WOLFVILLE, NS - Consider it special recognition of a cultural and community hub that has played an important role in the lives of residents and visitors for generations.
Plaques were unveiled at the 107-year-old Acadia Cinema building in Wolfville on Oct. 13 officially designating it a Town of Wolfville municipal heritage property and a provincial heritage property. The building is home to the Acadia Cinema Co-op’s (ACC) Al Whittle Theatre and the Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op’s Wolfville coffeehouse.
Al Whittle Theatre manager Mary Harwell was given the honour of unveiling the plaques. She said one of the things that makes the building so unique or special is its age, having been built in 1911, and the iconic neon marquee that has lit up Main Street for so long.
“I think one of the reasons we pursued it was we just wanted to make sure that nothing would happen to it where it might not be this building anymore,” Harwell said. “It’s important to us that this building remains a cultural hub in Wolfville.”
The building has touched many lives and Harwell said she “just loves going to the movies and the theatre.” It’s a place that people go to take part in community activities and you can always give someone unfamiliar with the town directions based on the location of the historic landmark.
Speaking on behalf of the ACC board, treasurer Paul Callaghan said the unveiling was a celebration of built heritage, culture and community.
“Our iconic neon marquee of course is inseparable from people’s image of the Town of Wolfville and inseparable from the culture that we’re so richly blessed with throughout the Valley,” Callaghan said.
It’s been 16 years since a partnership was formed between the ACC and the Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op, which Callaghan described as “very productive.” Over the past two years, work has been undertaken to restore the exterior of the building and to have it designated a historic property.
He said the co-op’s Al Whittle Theatre is very vibrant. On average, over the past five years, it has hosted 225 events per year with an average annual audience of 20,600 people. Callaghan said the 808 shareholders have collectively invested $500,600 in the cinema building. This helped support the purchase and restoration of the building and the installation of state-of-the-art video, audio and lighting technology.
Wolfville Mayor Jeff Cantwell said it was very appropriate to have the municipal heritage designations unveiled on Acadia University’s homecoming weekend. He doesn’t think there’s a person who attended Acadia who was on hand for homecoming who “hasn’t passed through these doors for one reason or another”, whether it was to attend the cinema, get a cup of coffee or to buy a concert ticket.
About the renovation project
A conservation assessment was commissioned from DSRA Architects of Halifax, resulting in recommendations for several phases of repairs to exterior brickwork, windows and the roof. Priority repairs to the original Main Street portion of the building were completed on Aug. 31, on time and on budget.
Project funding was provided by the two co-ops with the ACC fundraising its half. The renovation project work was contracted to Coastal Restoration and Masonry. ACC building committee chairman Mark Crosby said they were fortunate to have had the pro-bono services of MC Squared Management to help guide the construction management process.
The federal government provided a $36,000 non-repayable contribution through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Innovative Communities Fund to assist with the completion of the repairs. The province contributed $10,000 through the Heritage Property Program’s Conservation Work Grant program.
About the Al Whittle Theatre
The Al Whittle Theatre is a soft-seat venue for film, theatre and music. Its main hall features 160 seats and a studio screening room with 40 seats. It is the home to returning presenters such as Devour: The Food Film Festival, Night Kitchen, Edalene Theatre and Fundy Cinema Film Series, Whitflix Smartphone Film Festival and the Retro Blockbusters Summer Film Series.
A. Ellsworth “Al” Whittle was the Acadia Cinema manager from 1953 until his retirement in 2000, after which the theatre was closed and put up for sale. The theatre sat empty until the two co-ops bought it and renovated it. It officially reopened in 2004.
The multi-purpose theatre was named after its long-time manager, now 88, who remains an honourary board member and still takes tickets at Sunday matinees.