Cherished green vinyl seat from Yellowknife 'social hub' evokes memories

From the 'cry room' to the notorious boyfriend-girlfriend double seats, a museum exhibit is helping Yellowknifers share memories of the city's 1947-77 movie theatre.

Vinyl-covered seat, used from 1947-77, part of new exhibit at Prince of Wales Heritage Centre

A seat from the original movie theatre in Yellowknife — fit with its faded green vinyl — is now part of an exhibit at the city's museum.

"Making a Museum" is a collection of decades-old, day-to-day objects from across the Northwest Territories; from mysterious, fairy-like protective goggles to the chalice from the Lady of Good Hope church in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., from the 1800s.

Many of the artifacts' uses were evident for historians when they were putting together the Making a Museum exhibit. But they're not so sure about this one; these are protective goggles - and their case - from 1957. They were found at a prospecting party on the east end of Great Slave Lake. As mentioned in the exhibit, museum curators don't know much more about them. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Museum curators spent ten years collecting dozens of items, some of which kindle long-ago memories.

"Allan Brown and I, we would go and hold hands in [the theatre's] double seats," said Sherry Holden, who grew up in Yellowknife.

"He was my boyfriend in Grade 4," Holden added, recalling her time at the original Capitol Theatre in Yellowknife.

'A place of real magic'

The theatre was originally located where the Scotiabank Centre is downtown on 51st Street. It opened in 1947 and soon became the "social hub" for the city, which, at the time, didn't have a road connecting it to the rest of Canada.

Here's Marc Horton, now 68, at his first communion in Yellowknife. It was around this time when Horton started going to the Capitol Theatre three times a week. (submitted by Marc Horton)

"That theatre was a very important part of the culture of Yellowknife," said Marc Horton, who was born in Yellowknife a year after the theatre opened.

"It was a gateway for a lot of people to sort of remove themselves from Yellowknife... for a couple hours."

Horton said ever since he was six years old, he's gone to three movies a week —  a habit that began in Yellowknife and led to work as a film critic in Edmonton.

"When I was a kid, [the Capitol Theatre] was a place of real magic," Horton said.

"I always thought it was just beautiful."

Many people remember the double seats at the old Capitol Theatre, where they'd cuddle up to their newest girlfriend or boyfriend; they remember the velvet curtains that slowly swayed open as the movie was about to start; or the sound of the empty glass Coca-Cola bottles that kids rolled down the theatre's sloped floor.

Sherry Holden recalls the Plexiglas rooms at the back of the theatre, equipped with a sound system to hear the movie. One was called "the cry room" for mothers and their babies and the other one was for the smokers.

Holden says whenever she showed up at Yellowknife's Capitol Theatre in the 1960s "there'd be everybody you know."

'A prize possession'

Most of the original Capitol Theatre was demolished in 1978, but a portion of the building still remains in the city and now sits in Old Town next to the government dock. 

Karen-Maria Tratt, who used to live in Yellowknife, was given one of the seats from the theatre before it was torn down.

For years, she kept it as a lounging chair in her home, but after speaking with a historian in town, she decided to donate the seat to the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre.

"It really was a prize possession for her," said Ryan Silke, the museum's collections assistant, and the one who picked up the seat from Tratt's current home in Calgary.

"She was excited to see a home for [the seat], but also sad to see it leave as a functional chair in her life."

Silke posted a picture of the seat on Facebook and that's what forged the more than 100 comments retelling stories of the memorable theatre.

The seat, along with all the other artifacts in this collection, is now on display at the museum in Yellowknife.