“Get involved or the theatre will shut down!” That was the call out to the residents of the little town of Indian Head, Saskatchewan in 2012/13. “But what can we do to save the 1904 building?” was the response. They knew it was the only opera house between Winnipeg and Vancouver when it was built and it had always been under private ownership. In the memory of most residents it was a cinema, having been converted from a live performance venue to a movie house in the 1930s. Now the private owners wanted to sell … but who would buy “this old girl” and pay for structural repairs, purchase new digital cinema equipment and make any money at it! The municipality wouldn’t want it and a private buyer in the theatre business was unlikely. The future for the building and the entertainment it provided looked bleak. The theatre was part of the fabric of this rural community since it opened in 1904, and now was about to close.
So in typical small town fashion, a group formed and said “We can do something about this!”. As volunteers, we can save the theatre. Fundraising concerts called “Raise the Dead in Indian Head” were held complete with ghost tours in the old theatre. That seed money allowed for engineering reports, environmental assessments and development of a business plan. The committee became the non-profit organization “Indian Head Theatre & Community Arts Inc (IHTCA)”. IHTCA ran a fundraising campaign called “Let’s Make it Reel” that obtained pledges totaling over $100,000 from 200 local donors. Donations included money from elementary and high school classes to “save their theatre”. IHTCA negotiated a purchase price with the owners, obtained a 20-year mortgage from the Credit Union and in February 2014 became the owner-operators of what the community renamed the “Grand Theatre”. Within six weeks of ownership, new digital cinema equipment was installed, volunteer crews cleaned and painted the lobby/concession/ bathrooms and all was ready to re-open for business. But now it was a community-owned, volunteer-run enterprise with a vision that would transform the building to multi-entertainment facility that included performing arts, visual arts and a cinema and would become a gathering place for young and old while respecting its municipal heritage designation.
And then the snow melted! They knew there were issues with the roof, but the extent was now obvious. About 40 to 60 buckets were required to catch water inside the building. A tarp was placed inside the projector room above the $80,000 new movie equipment! Spring rains and summer thunderstorms were dreaded. Tarps were placed on much of the roof. What to do? Where do you start? How much will it cost?
A local resident worked for Roof Management Inspection Services (RMIS), a Regina engineering firm specializing in commercial roofs. Soon Percy Crossman, owner of RMIS, told us the Grand Theatre was chosen as their “charity of choice” in their “Giving Back” initiative. From 2015 to 2017, RMIS provided all engineering assistance on roof design and also repaired several portions of the roof. RMIS designed new roof trusses so as to maintain the historic exterior profile and to retain the original tin-tile ceiling structure. IHTCA made a series of grant applications to the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation (SHF) using the RMIS engineering reports, drawings and cost estimates and received almost $100,000 in matching grants. Other granting agencies provided $50,000 and funds were raised from weekly Chase the Ace lotteries. Over three years, the value of the RMIS services was about $100,000 … all at no charge. The 6,000 sq ft roof was completely replaced or repaired to heritage standards and modern codes for a total value of over $400,000.
Now it can snow or rain and the new roof can handle the loads and no longer leaks! If IHTCA had not taken over ownership, not only would the theatre have shut down, the original roof would likely have started to collapse due to decades of water damage. Assistance by RMIS and SHF along with countless hours by volunteers were key factors in the success of the roof project. The historic building was saved and no additional debt incurred.
As the roof was being fixed, the theatre continued to operate and other projects started. Building infrastructure was a priority with more than half the fieldstone foundation repaired and re-pointed, a new plumbing and electrical service installed and exterior brick re-pointing initiated.
In 2017, Hindle Architects began a pro-bono project to develop a conceptual plan for interior renovations. A laser scan and 3D as-built digital mapping was completed that will allow for presentation of design concepts to the community and funding agencies. The leadership shown by RMIS and support by SHF on the roof project has allowed the community to dream about future interior renovations.
Since 2014, the community has embraced the new role for the old theatre. The eight member volunteer board operates the multi-facetted facility. IHTCA is now an arts council within a provincial association and hosts professional entertainers including musicians, actors, magicians and hypnotists. IHTCA partners with “Stage Left Players”, a local amateur adult drama group as well as the elementary and high school drama clubs. The Grand is “their home”. Summer drama camps and summer movie clubs are organized for the youth of the community. Classic movies are presented monthly to seniors. All while providing four shows a week of recent movies. A Chase the Ace draw is held weekly and the seniors who volunteer welcome the opportunity to interact with the community, plus they have helped raise more than $350,000 for past and future renovations.
IHTCA believes in the power of volunteers and the value of this historic community space. They are improving the quality of life of youth and seniors in the community. The theatre is now an active and valued community space and has become a regional tourist attraction and economic driver. As they say to those that visit … “Welcome to YOUR Grand Theatre … this is YOUR space”.
Bruce Neill, ChairIndian Head Theatre & Community Arts Inc.