by Dick Nieuwendyk
Theatre St.Denis opened March 4, 1916. It was designed by the Montreal architectural firm Barrott, Blackader & Webster. The facade and entrance were in a Greek Revival style in the form of a Temple, whilst the interior and auditorium were in the Adam Style, a neo-classical style of interior design named after Scottish architect William Adam. At the time, it was the largest theatre in Canadian history with a 2,380 seat total capacity in orchestra and balcony levels. It originally showed French-language movies, popular plays and operettas. In 1920 it began to present famous performers such as tenor Hipolito Lazaro and violinist Jascha Heifetz, and in 1921 it featured the orchestra of Milan’s La Scala under Toscanini. Pablo Casals appeared there in 1925, and during his 1928 North American tour Maurice Ravel performed some of his own works in the theatre.
After several changes of ownership, Théatre St-Denis was purchased in 1925 by Joseph Cardinal.
Following a brief interlude of opera and comic opera, the Theatre went back to showing silent movies in early 1929. These were the glory days before the New York stock market crash. The Theatre drew large crowds and the coffers were well filled. In 1933, Joseph Cardinal leased the theatre to the France-Film Company directed by Alexandre De Sève. At that time the hall was devoted almost entirely to the French cinema. In 1935, the facade and marquee were given a modern Art Deco style facelift.
When film-making was interrupted in 1942, Théatre St-Denis found itself with the need to diversify its programming. The New York Metropolitan Opera, the Bolshoi ballet, the Comédie Française and the Théâtre National de Paris would grace its stages. Symphony orchestras and great conductors like Wilfrid Pelletier and Stravinsky were also invited to perform.
Some of the biggest French and international stars of their time like Maurice Chevalier, Fernandel, Tino Rossi, Luis Mariano, Yves Montand, and Gilbert Bécaud, performed in Théatre St-Denis.
In 1950 the theatre underwent major reconstruction and seat capacity was increased to 2,500. It continued to present musical theatre and dance performances, as well as symphony and music hall concerts, right up until the opening of Place des Arts in 1963.
In 1971, two halls were added to the theatre. The two new halls were named the Chevalier and the Pierrot; later renamed the St-Denis 2 and St-Denis 3. In 1977-78 St-Denis 1 was modernized and equipped to stage big variety shows and recitals. In the 1980s the St-Denis Theatre was host to major jazz concerts presented as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Other renovations in 1989 and 1990 once more transformed the appearance of the theatre. The St-Denis l, equipped with, among other things, a new sound and lighting system, now had 2343 seats, whereas the St-Denis 2, with an added balcony, had a seating capacity of 980.
Since then, countless Quebec, Canadian, U.S. and international events have graced the stages of the theatre’s two halls, allowing it to pursue its mission and vocation in the field of entertainment.
To this day, Théatre St-Denis remains a mythical and prestigious location attracting the biggest names in show business.
The theatre is located at 1594 St. Denis in Montreal.
(Source: Cinema Treasures, Canadian Encyclopedia, Théatre St-Denis)