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Stettler’s Jewel Theatre celebrates 7 decades of operation

Gala held June 30
Waiting for the showing of Calamity Jane. (Photo submitted)

On June 30, Stettler’s Jewel Theatre commemorated its 70th anniversary. The evening included hors d’oeuvres, special presentations, and a special showing of the first movie ever played at the Jewel Theatre in 1953.

In 1953, the Town of Stettler was experiencing a steady growth period due to oil activity in the area. Permits for construction that year included the Stettler Auction Mart, Stettler Motel, Mobile Home Park and the Federal Building (post office.) It also included a construction permit for George Annable’s Jewel Theatre.

The Jewel opened for Business on Dec. 21, 1953. The projection room originally had 2 projectors that were 3D capable, which was quite popular at the time. There was also a crying room at the south end of the auditorium where parents with crying children could go. The sound-proofed enclosure had 2 large windows so parents could still watch the movie while dealing with their fussy child. Many people remember the concession stand being on the opposite side of the lobby from where it now sits.

Ticket holders for the special event were welcomed to the renovated theatre, which had a few classic touches mixed in. Tickets were checked at the front door by a staff member. Once inside, the staff were all wearing clean white shirts and black pants, with bow ties, like what they might have worn back in the day.

Free popcorn and soda were provided with other beverages and snacks still available for purchase. The doors to the lobby were attended by staff members who opened and closed them for each guest as they went in another traditional nod. Photographer Lyndon Norman was on hand to snap photos of guests in front of the 70th Anniversary logo on the wall of the lobby.

Jewel supporter and businesswoman Tana Nixon was master of ceremonies for the evening and spoke of Hollywood at the time of the theatre’s grand opening. Nixon also polled the crowd to see who had had a first date or even a first kiss at the Jewel. She then congratulated Wendy and Brian Rairdan, who owns the theatre, for their work to renovate and reinvent the small-town theatre.

Nixon also addressed the many letters of congratulations that have come in over the last few months congratulating the Jewel on its milestone anniversary. One such letter is from model and actress Tricia Helfer who says she was discovered while in line at the Jewel Theatre and that it was the start of a career that would lead her to Hollywood.

County of Stettler Reeve Larry Clarke also addressed the crowd. Clarke spoke of how he remembers working for Gulf Canada and the family Christmas parties Gulf hosted at the theatre. Clarke talked about how important movie theatres were before the advent of BETA, VHS, and other devices that allows people to watch movies from home. He talked about the social aspect of friends and families attending the local theatre, and how it was a treat to be able to watch movies.

Clarke then went on to speak of the importance of those in the community who preserve a town’s history. He said it was important to have such people so that we can remember what the community used to be like. They preserve the history of the people, and the businesses in the community. He spoke about how historians help keep the memories of places like the Jewel alive for generations to come. Afterward, Clarke invited local historian Carson Ellis to the stage to present him with a plaque on behalf of the Jewel Theatre for his work in preserving and sharing local history. Ellis had worked with the Jewel Theatre to help get some information on its early days. He was able to share the opening date, and the first movie, among other small details.

Brian Rairdan also addressed the crowd. Rairdan, who grew up in the Stettler area, shared memories of the theatre and touched on many points that had been made, such as the social importance of the movie theatre, and memories made of attending movies there. He also spoke on how easy it was to support the local theatre. Not just monetarily, but how people can share show times on social media, to help promote upcoming shows. He also said that they could support the theatre by supporting those who paid for advertising which was seen in the pre-show reels of each show.

Following the speeches, guests watched a special presentation by the Jewel Theatre of interviews that had been conducted over the last year. Both current and former residents had been interviewed on camera to share their thoughts, feelings, and memories of the Jewel. Those interviewed included long-time residents like Malcolm Fischer, and and Brad Baltimore, and former residents such as Rob Brennen. Town Councillors Cheryl Barros and Gord Lawlor also spoke on their experiences with the theatre over the years.

After the short presentation, guests were invited to refill their popcorn and beverages, while special snacks and cake were also provided. After this, a special showing of the 1953 musical Calamity Jane was shown. The Doris Day and Howard Keel Western had been the very first movie shown at the then-newly opened Jewel Theatre.

After the movie ended, guests were given swag bags, much like those that are given at Hollywood premieres. Many items had been supplied by Warner Brothers and Nespresso, as well as from Reel Good Coffee and movie passes from the Jewel Theatre. Guests were also given theatre cards, which had been a form of advertisement given to guests who attended movies back when the theatre opened. The theatre cards had a photo of the opening day announcement from the Stettler Independent on one side, an image of the Calamity Jane poster, and a description of it being Jewel Theatre’s first showing on the other.

Also in attendance at the film were local filmmakers Levi Holwell and Jamie Stewart. The pair out of Calgary is currently travelling the province putting together a documentary on small, mostly independent theatres, and their histories. Holwell says they will be filming until approximately October and that their final production should be seen on CBC television and CBC Gem sometime around March. The pair have reached out to ten different theatres including the Garneau in Edmonton and the Globe in Calgary.

Lyndon Norman (left) takes photos of guests while Jamie Stewart films for a documentary. (Photo submitted)