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This article was published 25/5/2021 (194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After more than 70 years in business, the Garry Theatre in Selkirk closed this week, leaving the city without a movie theatre and making generations of patrons nostalgic for a bygone era in the community.
On Monday, Landmark Cinemas, which has run the 317-seat theatre since purchasing it in the 1990s, announced the Garry was closing immediately, also shutting down cinemas in Yorkton, Sask., Airdrie, Alta., and Dawson Creek, B.C. CEO Bill Walker said the decision to shut the theatres down was not made lightly, and reflects economic realities of the small-town movie business that were not made any easier by the pandemic and the year-plus shutdown of Canadian cinemas.
"In Selkirk, the business from an economic perspective hasn’t been making a lot of sense for a while," Walker told the Free Press, citing the draw of nearby Winnipeg as a key contributor to the theatre’s declining fortunes. "We looked at the prospects of all these locations and where we were going to be able to make capital investments and where there was a real potential to carry on. Unfortunately, a few of them, like Selkirk, just weren’t going to make sense anymore, and so we had to close."
Former manager Matthew Evans, 41, was heartbroken by the news. The lifelong Selkirk resident saw his first movie at the Garry (Ernest Goes to Camp) and brought his three children to see their first pictures there, too. (Toy Story, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2). For most of his life, a trip to the Garry happened two or three times each month.
Many Selkirk residents share that same connection, and mourned the theatre on social media this week.
"It’s an icon, it’s a tradition," said Sheri Skalesky of the Selkirk BIZ. "The irony is that Selkirk has emerged as a hot spot for the filmmaking industry, and now, our theatre has seen its demise."
The theatre’s first location was opened on Eveline Street in 1948 by Brandon’s Rothstein Theatres Ltd., later moving to its current spot on Manitoba Avenue East, in the heart of the former commercial district. At that point, the town boasted both the Garry and the Roxy, which was demolished in 1958
The new theatre was relatively large for a small town, with balcony seating, and was run by Rothstein employee Len Manahan for decades.
After a fire in 1954, the Garry reopened with a wide screen, showing Kiss Me Kate on Apr. 12, with all proceeds used to buy equipment for the Selkirk General Hospital. In 1972, the theatre was sold to Edmonton’s Rokemay Theatres Ltd., which operated the facility until Landmark’s purchase in the 1990s.
By the mid-2000s, the theatre started to lose its lustre, recalls Evans, and with no experience in theatres aside from watching movies in them, he applied to become manager and try to right the ship. "They hired me and told me to run it like I owned it," he said.
For five years, he did just that, emulating Manahan by standing at the back and making sure patrons respected the seats, stayed respectful, and threw out their trash. He hired his dad and brother to help out, and later, his two sons. Running the theatre as a classic single-screen, with midnight showings and Halloween double features, the theatre’s fortunes improved.
Meanwhile, the Garry worked with Landmark and theatres in Gimli and Stonewall to coordinate major showings so as to not be in direct competition, which benefited everyone.
"I took a lot of pride in that place," Evans said.
So did the employees, says Jen Wilson, 35, who worked at the theatre for nine years, starting as a 17-year-old working part time. The theatre was old-fashioned — the concession stand didn’t have a computerized register, the films were delivered in canisters each Thursday night, the display poster frames were wooden — which added to its charm.
"We had regulars. You’d know the date and time when they would come," recalls Wilson, who did everything from running the projector to buttering popcorn. The Garry was a family tradition in many ways: Wilson’s parents, Dwight and Linda, met as teenage coworkers there.
The theatre’s closure was expected by many, but that didn’t make it any easier, with patrons looking to buy its seats, and in the case of Dianna Klatt Ostryzniuk, its famed popcorn machine. "When I moved to Beausejour I still made the trip to the Garry just to buy the popcorn," she wrote on Facebook. (The machine was not available).
Walker said the Garry has been appraised and that Landmark will begin trying to sell the property, which would help the company recoup some value in a year when movie attendance was down at least 95 per cent.
There have been some interested parties already, and he said if a group is interested in maintaining the theatre as an entertainment venue, Landmark would want to support that. "I think it would be great if someone could make a go of it," he said.
Evans hopes someone will. He himself is tempted to rescue the theatre from having held its last picture show.
"The loss of a theatre is one of those that makes a small town, or a small city, lose its feel," he said. "Every person here had a tie to it. Grandparents went there. Aunts and uncles. We did. Everybody remembers the popcorn, the feeling of leaving the theatre and at the same time, having just seen the same thing, feeling that buzz. You can’t get that at home.
"The theatre is something that tied everybody to a single story, and now, that story is gone."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.