She says looking back, there was so much uncertainty about making the decision to shutdown.

“At that time the province had not yet mandated movie theatres to close,” said Milne. “It was a decision many cinema owners made on their own, knowing that large gathering places were at a higher risk of spreading COVID-19.”

Now that the province has introduced the reopening plan, theatres are in the third phase.

That means if all goes well and infection rates don’t spike in British Columbia, the doors can open sometime between June and September. (Turn to Page 13 for more information on B.C.’s reopening plan)

“As long as the initial phases are cautious and they listen to the experts’ advice and open their premises reasonably, we know we will be able to effectively maintain social distancing, reduce touchpoints and safely operate,” she said.

“We are in the process of doing some major renovations to ensure our staff and movie goers continue to stay healthy while they enjoy their cinematic experience,” Milne said.

“So stay tuned for the next act of The Royal Theatre.”

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Sheri Regnier

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