Do you remember the first time you ever went to see a movie at the theatre? It was probably an incredible experience. Now try to imagine how the people who attended the very first movie ever to be screened in Canada must have felt! When was this? More than 100 years ago on June 27, 1896, in a theatre on Saint-Laurent Boulevard in Montreal—just six months after the movie was first screened in Paris. The event even made the front page of the newspaper La Presse. Showings were also held in other cities like Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City.

In those days, movies only lasted a few minutes and were mostly used to fill the intermissions of theatre plays. But this quickly changed and movies soon became the main attraction.

Some traveling projectionists would even go from town to town. In 1905, Wilfred Picard became the most famous travelling movie projectionist. He had a horse-drawn trailer built and would use it to travel all over the province. He showed religious films and documentaries, which naturally pleased the religious authorities.

On January 1, 1906, Ernest Ouimet inaugurated the first movie theatre, the Ouimetoscope, in a former Montreal tavern. The following year, he demolished the theatre and built a larger one with 1200 seats. Admission tickets cost between 10 and 50 cents. Since movies were silent in those days, a commentator and a pianist would accompany the film. The theatre was so successful that others soon opened across Quebec. By 1910, there were over 100 theatres across the province, with about 40 theatres in Montreal alone and another 10 in Quebec City.

For many Quebeckers, Sunday became the day to “go see a show.” For most people, this was their only day off.

Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social