The Garrick Theatre in Bonavista opened to the public on Christmas Day, 1945. Built by 21
year-old John Bradley with the assistance of his father, F. Gordon Bradley, the Garrick has been
a popular entertainment venue and social centre for generations of area residents. John had
been showing films at the Anglican Parish Hall on Church Street since July, 1944 but, in this era
of relative prosperity for the local economy, he soon realized there was enough potential to merit
constructing a proper theatre.
Construction began in September, 1945 with a crew of some of Bonavista's best known
carpenters in that period: Jack Russell, Gus Russell, Max Russell, Ralph Hicks, Don Miles and
Harry Etsell, with Cyril Miles as foreman. The building was completed in time for the Christmas
Day afternoon opening which featured a double bill - Here Comes Kelly starring Eddie Quillan
and Joan Warbury, and Dillinger with Lawrence Tierney, Ann Jeffreys and Edmund Lowe.
Named after David Garrick, an 18th century pioneer of English theatre - and thus sharing the
name with several other theatres in English speaking countries, including the famous Garrick in
London - this facility was built with a traditional stage and proscenium. The original intention had
been to use the facility for both live performance and film. However the immense popularity of
film, especially in the early years, left little room for other events.
For the first three decades the Garrick, often filled to capacity, was open seven nights a week
with one or two matinees on Saturday. It was not unusual for people to come in carloads from
as far away as Open Hall or Trinity to see the latest "movies." The Garrick was also a social
centre. Older boys and men would gather in the small lobby for conversation. People enjoyed
being there and many helped out with taking tickets and cleaning up, making it difficult at
times to distinguish between paid employees and volunteers.
Saturday matinees were a local cultural experience in their own right. It was the domain of
the young where no adults ventured. Children of all ages crowded around the entrance
before opening time and when the doors finally opened, there was a great rush inside. There
was more action in the auditorium than on the screen; movies merely provided background
noise and colour for the main event. Attention reverted to the screen only when the old
Simplex carbon-arc lamp projectors gave trouble. The carbons frequently burned out (or
sometimes the film broke) causing the picture to disappear from the screen. Invariably this
was instantly followed by a great chorus of foot-stomping in the auditorium that persisted until
the projectionist was able to replace the carbons, repair the film, or make whatever other
repairs were required.
Apart from those sporadic interludes, both boys and girls were in constant motion, a perpetual
parade around the perimeter of the auditorium that did not cease until the movie was over and
the lights came on. It was a form of social activity where young people moved from seat to seat,
talking with friends, looking for new ones, or engaging in the heavy trade of comics that was
prevalent at every Saturday matinee. Despite the bedlam, vandalism rarely occurred. In an era
where children of school age were separated not only by community but also by denominational
schools, and, in Bonavista, by neighbourhood schools, the Garrick was a great "melting pot"
where all could meet without having to endure the strict supervision of teachers or clergy.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the business waned as it did for most independent movie theatres
throughout North America. There were no more Saturday matinees. The Garrick finally closed in
2000 and John Bradley and family donated the property to the Bonavista Historical Society in
2003. It is one of the oldest surviving theatres in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Waiting for Saturday Matinee at the Garrick, ca, 1955.
(Roy Carpenter photo - Gordon Bradley collection)
Bonavista Mutual Traders Building, ca. 1938, before
the Garrick was built (and attached to it) in 1945
(F. Gordon Bradley photo - Gordon Bradley collection)
Old Garrick sign in storage, 2003
Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation photo
© 2013 Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation, Bonavista, Newfoundland, Canada