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New councillor says he'll take up the cause for Westdale Theatre's future

Hamilton’s new Ward 1 councillor says he’ll carry the torch in a local effort to make sure his beloved Westdale Theatre stays where it is.

Ward 1 councillor Aidan Johnson: 'Westdale cinema is a sacred place for me'

Projectionist Jim Mair works at the Westdale Theatre in 2012. When Brian McHattie leaves council next month, his quest to ensure the future of the 1930s theatre remains unfinished. But his replacement says he'll take up the cause. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

Hamilton’s new Ward 1 councillor says he’ll carry the torch in a local effort to make sure his beloved Westdale Theatre stays where it is.

Aidan Johnson becomes Ward 1’s new representative in December. He says he’ll pick up where outgoing councillor Brian McHattie left off in trying to ensure that the 1930s theatre remains a fixture on Hamilton’s landscape.

The Westdale Theatre is the last single-screen house in Hamilton. Built in the 1930s, some worry the end is near. (Hamilton Public Library)

For about two years, McHattie has been talking to the Sorokolit family, which owns the theatre. There have been rumours for a while that the theatre was on the verge of closing, he said in 2012. And he doesn’t want any surprise endings.

McHattie was suggesting a cost-shared assessment of the condition of the old building, and a possible crowd-funding campaign to help bring it up to snuff. The money could have come from the Ward 1 area rating fund.

If the Sorokolits are ever going to close it, McHattie also suggested, the city might want to buy it.

McHattie, who came third in October’s mayoral race, said he’s had emails and phone calls with the Sorokolit family, but couldn’t seal a deal in time. So he leaves office with it still outstanding.

“The theatre is certainly very important to Westdale and I believe Hamilton residents generally,” McHattie said via email this week.

“I believe the new Ward 1 councillor, Aidan Johnson, is very capable of following up on this.”

Johnson says he will. The theatre is a hub for Westdale, he said.

The Westdale Theatre has been an anchor for the neighbourhood for nearly eight decades. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

“The Westdale cinema is a sacred place for me,” he said. “I am a true blue cinephile, and some of my earliest, most cherished memories of cinema involve the Westdale cinema.”

“I would see it as a terrible loss if the Westdale cinema were to not continue as a flourishing cinema. The Westdale cinema is a very big deal.”

The Sorokolit family also owns the Mount Pleasant and Regency theatres in Toronto. Dan Sorokolit said he can’t rule out the theatre eventually closing.

“It’s a struggle,” he said. “It’s tough. There are a lot of expenses involved in any business.”

“You can’t say ‘I can guarantee it’s going to be X amount of years.’ You don’t know. You have to take it year by year and see how everything goes.”

The family is open to suggestions from the city, he said. What’s really needed, he said, is for the cinema to be digitized, which would cost about $45,000. That would expand the number of potential movie offerings, thus drawing larger crowds.

Right now, “it’s hard to know where the future lies,” he said.

The 498-seat theatre opened in 1935, and is at the hub of the trendy Westdale neighbourhood.

“A lot of students go to movies there. A lot of seniors go to movies there,” Johnson said. “It’s a sacred space.”

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