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Theatre averts digital death

Thanks Peak!

Image courtesy of The Powell River Peak Newspaper: Volunteers helping with the processes for digital equipment installation on Tuesday, May 15, are Brian Nelson [left] and Phil Murphy, vice-president of The Friends of the Historic Patricia Theatre Society. Community support ensures Patricia continues to operate

Article Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2012

Containers of digital equipment, large and small, have been arriving at Patricia Theatre for a few weeks. Among the arrivals are six boxes of 3D glasses for patrons attending films which require them.

Early in the year, news came that all theatres in North America would have to move to digital in order to continue to show first-run movies. For the Patricia that meant an investment of $90,000.

The Friends of the Historic Patricia Theatre Society ramped up a campaign to raise the required funds. In just four months, nearly $71,000 has come from fans of the theatre.

In addition, First Credit Union managed to acquire a $10,000 grant for the project. The rest of the money needs to be raised in the next two to three months.

“I feel very, very proud of this community and its love for its roots and respect for its history,” said Ann Nelson who, with her son Brian, operates the theatre. “What an enormous achievement for a tiny little town facing chronic threats of extinction.”

Donations have come from individuals and groups. Some people have asked that money be sent to the society instead of birthday or other special occasion gifts.

Ann was reminded by the fundraising timing that the theatre building was also built in four months “to the day. July 5, 1928 to November 5, 1928,” she said. The building is used for showing films as well as live performances and weddings. The theatre company has been operating for nearly 100 years, having started in a tent.

In addition to the community and credit union money, an anonymous donor has provided funds to make the theatre more sound friendly. “One of the things that gets in the way of enjoyment for some people is their own hearing loss due to aging,” said Ann.

Instead of donating to the society’s digital fund, the donor is paying for the interior sound upgrades. They include a sound dampening acoustic barrier along the lower part of the walls on each side of the theatre, across the front of the stage area and on the balcony at the back of the building. Instead of two-inch thick panels, covered with material, one-inch sections will be used so they fit on the curve of the stage.

Without cooperation from local contractors and businesses, the project would not have proceeded. “Having the money is one thing, having people who can do the work is equally important,” added Ann. “We’ve received the absolute best prices and donations from our suppliers.”

With the installation of digital equipment, the theatre company can provide alternative programming including sporting events, Wii and Xbox parties and other things “as diverse as your imagination. All with the best sound ever.”

At the society’s upcoming annual general meeting, there will be discussion of acquiring ownership of the theatre and applying for charitable status. The Nelsons then would have an operating contract for the business operation.

A red carpet evening will be held on Saturday, June 9 with floodlights and free popcorn for patrons. “The film will be announced soon,” said Ann.

She describes the past few months as being like swimming in the rollers of the Pacific Ocean. “Occasionally you get sand in your bathing suit and up your nose. It’s frightening, exhausting, rewarding and exhilarating.”

First Credit Union Secures Grant for the Friends

Dave Craigen and Amy Sharp

Media Release

First Credit Union secures $10,000 grant on behalf of the Friends of the Historic Patricia Theatre!

Local society and First Credit Union will work together to help meet the goals of the Digital Conversion fundraising project.

Powell River, BC, April 25, 2012: First Credit Union is pleased to announce that it has secured a $10,000 grant on behalf of the Friends of the Historic Patricia Theatre.

The grant will be used to support the current Digital Conversion project - the success of which will ensure that the local Patricia Theatre can continue to operate.

Offered by credit union partner Concentra Financial, First Credit Union was successful in obtaining one of eighteen nationally-offered ‘Empower your Communities’ grants. The grants were presented by Concentra to be delivered through credit unions to assist them in supporting important charitable ventures in their communities.

“The community has really demonstrated their support of this initiative,” says First Credit Union CEO, Dave Craigen, “so we knew that as a credit union, we would find a way to help. We’re committed to supporting this project and making sure that we reach the fundraising goal.”

News of the grant was met with excitement with the Friends of the Historic Patricia Theatre Society as this now puts the fundraising total at over $68,000.

With several events planned for the coming months, the momentum behind the movement continues to grow and First Credit Union is pledging its support of this community-endorsed initiative. “As a cooperative financial institution, it has always been our mission to work together to support the community, and we’ll continue to find ways to do that with Friends of the Patricia,” says Craigen.

First Credit Union is the longest-running credit union in BC, and has been owned and operated in Powell River since 1939. This year alone the credit union is proud to have shared over $450,000 back into the communities in which it operates in the form of dividends, patronage, donations and sponsorships.

To find out more about donation or sponsorship opportunities with First, please visit

Digital switch threatens theatre

THE END? Ann Nelson, Patricia Theatre manager, is concerned over the pending switch to digital projection as the industry standard, a change that is threatening the future of the theatre.
New projection equipment is industry standard

by Kyle Wells |
Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 1:12 PM PST

Patricia Theatre, the longest continuously operating cinema in Canada, is at a point of crisis. Its owners are struggling to come up with money to upgrade to digital projection, which is soon to become the industry standard.

All distribution of movies will switch to digital format sometime mid-2012, said theatre manager, Ann Nelson. Nelson said she is not sure of the exact date because details are still up in the air and the conversion will be gradual. Most likely it will occur when all of the major cinema chains are outfitted for digital, which is anticipated to be complete by July, she said.

The Patricia, which has been in operation since 1913 and in its current location since 1928, projects all of its movies on film. They are projected onto the screen by way of two large film projectors that sit on original bases from the earliest days of the theatre’s operation. With the advent of digital projection, theatres, over the past few years, have begun to make the switch, which requires entirely different equipment.

This year film studios will stop distributing movies on film. This is due to the proliferation of the new technology and because it is cheaper to ship small digital film formats than it is large, multiple reels of film. If the Patricia does not make the upgrades to digital in time for the switch then it will no longer be able to screen movies.

“I think it would mean more than [people] recognize,” said Nelson, adding that people would lose “not just the nostalgia, the sentimentality around the place that it has historically played in the fabric of the community. It would get old real fast just relying on Netflix or on illegal downloads, it really would.”

There are some incentives offered by distributors to soften the financial blow of making the conversion, but even with that help Nelson said the conversion will cost about $75,000, which includes leasing the 3D equipment. This would pay for all the equipment, warranty, taxes, freight and installation, which includes renovations necessary to install the equipment.

“It just is nauseatingly large, it really is,” said Nelson. “The options for the theatre are get the equipment or close.”

There are many positive outcomes that will come from the conversion to digital. First of all the sound will improve, not because of new speakers but because of a new server that will allow the theatre to use its full speaker system, which is not currently possible. The conversion, along with a new screen, will make projecting 3D films possible. A video scaler will allow the theatre to project from digital discs and satellite feeds, meaning that the theatre will potentially be able to broadcast sporting and other events, depending on copyrights. The theatre would also be able to show older movies, which are not available in 35-millimetre film.

Shipping and freight costs will all decrease significantly because film will no longer be shipped. This means the art film series the theatre offers will become financially viable and that operational costs of the theatre in general will go down. Movies will also be able to be shown closer to their release dates because the theatre will no longer have to scramble to secure one of a limited number of film copies. Digital movies are cheap and easy to copy and distribute and will therefore be more readily available. Also, there would be no more need for a projectionist as everything is automated, again reducing costs.

The theatre is technically owned by First Credit Union, meaning the building and the equipment. Nelson and her son Brian operate the theatre as Patricia Entertainment Company Ltd., in accordance with the agreement with the bank.

Nelson said the credit union is in a tough position because while it would like to keep the cinema alive, the finances of the business are such that it’s not financially responsible of it to give the business such a large loan. She said it has not completely abandoned the business and is, along with Nelson, trying to figure out a way to make this work.

“They’re trying to be as creative as they can be but I don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” she said.

Nelson wants to make clear that even though the theatre is a private business, this isn’t a cash grab. Nelson and her son have owned the theatre for about nine years and she puts her monthly pension cheque into the theatre just to keep it going. Her son takes on other work in order to survive. Nelson said that neither have drawn a paycheque from operating the theatre yet.

The ultimate goal is, and always has been, according to Nelson, for the Patricia to become a community owned and operated institution, such as a non-profit society. This would give the community more input into the cinema’s operation and would also make the theatre eligible for grants, which it currently is not. This is also desirable from the point of view of the bank and would open up more options for financing.

Friends of the Historic Patricia Theatre is the current non-profit society associated with the theatre. This society fundraises for the theatre, through concerts primarily, and raised the money for various infrastructure upgrades such as a new chimney, the flagpole and the costs associated with installing the seats which the theatre got for free from the Orpheum in Vancouver. The society has raised about $10,000 in the past five years and is not in a financial position to take control of the theatre operations at this time.

Leaving the conversion to the last minute, as they wait to find out the exact details, could leave the theatre in a tough situation, said Nelson. If they are not ready and the conversion happens the theatre will not be able to show any movies until they make the upgrades. Given the tight financial situation of the theatre this could result in its closure.

“Do we want to be scrambling with everybody else at the last second, trying to figure out how to do it or if we can do it and when to do it,” asked Nelson, “or do we need to start being a little forward thinking about all of this?”

Nelson said she is open for any and all ideas on how to overcome this obstacle. In an ideal world she said an interest-free loan from an individual or group of people would be great, but as she is already paying off debt to the credit union she cannot assure prompt repayment. Fundraising is also always welcomed, said Nelson, along with any other ideas that people may have to resolve this situation.

Anyone with any ideas is welcome to contact Nelson at 604.483.9346 or by email Any money raised can go directly to First Credit Union or the society. The society can be contacted by email at

Theatre seat rescue unfolds like movie drama

Ann and Brian Nelson

GETTING BACKS UP: Ann and Brian Nelson are placing the first of 300 seats salvaged from the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver in rows at the back of the auditorium, greatly increasing comfort while watching a show in Canada's longest-running movie theatre company's premises in Townsite. (paul galinski photo)

For the price of transportation, auditorium receives furnishing makeover

by Paul Galinski |

Friends of the Historic Patricia Theatre Society members take comfort in the fact that the theatre's new furnishings will not take a back seat to any.

A contingent from the society staged a rescue mission this summer after finding out that all of the theatre seats at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver were being replaced and were destined for the landfill. Some phone calls were made and 300 seats were acquisitioned. The seats are now replacing the old rows of seats that have been in the Patricia for decades.

Ann Nelson, who owns and operates the theatre with her son, Brian, was very pleased on Canada Day after the new flagpole atop the theatre was commissioned, and never envisioned how the rest of the day would unfold. Little did she know that when she returned to her office after the flag-raising, she would face a monumental task that would require the unflagging attention of her and several volunteers from the theatre society.

"I came back upstairs and there is a frantic email from a young man, Ryan Grant, who was raised in Powell River and lives and works in Vancouver," Nelson said. "He said the Orpheum Theatre is throwing out its seats and you have to get hold of someone right away."

"This is a stat holiday. I'm trying to get hold of Ryan and we're trying to find someone at the Orpheum to talk to. That's a Wednesday. Thursday, the whole day is spent tracking down the right person at the Orpheum."

Nelson determined the Orpheum's contractor was coming in to throw out every one of 2,700 seats into the landfill the next Monday, July 6, unless the seats were salvaged. "We could take every penny we have in our seat sponsorship fund and our fundraising, disrupt everyone's lives and go down there and rip these seats out, but are they going to fit?

"The head stage carpenter down there, Pierre, took a bunch of digital photos of the seats in situ, and some of the ones they had already started removing, and emailed them," she said. "We had a big conference and got back to Pierre. We had him measure the seats and went back and forth. Finally, we decided to strip every penny out of the bank, had a look at the load capacity of rental trucks and rented two vehicles."

Nelson said her recovery crew was off to the city on the first ferry on Saturday morning, July 4.

"We had to determine which seats would be the most appropriate," Nelson said. Even though the Orpheum opened in 1927 and was built to the same architectural and aesthetic standard of the time as the Patricia Theatre, there still are some differences.

"However, the angle of the Orpheum floor and its gradation is almost identical to our theatre, so what Brian had to do is determine which of the seats on the main floor were going to best suit the needs."

Vancouver's Vogue Theatre salvaged 400 seats from the Orpheum and a theatre in the Interior salvaged another 100. Altogether, there were 800 seats of 2,700 salvaged and 1,900 went to landfill on the Monday.

Nelson said the Orpheum opened in 1927, the Patricia opened at its current location in 1928 and the Vogue was opened in 1929 so the interconnectedness of the seats "is cool."

The seats salvaged for the Patricia were not the original Orpheum seats. "These were seats that were put in during the 1940s in one of the upgrades," Nelson said. "In a more recent upgrade, when they reupholstered them, they discarded the horsehair and the tied springs and put in high-density foam, which, in a way, is a shame, but it makes them easier to maintain. We can reupholster a seat with high-density foam very easily."

The new seats are upholstered with exactly the same red velvet as the curtains in the theatre. Nelson said this will mean the Patricia has a unified aesthetic in the auditorium for the first time since 1981, when many of the current seats were brought in.

"We can make these Orpheum seats last another 20 or 40 years," Nelson said. "It solves a problem we have been facing—uncomfortable seating and not enough parts to keep the ones we do have functional.

"What we haven't solved is our heating problem. Our mission now is raise the money to re-deck the auditorium and put radiant heat in the floor...After seeing what they have done at the Orpheum, we are determined."

The fact that the Patricia does not have to make the expected expenditure for new seating moves the heating upgrade way up the priority list. "Now that the seat problem is resolved at less than the $85,000 target that we thought we were faced with, let's move on," Nelson said. "What is going to make this place comfortable so the experience is better for everyone? That is how this place will survive, is people loving the experience."

The Patricia's old theatre seats are now up for adoption for a modest donation to the restoration fund. "The fund is how we are going to get that lovely radiant floor heating," Nelson said. "The seats we are taking out, because they are cast for level floors, are ideal for home theatres. If you have a basement or family room where you want to put in a couple of rows of seats because it's cool and funky, please adopt some."

© The Powell River Peak 2009

Links to more info!

Historic Changes

Future of motion pictures headed quickly toward an all-digital format played only on pricey new equipment: Daily Herald Article

Save the Patricia!

Yes, we do weddings!

Contact Ann to book your wedding in the fabulous Patricia Theatre!

All the weddings we've had so far have been in the auditorium, and summer weddings have taken advantage of the garden and grounds for their photo shoots. In the winter, we also get bookings for photo shoots in the auditorium for weddings that have taken place in a church, or elsewhere, so we have something to offer any time of the year.

Call 604-483-9345 or email Ann.

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Since 1913 · The longest running movie theatre in Canada

5848 Ash Avenue, Powell River, BC V8A 4R6
(604) 483-9345