Posted by: Cornwall Community Museum | November 22, 2017

Palace Theatre Cornwall.

Palace Theatre Pitt St.  “The House of Comfort” Cornwall’s first purpose built motion picture house.

The motion picture industry became firmly rooted in Cornwall in 1909, when former cotton mill loom mechanic, James Whitham purchased the 95 seat Starland, located at the foot of Pitt St. from Douglas and Tilton.  Finding this auditorium too small, he moved to the 110 seat Crystal Palace at 130 Pitt.

Cornwall Motion Picture pioneer James Whitham.

In competition with Alex McDonald’s Wonderland Theatre, the Palace offered patrons as many as three one reel Griffith’s melodramas daily, along with slide show and community sing-along led by Bobbie Douglas, and accompanied by pianist Hugh Kippen. In December 1910, the theatre was moved to 144 Pitt St., in the Yates Block.  This 340 seat hall boasted opera chairs, a vast improvement over the wooden kitchen chairs formerly used.

In 1919 Whitham formed the Palace Amusement Co., and two years later he opened the 820 seat Palace.

With three theatres now vying for customers, vaudville shows were briefly revived.  Whitham overcame the competition in 1923 with the purchase of the Wonderland, which was subsequently sold to Walker Stores.

A line-up outside of the Palace, sometime after the 1933 Pitt St fire.  The old town hall with the bell tower is in the middle distance.


To maintain the competitive edge, Palace President Clarence Markell renovated the Palace at a cost of $215,000.  Reinforced with ceiling and wall earthquake bracings,  the “new” 960 seat Palace reopened on June 2, 1948, screening “I Remember Mama” with Irene Dunne.  Markell said that the new theatre was his way of paying tribute to his loyal patrons who deserved “dignified, fashionable and restful” theatres.  Inside the outer lobby was decorated in beige, peach and lime green with modernistic furniture and a water fountain.  Simplicity was the keynote in design, “giving the theatre an appearance which is at once striking and eye-pleasing.  There is a decided absence of  frills or dressiness” except for the “small islands of concentrated decoration.”

I always wondered what those peculiar patches of design were for, now we know.  They were small islands of concentrated decoration!

Candy counter, Palace Theatre.

Outside customers were beckoned to the Palace by a 2,000 light staggered modernistic marquee.

Candy counter in the “new” Palace.

Lobby of the “new” Palace.

Eventually associated with Odeon, the Palace closed in the early 1980s to reopen as Maximum Fitness Health Club.  This closed and the site was torn down to become a one way parking lane-way.

The Museum’s archives has an extensive collection of local theatre material available for viewing.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Cornwall Industry

A Cornwall Community Museum Blog

Cornwall Canal and Shipping History

A Cornwall Community Museum Publication

Cornwall Community Museum

In The Wood House at the waterfront, Cornwall, Ontario, Canada

%d bloggers like this: