Welcome to Hope Cinema
HOPE CINEMA HISTORY
Hope Cinema ... providing entertainment since 1945
It was in 1945, with the end of the 2nd World War, that new optimism and a period of growth overtook Hope and a variety of new enterprises were launched. The “New Hope Theatre” was one of those. The Trout family came from the BC Interior and started construction on two theatres - one in Hope owned by W.A. Trout and one in Agassiz owned by his brother Neil Trout. The original building in Hope was smaller then and featured seating split by an aisle straight down the middle. If one views the current building from the back alley, the barn shape of the original structure can still be easily seen.
Initially, movies were on Friday and Saturday evenings as well as on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and were sometimes accompanied by a cartoon. In 1947 movie nights changed to Friday and Saturday nights as well as Monday and Tuesday nights and were shown with a news reel, a “short”, a cartoon and “coming features” clips. The “short” was either a travelogue film, a comedy featuring perhaps the “The Keystone Kops” or a feature of a popular band performance.
This was well before the advent of popular television and cars were still rare with road travel being limited and rough - a trip to Vancouver taking up to five hours. Going to the movies was just another popular social event for local citizens as leaving the house to mingle with friends and neighbours was the order of the day. Each week in Hope there were dances with live bands, church picnics and other social gatherings to choose from and the theatre was full almost every night it was open.
In early 1948, a hot topic of debate revolved around the disputed result of the Joe Louis and Joe Walcott boxing match so the New Hope Theatre brought the film of the bout to Hope and handed out ballots to all theatre goers so they could vote for the boxer they thought deserved to win. Later in 1948, when the Fraser River had flooded much of the lower Fraser Valley all of the independent theatres in BC agreed to donate 10% of their June 30th proceeds to the flood relief effort. In Hope, W.A. Trout went them one better and decided to donate his entire net proceeds from the double bill showing at the New Hope Theatre. The films were “The Fabulous Joe”, a Hal Roach comedy and “Dangerous Venture” featuring Hop-A-Long Cassidy. Admission was 50 cents per person at all the evening shows, while children could attend for a quarter if they came to the matinee.
W.A. Trout was an active member of the Hope Board of Trade at this time and a strong lobbyist for the construction of a roadway that would link Hope with Agassiz along the north side of the Fraser River. His family and business connections with his brother Neil in Agassiz no doubt played a factor in fuelling his passion for this effort.
In the early 1950's, Hope was booming with the construction of the fuel pipelines and other large scale projects. The lines outside the theatre were long and customers had to be turned away each night. Mr. Trout decided that the theatre building should be expanded so a concession stand and coat check were added and the seating capacity was increased to over 350. Amazingly, the theatre only closed for 2 weeks to allow for this major renovation to be completed! The theatre continued to thrive showing feature films at two different times each evening from Monday to Saturday, as well as a Saturday matinee. Admission rates ranged from a high of .50 cents for adults to a low of .20 cents for children. Westerns and musicals were the most popular films of the day with a John Wayne film guaranteeing a full house.
Each showing at the theatre required that 5 or more people were working in the building - one to sell tickets, one to operate the concession stand, one to take tickets, one to work as an usher with a flashlight to escort movie goers to their seats and at least one projectionist to constantly monitor the film reels as they fed through one of two large projectors. Since films came in up to 8 different reels the projectionist needed to watch for the film signals and listen for the “reel end bell” that would indicate when to switch from one projector to the other so that the viewer could see the entire movie without any noticeable interruption in sound or image. In order to become a projectionist, one first had to be an apprentice for 2 years and then write a series of three different two hour exams on electricity, the history of cinematography as well as 7 different kinds of projectors and sound systems. Al Trout had both of his sons - Glen & Stan - plus George Lane and Bert Seward working for him as projectionists.
The projectionist was always alert for the threat of fire since the nitrate film was extremely flammable and the very bright light of the projector would easily ignite it if the film became jammed. A build up of film dust could also cause a “filmgate fire”. If this happened, a lever in the projection booth would either be automatically activated or triggered by the projectionist himself. The entire projection booth was fire proof and the lever would cause the fire doors to close and shutters to come down over the projection booth windows. A lack of oxygen would stifle the fire and prevent the entire theatre from burning down. This safety system was tested regularly by the projectionists.
Since the theatre business was doing so well, Mr. Trout decided to extend his interests by building first a traditional theatre and then a drive-in theatre in Merritt. His bargaining power with the movie distributors increased and his businesses prospered as a result.
But soon television sets were becoming commonplace throughout Hope, and more and more homes sprouted antennas to improve reception of weak television signals. Mr. Trout was an astute business man and he could see the demand for theatre tickets dropping off. He decided to sell the Hope theatre to one of his projectionists, Len Meredith in 1962 or 1963. He sold off his other theatres as well and eventually retired to Osoyoos with his wife. His brother, Neil Trout, and his wife joined them there.
In the mid - 1960's cable television arrived in Hope with the establishment of “Hope Cable Television” by Alvin and Barbara Towriss. Ironically, they had come to Hope from Princeton after selling their movie theatre in that community. The number of television stations that could be received in Hope increased and signals improved. Attendance at the Hope Theatre weakened.
In 1969, the Mayor and Council of Hope were embroiled in discussions over a proposed Sunday Sports Bylaw that would allow various non-church related activities to take place in the town. The Mayor speculated that Mr. Meridith, was behind this campaign as it would allow for movies to be shown on Sundays.
In 1973, George and Fern Eyles purchased the theatre from Mr. Meridith and continued the tradition of popular movie screenings. Their daughter and son-in-law, Terry and Stan Holding took over management of the cinema in 1977 after George Eyles passed away. Admission rates at the time ranged from $2.75 for adults and $1 for children for the evening shows and $1.25 for adults and 75 cents for children at the matinees.
The late 1970's and early 1980's brought many changes to the cultural habits of North Americans with the advent of Beta and VHS video tape players (and then recorders) plus the introduction of video games like “Pong” and “Space Invaders”. People started staying home for their entertainment options and theatres everywhere suffered declining attendance, the Hope Cinema included.
While times were tough, a highlight during these years came with the filming of the Sylvester Stallone “First Blood” Rambo movie in Hope in late 1981. The cast and crew needed to view their “dailies” (the movie footage captured during that day of filming) in Hope and the Hope Theatre was the only place to do it. Each day, either in the late afternoon or late evening, the director, producers, cinematographer, various crew members and interested cast members would gather in the theatre to watch the repeated takes of the day. Terry would open the concession stand so that Brian Dennehy could buy popcorn and snacks for everyone and Stan would assist in the projection room. They were the first and only Hope viewers privy to those screenings and the lively debates they spawned amongst the crew and cast members present. Stallone even came alone one day for a special screening of the trailer of his recently completed Rocky III movie so that he could give his approval to the movie studio for its release. A souvenir of those days hangs in the lobby of the theatre today - a framed photo of the Holding's son, Michael, throwing a punch at Sly himself.
In the mid 1980's Jeff Larson purchased the theatre and attempted to revive the facility. He put in a new screen and sound system to bring the viewers back. But business was slow and in 1993 he sold to Haroon Khan and Mangaraj Grandhi of Sun Productions Ltd. in the Lower Mainland. They were recent immigrants to Canada from India where they had operated a variety of theatres with great success. They soon found that the industry was very different in Canada and they ran into difficulties even though they made various changes like adding wide metal troughs along the back of the theatre seats to accommodate more snacks and increased leg room by decreasing the number of seats in the theatre. In 1996 they sold their interests to other family relations but they did not succeed any better and they ended up leasing the facility to Kevin Jeffery and Mike Stanya. By this time the theatre was in a sad state of repair and they also failed.
The building sat empty and neglected for a number of years, so local residents Pete Ryan and Dennis Boucher attempted to breathe life back into it by opening a chainsaw museum in the lobby and offering live music events with a variety of band performances and magician shows. The income did not cover the cost of wages to keep the doors open so that venture failed and the theatre lights went dark again.
In 2001, Jeff Larson and his brother Kevin decided to purchase the theatre back and give it another try. The entire facility underwent renovations with new seats, roof repairs and other improvements. First run movies returned to Hope with evening shows on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesday nights as well as matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Other events such as Hope Little Theatre drama productions, all candidates meetings and most recently the swearing in of Hope Council members, have also taken place inside the theatre building.
Over the last few years, residents of Hope have watched as new lights and paint have spruced up the exterior. All new seats, a new screen in 2005 and a brand new digital sound system at the start of 2006 have improved upon the movie experience inside. With new equipment and automation the entire theatre can be operated by two people. Movies still arrive in a series of reels but they are all spliced together and run as one continuous film minimizing the work of the projectionist. Interestingly, it is still the 1950's equipment that projects the film onto the screen as it was made of solid steel and still does an excellent job. This means there is now only one projector in the projection booth but the second projector is still in the building as parts from it can be used for occasional repairs.
Admission prices for the Hope Cinema are the envy of big city movie goers as adults pay only $7 on the weekends and $5 for Cheapie Tuesday showings of first run movies. The key to keeping the Hope Cinema alive and thriving in Hope through its 60th year and beyond is the support of local viewers. So this week, stop a moment to admire how attractive the long standing Hope Cinema building is today. Plan to see a movie there with your family and friends and extend your congratulations to Kevin Larson for keeping this cultural tradition alive in Hope.
Information researched & compiled by Inge Wilson of Destination Hope & Beyond Services. May not be used wholly or in part without written permission. Contact at Hope Museum : Telephone 604-869-7322 or email
Many thanks go to Terry & Stan Holding, Bert Seward, Kevin Larson, Fazal Khan, Hans Jeschek and Pete Ryan for sharing their information and stories about our local theatre.