On chilly evenings during the long winter months, residents once had the luxury of settling into big, comfy seats, armed with Milk Duds and popcorn, to watch the latest films in Maple Ridge.
Located just east of 224th Street on the south side of Lougheed Highway, the Gem Theatre opened its doors to the public on June 30, 1941.
Owner W.J. Clayton ensured that most of the jobs went to local residents, with E.E. Adair & Sons of Haney acting as the general contractors.
The first film that was shown in the new $30,000 building was Nick Carter, Master Detective. The 450-seat theatre only charged 30 cents for adult admission and 12 cents for children in those first years of operation.
A Gazette article bragged about how this local theatre was “large and airy and well ventilated, ensuring cool summer shows and warm service in winter… The exterior of the building had a very attractive appearance with neon signs and a readergraph for advertising attractions, the whole being in modern stucco finish.”
Maple Ridge residents had a theatre worthy of the most posh socialites from downtown Vancouver.
The theatre was sold on Nov. 7, 1944 to Odeon Theatres of Canada Ltd, which operated the establishment for 13 years under the new name of the Odeon Theatre.
When the Odeon was threatened by closure in November 1957, projectionist Alex Marshall decided to purchase and save this local landmark. Many residents remember Alex for his kind-hearted nature.
Moira Kelly Day lived in Whonnock during the 1960s and had to take the bus into Haney to see a movie. Since there were not many buses running at that time, she would always arrive quite early.
“Looking back on it now, I am quite sure Mr. Marshall took pity on me waiting for so long and gave me a job to help fill the time,” Moira recalled.
“Money wasn’t plentiful, so I had only enough to catch the bus and my admission, and sometimes a little left over for a treat. So Mr. Marshall giving me a job and not charging me admission allowed for more money to spend at the concession.”
Fall of 1970 saw the theatre receive a facelift and a new name: The Stardust Theatre.
Owner Leo Prescott closed the building for a few months for renovations, and marked the New Year by reopening the theatre on January 1, 1971.
Maple Ridge resident Lise Andersen James recalled how one night there was an extra ‘show’ at the Stardust: “Streakers came into the theatre through the doors on the right side of the snack bar and ran all around the centre section to the other double doors. The theatre ushers were chasing them … The naked fellas had to have removed their clothing in the men’s bathroom, which was close to the theatre entrance on the right side of the snack bar, and then ran out. Inside the theatre all the kids snickered and laughed; there were even some whistles and yee-haws. Then the shushing started, because the movie didn’t stop just because of the commotion.”
Leo sold the theatre in 1976, and after a string of various owners, the movies stopped showing in Maple Ridge in the mid-1980s. The parking lot of the Dairy Queen now occupies the space where this landmark structure once stood.
– By Sandra Borger, a researcher with the Maple Ridge Museum.