Empire Theatre

The Theatre in 1913

Sources: City of Edmonton Archives

Close-up View

Photo: City of Edmonton Archives.

Note the small towers on each side of the canopy, and a separate entrance and exit.

The Hall

Photo: City of Edmonton Archives

The theater could comfortably sit several hundred spectators.

Stage and Boxes

Photo: City of Edmonton Archives.

At the time, every respectable theater had to offer boxes for the most fortunate subscribers. Evidently, affluent people were not scarce in the city.

La Grande Sarah in 'Camille'

Photo: public domain.

Picture taken from the film version of La Dame aux camélias, often known to English-speaking audiences as Camille. Tickets to see Sarah Bernhardt ranged from $1 to $3, a fairly large sum for the time. In today's dollars, that would be between $45 and $120. 

Text version of the audio

In front of you, on the site of this rather massive building that once housed a Hudson Bay store, was once one of Edmonton's finest theaters, the Empire.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Edmontonians did not often have the opportunity to host great French-speaking artists. That's why the arrival in the capital of the divine Sarah Bernhardt, the greatest actress of her time, required a classy venue for her performance. And the Empire Theatre was without a doubt the most luxurious venue in the city.

It was in January of 1913, at the age of 68, that Sarah Bernhardt performed in the last act of Alexandre Dumas' La Dame aux Camélias. She was on tour with Martin Beck's New York Company and headlined the second half of the show. She said she was delighted to be in Edmonton, despite the bitter cold. She predicted that Edmonton would soon become a city of delightful beauty.

The first Empire Theatre opened in 1906 at 100th Street and 101A Avenue. It was abandoned three years later, and the theater moved to the site where you are now. Between 1906 and 1920, about 20 theaters opened in Edmonton. They presented plays, vaudeville acts, movies, acrobats, and a variety of shows to please everyone.

Today, most of these theaters from the beginning of the twentieth century have disappeared. The Princess Theatre on Whyte Avenue, one of the last of these gems with its architectural details preserved, has closed due to the pandemic.

Extract of
Francophone Heritage in Edmonton

Francophone Heritage in Edmonton image circuit

Presented by : Conseil de développement économique de l'Alberta (CDÉA)

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