The   Garrick   Theatre   in   Bonavista   opened   to   the   public   on   Christmas   Day,   1945.   Built   by   21 year-old   John   Bradley   with   the   assistance   of   his   father,   F.   Gordon   Bradley,   the   Garrick   has   been a   popular   entertainment   venue   and   social   centre   for   generations   of   area   residents.   John   had been   showing   films   at   the Anglican   Parish   Hall   on   Church   Street   since   July,   1944   but,   in   this   era of   relative   prosperity   for   the   local   economy,   he   soon   realized   there   was   enough   potential   to   merit constructing a proper theatre. Construction    began    in    September,    1945    with    a    crew    of    some    of    Bonavista's    best    known carpenters   in   that   period:   Jack   Russell,   Gus   Russell,   Max   Russell,   Ralph   Hicks,   Don   Miles   and Harry   Etsell,   with   Cyril   Miles   as   foreman.   The   building   was   completed   in   time   for   the   Christmas Day   afternoon   opening   which   featured   a   double   bill   -   Here   Comes   Kelly   starring   Eddie   Quillan and Joan Warbury, and Dillinger with Lawrence Tierney, Ann Jeffreys and Edmund Lowe. Named   after   David   Garrick,   an   18th   century   pioneer   of   English   theatre   -   and   thus   sharing   the name   with   several   other   theatres   in   English   speaking   countries,   including   the   famous   Garrick   in London   -   this   facility   was   built   with   a   traditional   stage   and   proscenium. The   original   intention   had been   to   use   the   facility   for   both   live   performance   and   film.   However   the   immense   popularity   of film, especially in the early years, left little room for other events. For   the   first   three   decades   the   Garrick,   often   filled   to   capacity,   was   open   seven   nights   a   week with   one   or   two   matinees   on   Saturday.   It   was   not   unusual   for   people   to   come   in   carloads   from as   far   away   as   Open   Hall   or   Trinity   to   see   the   latest   "movies."   The   Garrick   was   also   a   social centre.   Older   boys   and   men   would   gather   in   the   small   lobby   for   conversation.   People   enjoyed being   there   and   many   helped   out   with   taking   tickets   and   cleaning   up,   making   it   difficult   at times to distinguish between paid employees and volunteers. Saturday   matinees   were   a   local   cultural   experience   in   their   own   right.   It   was   the   domain   of the   young   where   no   adults   ventured.   Children   of   all   ages   crowded   around   the   entrance before   opening   time   and   when   the   doors   finally   opened,   there   was   a   great   rush   inside.   There was   more   action   in   the   auditorium   than   on   the   screen;   movies   merely   provided   background noise   and   colour   for   the   main   event.   Attention   reverted   to   the   screen   only   when   the   old Simplex   carbon-arc   lamp   projectors   gave   trouble.   The   carbons   frequently   burned   out   (or sometimes   the   film   broke)   causing   the   picture   to   disappear   from   the   screen.   Invariably   this was   instantly   followed   by   a   great   chorus   of   foot-stomping   in   the   auditorium   that   persisted   until the   projectionist   was   able   to   replace   the   carbons,   repair   the   film,   or   make   whatever   other repairs were required. Apart   from   those   sporadic   interludes,   both   boys   and   girls   were   in   constant   motion,   a   perpetual parade   around   the   perimeter   of   the   auditorium   that   did   not   cease   until   the   movie   was   over   and the   lights   came   on.   It   was   a   form   of   social   activity   where   young   people   moved   from   seat   to   seat, talking   with   friends,   looking   for   new   ones,   or   engaging   in   the   heavy   trade   of   comics   that   was prevalent   at   every   Saturday   matinee.   Despite   the   bedlam,   vandalism   rarely   occurred.   In   an   era where   children   of   school   age   were   separated   not   only   by   community   but   also   by   denominational schools,   and,   in   Bonavista,   by   neighbourhood   schools,   the   Garrick   was   a   great   "melting   pot" where all could meet without having to endure the strict supervision of teachers or clergy. In   the   1980s   and   1990s,   the   business   waned   as   it   did   for   most   independent   movie   theatres throughout   North America.   There   were   no   more   Saturday   matinees.   The   Garrick   finally   closed   in 2000   and   John   Bradley   and   family   donated   the   property   to   the   Bonavista   Historical   Society   in 2003. It is one of the oldest surviving theatres in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Waiting for Saturday Matinee at the Garrick, ca, 1955. (Roy Carpenter photo - Gordon Bradley collection)
Bonavista Mutual Traders Building, ca. 1938, before the Garrick was built (and attached to it) in 1945 (F. Gordon Bradley photo - Gordon Bradley collection)
Old Garrick sign in storage, 2003 Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation photo
The History of The Garrick
© 2016 Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation, Bonavista, Newfoundland, Canada