Ryan Janke, a councillor for the city of Weyburn, Sask., recalls the magic night he attended the Soo Theatre to see the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in 1990.
While he admits the movie hasn’t held up over the years, neither has the theatre, which was demolished earlier this year. But in this case, the loss of the town’s only theatre was a good thing, as plans coalesced to build a new two-screen cinema on the same site.
The Soo Theatre opened in 1950 and remained the only movie theatre in Weyburn. Operated by Landmark Cinemas, the Soo fell into disrepair, requiring costly renovations for a theatre that represented a dying breed: the single-screen cinema.
The theatre was permanently closed in 2017, leaving the city without a cinema.
As Janke describes it: “The 70-year-old boiler died and there was no fixing it — and it was covered with asbestos. The building was built around the boiler, so there’s no way to get it out of the basement without cutting the floor. And you probably couldn’t cut the floor because it was rotten. And the reason the floor was rotten is because the roof was rotten. We believe that Landmark probably made the right business decision.”
He notes a movie theatre represents not only an important community fixture, but also helps support the local economy.
“If there’s a new Avengers movie, and people drive to Regina to see it, there’s the potential for economic leakage as they also make a trip to the Costco or other stores next door,” he says.
Janke and other residents formed the Weyburn Theatre Community Service Co-operative, a non-profit devoted to bringing movies back to Weyburn. The co-op looked to buy the theatre or locate on other potential sites but were surprised by an eventual offer from Landmark to sell the theatre for $1, along with a donation to the project.
The theatre was demolished earlier this year by Adair’s Demolition of Southey, Sask., a company recommended to Janke that happened to have its equipment parked in town following a school demolition project.
“Ryan called me, I gave him my price and we agreed I would swing by there and take care of it almost immediately,” says company owner Adair Bednaz.
The company began with asbestos abatement, including a film vault designed to protect the theatre from nitrate fires when film stock was highly flammable.
The contractor made special effort to remove the exterior marquee, with the assistance of a flatbed provided by the local Rona outlet.
However, instead of removing a few bolts as expected, workers found the sign was integrated into the wood framing requiring significant saw cutting. The marquee will either be placed in a local museum or reincorporated into a new theatre.
Bednaz notes the two-storey building was simply built, with a brick exterior, steel rafters and laminated wood roofing, which was separated and recycled.
“The biggest challenge to the job was the small-town setbacks for the building,” he says. “It was built close to the street and had an alley in back, so the workspace was tight. The theatre was also nestled next to a neighbouring building, so we had to do a lot of careful brick removal on the property line.”
Demolition began in late April and took about three weeks.
The planned new theatre will be built at a budget of approximately $3.2 million. Sponsorships and fundraising have already reached 80 per cent of the budget required to begin construction. If all goes well, Weyburn residents will be attending local movies again by early 2025.
Janke admits he didn’t enjoy the last movie he saw at the old Soo theatre — so he did something about it, just prior to demolition.
“I sat down in the theatre and watched part of The Wrath of Khan on my phone, up to the title card,” he says. “That was just so I could say that the last movie I had seen at the Soo wasn’t Justice League.”