'We want to save this theatre:' Indian Head dreams big for 1904 building

Townspeople are hoping to recapture the grandeur of what was once the Indian Head Opera House, pouring years of work into the 114-year-old building with the goal of restoring it to its former glory.

Town hoping to save former opera house

The Grand Theatre's board of directors held a community consultation night, inviting people to come in and see progress on plans for the restoration of the 1904 building. Artists were on hand to give an idea of what the art centre and movie house might look like in the future. (Submitted photo)

Townspeople are hoping to recapture the grandeur of what was once the Indian Head Opera House, pouring years of work into the 114-year-old building with the goal of restoring it to its former glory.

The opera house opened in 1904, with opera later giving way to silent movies, talkies, and later, Hollywood blockbusters.

When the theatre was going to close down, community members were clear they weren't ready to say goodbye, said Bruce Neill, who now chairs the Grand Theatre's board of directors.

He said the message was clear — "We want to save this theatre."

For the past five years, volunteers have thrown themselves into the work of restoring the building, spending half a million dollars in repairing a leaky roof, fixing the foundations and wiring, hoping to convert the space into an art centre and movie house.

"Now we're really into the dreaming stage," said Neill.

The Indian Head Opera House opened in 1904, with the building later becoming a movie theatre. (grandtheatre1904.com)

Enter, stage right, Jesse Hindle.

Hindle, a founding partner of Hindle Architects in Calgary, grew up in Indian Head. He still remembers watching movies like E.T. from the comfort of his mother's lap in the crowded building.

The theatre always was a gathering place, not just for the people of Indian Head, but from people from all over the region who would drive in to watch movies together, he recalled.

While Hindle Architects focuses on creating contemporary buildings, The Grand Theatre speaks to history, with its fir timbers and clay brick.

Jesse and Laura Hindle have been helping The Grand Theatre 1904 project, with Hindle Architects delving into plans and concepts for restoring the building. (Submitted photo)

"You have to look deep into the existing structure to understand that," he said of understanding the limitations of the old building, but also the possibilities it offers.

"It's about creating something that's new and fresh within that historic context."

Years more of work

This past Tuesday, people came down to the theatre to see the architects' visions for the place, with photographs of the building turned into 3-D models and video.

"People could feel like they're walking through the new spaces. It's just incredible," said Neill, noting it was the perfect blend of new technology and history.

Work will likely continue over another five years, as money permits, until the project is complete.

Hindle said the entire town will benefit if the opera house is restored.

"If we can be a part in the revitalization and the continuity of this place and the town, we find that incredibly satisfying," he said.

"We hope one day, someone will do the same for the buildings we create, whether they're new or old."