Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Avenue Hotel and The Odeon Theatre...in Fort William, now Thunder Bay, Ontario

The Avenue Hotel, 320 Victoria Ave(Later to become the Odeon Theatre). The first picture shown here on the left was the original Avenue hotel(photo circa 1890...not too many buldings to be seen from the corner of Victoria Ave and Simpson St then). The second photo shows the Avenue hotel built in 1894, immediately after fire destroyed its predecessor of the same name on the same property. The Avenue Hotel was right in the centre of Fort William's business district and was the towns premiere accommodation. When it was new it was described as "among the best appointed houses of the Province" with 40 rooms(later expanded to 70), beautiful oak finishings throughout and its own dray service to and from the station and the docks. Its cuisine was amount its major attractions(with even its own bakery in the basement), and its bar was said to be the longest in town. Even after bigger and more luxurious hotels were constructed, the Avenue maintained its popularity as the choice of touring Vaudeville actors performing at nearby theatres. One of the early hotel's features was a pet bear who was very fond of sweets and was well supplied by his many admirers. The Avenue was victim of several fires, the last coming in 1944 when it was burned to the ground.

The hotel was actually located on a corner of Victoria Ave called McVicar Street. Today Simpson Street goes right through most of the buildings shown on the far left of this second picture, as will be explained as we go on here.

The coloured arrows are as follows: Red - McVicar Street, Green - The Avenue Hotel, Blue - The St. Louis Hotel(torn down not too long ago), Purple(In the distance) is Chapples Ltd(Grain Exchange Bldg) and finally Yellow is the curve going to Simpson Street.
NOTE - Remember going down McVicar street and running right into Club Seaway.
The photo on the right is from a 1913 local industrial brochure and is encouraging investors to the Victoria Ave area.

The left photo is a different angle from the one above, however all the arrows are the same colour to show you what is where.
Now the Odeon Theatre.....I don't have a particular time line on the Odeon itself but this bus photo shows the Odeon which was built directly on the Avenue Hotel property. Anyone close to my age or even younger remembers the Odeon as one of the premier theatres in Fort William(and Port Arthur too). This is actually a 1968 photo and shown on the marquis is "WOW, The Winner, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT". This movie starring Sidney Poitier & Rod Steiger won 5 Oscars including "Best Picture".

A classy Odeon Theatre advertisement and the photo on the right shows a night picture of the theatre and also vividly shows a car just coming out of McVicar Street.
The above is a present day Google Earth shot showing how the present day Simpson/Victoria Avenue intersection has changed. The blue star is the lot where the St. Louis Hotel used to be, The purple arrow is Victoria Ave and is facing west. The yellow arrow is Simpson Street. The pink heavy line is where Simpson Street was cut right through the buildings that existed there and continues on south to Arthur Street. The green star is the old Odeon Theatre/ Avenue Hotel site and finally, the skinny red arrow pointing south was McVicar Street which is now a parking lot.
The Odeon was one of the final five theatres of Fort William/Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay before the Famous Players Silver City opened about 1999, dooming them all. This one operated until that time as one of the main theatres in the downtown south core(Fort William) and played all the latest movies of the day.
This theatre until last year had the dubious distinction of being located across the street from the city's homeless shelter. After it closed it was re-opened as an all ages rave club called the Oasis. It currently houses a pawn shop in auditorium 1, while auditorium 2, the large one with the balcony as well as the lobby is apparently vacant.
I must thank our museum for a small amount of the story content and a photo or two, and also Google Earth for the great overhead...I wish Google Earth had satellites in the early part of the 20th century....wouldn`t that have been great!
One final note - The white front building to the right of the old Odeon is 400 Victoria Avenue. It is presently the Amethyst Gift Centre but during the Odeon`s heyday it was the Embassy Grill, where our family often went for lunch or breakfast.
as usual Click on the photos to enlarge them!!


Anonymous said...

Once again, great pix Dave. In the Brill bus photo you can see a yellow and red sign which was the Pagoda restaurant, home of the city's best eggrolls, 75 cents each, 2 for $1.50. lol.

Jon T.

Dave said...

Yup...when the city put a kibosh on all the overhead signage, the colour in our downtown's just vanished....and yes, I remember those great eggrolls too. D

Will S said...

Any idea when they put a kibosh on all the overhead signage?

Certainly looks a lot better than the black signs held down by cement block with fluorescent letters.

Dave Cano said...

You're right Will...I sure miss that great signage too. Not sure exactly when the overheads ended...probably around the time we became Thunder Bay....yes...things to look a lot uglier now!! Thanks for your comment....D.

Anonymous said...

I believe that McVicar Street still exists partially as present day Viscount St. which runs south from Victoria to George St, parallel to the east side of the old theatre. It looks just like a parking lot for the old theatre building, but there is a street sign, and it is listed on city maps.

Dave Cano said...

Yes Anonymous...that is correct. Viscount Street is the old McVicar as a parking lot. Thank You for adding this. D.