Tuesday, 9 September 2014

“As Fine as Any in the Dominion”
The Paramount Theatre officially opened on June 9, 1949 as a much needed replacement for the aging Strand Theatre. The “ultra-modern” theatre was built by the Famous Players Canadian Corporation and was thought of as Chilliwack’s first skyscraper. The theatre, with its 900-seat capacity, cost an estimated $225,000 for the building and a further $35,000 to $40,000 for furnishings. Hailed as “as fine as any in the Dominion”, the theatre was complete with air conditioning and a Candy Bar. The opening presentation was the Canadian premiere of Damon Runyon’s Sorrowful Jones, starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. Eager movie-goers waited for up to 3 hours on opening night.

Grand Opening of the Paramount Theatre, 1949.
Chilliwack Archives 1998.041.002
My absolute favorite Paramount tidbit is the “1956 fiasco”. Local teenagers reportedly rioted after a showing of “Rock Around the Clock”, a film considered to be the first major rock and roll musical film. While teenagers were reportedly orderly during the showing of the picture, while the credits rolled, they started to applaud in rhythm with the music until things got out of hand. Seats were slashed, chestnuts and steel bearings thrown, furniture overturned and sand from lobby ash trays thrown around during the “ruskus”. Teenage riots were common in other cities during the showings of this highly disputed picture with some towns even banning the film.

Film Canister of "A Force of One" (1979) staring Chuck Norris
Chilliwack Museum Collection 2013.059.0018
The Paramount was later purchased as a Landmark cinema until its last showing on November 3, 2010. After much public debate and outrage, the Paramount was demolished in 2013 due to “lack of sufficient financial backing and insurance coverage” that was needed to restore and remediate the aging structure. The loss of the Paramount building graced the dubious list of “Worst Losses of Heritage Buildings in Canada” in 2013.

Fortunately, before the demolition crews began dismantling the structure, Museum staff rescued materials from the Theatre to safeguard its history. From film canisters to a popcorn warming machine, the Paramount’s history will be preserved for generations to come.


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