1908 to 1948 - Edited from the book Cobourg 1798 - 1948 by Edwin C. Guillet
Cobourg's first motion pictures the Bijou Dream, 1908
Messrs. Kerr and Raymond opened a high-class moving picture theatre in the store previously occupied by Mr. Willis, one door east of the Post Office [on King street]. They "put the place in proper shape" and planned to give "a clean entertainment at cheap prices". Sentinel Star.
The Sentinel Star reported on March 20, 1908 that "Bijou Dream, Cobourg's new moving picture theatre, was opened on Saturday afternoon and drew quite a crowd. . . . The moving pictures were good and distinct, and Mr. Dandeno, Guelph, who sings the illustrated songs, is a good artist. All present were well satisfied, and when people 'catch on' that for five cents they can see as good a show as they ordinarily pay 25c and 35c in the Opera House, the present building will be filled to the doors at each performance .... Pictures today Where Is My Man?, Laughing Gas, illustrated song Honey Time. The great big show for 5 cents. Open at 4 and 7. Watch for the big head-liner tomorrow. Catering to ladies and children."
Then on April 17, 1908. "Matinee today (Good Friday) at 2 and 7 p.m., when the classic drama Ben Herr will be presented. Song, Old Jim's Christmas Hymn, one of the sweetest songs ever composed."
And again on April 24, 1908: "The house of hits. Two big laugh producers are billed for tonight, and the popular Saturday program entitled The Veiled Beauty and Making Love to a Coal Man's Wife. These are two of the best comedy films yet produced."
Cobourg's movie theatres (Murray B. Smith) - written 1948
…Years ago a motion picture theatre was located on King Street, the Gem, on the south side, just east of the post office [no doubt the Bijou Dream above]. There was shortly another, the King George, across from the Town Hall, where in a stuffy little cubicle, William Taylor, later the operator at the Capitol Theatre [Cobourg], cranked an ancient projection machine which flashed flickering pictures on the screen. Saturday afternoons it cost but three cents for a child to get in, and, if one hadn't the necessary three cents the genial ticket-seller - tall, brown bearded Archie Perks - had a habit of becoming very short-sighted when a little urchin slipped past the cashier's booth. On Saturday afternoons a western serial with cowboys and Indians delighted the hearts of the bloodthirsty youngsters, who shrieked with excitement as they still do. Projection machines were not very reliable in these earlier days of motion pictures in Cobourg, and the film had a habit of snapping just at a crucial point in the picture. The screen would go blank and a sigh come forth from the audience. Perspiring in his little tin booth, the operator would work feverishly trying to repair the film, while down in the theatre the pianist, John Hall-Abel, would try vainly to drown out the stamping of feet, the boos and clapping of the audience. Very often the operator would just get things going when the film would break again and the disapproval would break out anew.
Then came the first talkie the town ever heard. It was a very crude affair but an indication of what was to come. The projection machine was set up in the balcony of the opera house and the picture flashed on a screen on the stage. Back of the screen a phonographic reproduction of a monologue was played. If the film broke it was necessary to work at the needle and reproducer, and eventually after a series of squawks the thing became synchronized and the talkie was working again. Very wonderful it all seemed at that time, but terrible in comparison with modern sound equipment. "Just a fad that will die out" was the usual comment after the show, and the silent pictures continued to be well patronized.
In 1918 with Martin Jex and Co. as contractors, Mrs. Florence Sutherland transformed the old Commercial Hotel into a new motion picture theatre and leased it to Jule and J. J. Allen who named it the Allen. Arthur Cauley was the manager. Its first picture was a marvel to the people of the town, for the projection machine was of the most modern type, and an electric motor removed the need of the operator turning the crank until his arm seemed almost paralysed. Such great masterpieces as the Birth of a Nation, the Ten Commandments, and Ben Hur were seen in the Town Hall or the Allen. News events of the life of people in other cities and countries broadened the outlook of the citizens of the town, giving them a wider conception of many things beyond their own experience, and thus carrying out one of the great purposes served by the theatre from its earliest history. The Allen became the Capitol, Cobourg's present movie house. [That was in 1948 - it was later "decommissioned" and is now the Dutch Oven - It was opened as the Allen on 27 June 1918 and operated by Allen Theatre Limited. It was reported to have had 519 seats. In 1923, the theatre (and probably all the Allen Theatres) was bought out by Famous Players - more on Allen here.].
It is not so long ago that the silent pictures were replaced by sound, and that Cobourg was able to see and hear a "talkie" without having to go to Port Hope, which was a little ahead of us. Time progresses and with it the theatre, and coinciding with our 150th anniversary [in 1948] we will have the fine new Park Theatre on the corner of King and McGill streets. It will seat 750 persons and is modern in every respect with air conditioning, newest type of sound equipment, and seats especially equipped for the deaf. It will be operated by Premier Operating Corporation, Limited, whose president, Jule Allen, has been a summer resident of Cobourg for the last thirty years. [An advertisement published opposite this article said that it was operated by Durland Theatres Limited who also operated the Capitol theatres in Cobourg and Port Hope].