Chilliwack’s Vaudeville Theatre on Yale Road

P593 Yale Rd. East view

The theatre is the tall building wearing the Skelton’s sign, Courtesy of Chilliwack Musuem and Archives.

Did you know an original vaudeville theatre still stands proud in downtown Chilliwack? Located at 46130 Yale Road, the two story building was once operated as the Lyric then the Imperial Theatre providing a venue for vaudeville acts in Chilliwack starting at the beginning of the last century. Typically vaudeville acts consisted of live variety acts like Shakespeare performances, singing, dance and comedy acts, live animal tricks, plate spinners– anything considered respectable and clean. The performances were geared towards the middle class and were suitable for the entire family, unlike burlesque acts that were performed at saloons and drinking establishments. The shows were usually three or four hours in length with each of 9 acts given 7 to 12 minutes to perform once during the evening. Harry Houdini, Ethel Merman, the Marx Brothers and Will Rogers were regular fixtures on the vaudeville circuit. It was between these acts that still photo plays were shown to the captive audience (before moving pictures) as “added attractions” on the vaudeville bill. In fact, it was in vaudeville theatres where early motion pictures were first shown.

imperial theatre 036A July 1911 showing at the Lyric Theatre in Chilliwack included the “Original and only official motion pictures of the Coronation of His Majesty King George V”. Admission was 25 cents with two viewings of the coronation held at 7:30 and 8:45 pm.

During the First World War films often depicted items from the news including footage of the war effort along with current events.

imperial theatre 035

Suffragettes convention in 1915 in Chilliwack (women were not granted the right to vote in B.C. until April 1917!)

Over time attendance at vaudeville theatres waned as silent films then later talking movies gained popularity. In March 1926 renovations began at the Imperial Theatre to make it more suited to show motion pictures. The Chilliwack Progress newspaper detailed the proposed changes to the theatre in March 17, 1926, changes that included improving the seating gallery for movie viewing while increasing the capacity to 500. The same article also mentioned the theatre’s concrete construction as fireproof; meeting the fire zone bylaw established after a fire in 1908 destroyed many of Chilliwack’s downtown commercial buildings. Perhaps this method of construction contributes to the longevity of the building. Currently privately owned, the old Imperial Theatre building now houses a business on the main level with a private residence occupying the upper floor.

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