What's Happening With the Heritage Theatre in Brampton?
If you live in Brampton, you no doubt know that Brampton’s iconic Heritage Theatre--the one that sits at 82-86 Main Street North--has been unoccupied for quite some time.
A whopping 12 years, in fact.
And the City of Brampton has been trying to sell the theatre and its adjacent buildings.
The Heritage Theatre block includes the Heritage Theatre and three adjacent buildings (70-86 Main Street North). Currently, the block consists of the Heritage Theatre, another vacant building, the Downtown Brampton BIA, and Beaux-Arts Brampton art gallery and studios.
For the Heritage Theatre in particular, many residents are wondering what will take over the space.
One passionate resident, Matthew Humphreys, has created a 1:87 scale planning model of downtown Brampton as a visual aid to inspire residents and generate ideas on what residents want to see in the Heritage Theatre space.
Humphreys displays the model every Saturday morning at the Downtown Brampton Farmers’ Market to get residents talking about the future of the Heritage Theatre.
He began working on the model in summer 2017.
“I estimate that I have invested 400+ hours into the planning and construction of this planning model,” Humphreys told inBrampton.com.
“All dimensions and details had to be collected on my own as I had no access to drawings of the buildings. Materials used for the model include shoebox cardboard, styrene, plastic, wood and some metals.”
“To date, the responses have been excellent and many are very intrigued by it since 3D models are very rare.”
He also recently started a petition for community members to express their support for the theatre.
“I have lived in Brampton my entire life and it is truly a shame that Heritage Theatre has been closed down for so long since 2006,” said Humphreys.
Humphreys is currently the drummer for two bands - Nervcast and The Hollowbodies.
“As a musician, I am an advocate and supporter of the arts and I do believe the arts are essential contributing aspect to making a community thrive,” he said.
So, what does Humphreys envision for the Heritage Theatre?
“My ultimate vision is for the Heritage Theatre to become a multipurpose entertainment centre,” said the longtime Brampton resident and current civil engineering student.
“This building to house and facilitate a variety of different events from live bands, stand up comedy, community town hall meetings, drama performances and TED Talks. Also, I love the possibility of showing films, from the blockbusters to Bollywood and even indie films (we could potentially create a Brampton Film Festival in partnership with TIFF)!”
It’s true that since the building shut down, the City has received several project proposals. But nothing has since become of the space.
According to a recent report from City staff, the three-storey building--constructed in 1922 and officially opened in 1923--was designed by acclaimed Toronto architects Herbert George Duerr and B. Kingston Hall.
In 1919, Duerr (who was known for building theatres) and Hall formed a partnership focused on theatres--a venture that made sense at a time when movies (better known as motion pictures at the time) were starting to catch on.
The theatre can seat up to 714 people, a size that was apparently quite rare for theatres outside of major cities in the 1920s. That said, the report notes that Brampton had the population to support the Capitol Theatre (which it was called at the time), along with the Giffen Theatre on Queen Street.
The theatre was initially built to host vaudeville performances, but went on to play silent films.
The theatre was owned by Thomas H. Moorehead, who was a Peel magistrate. According to the report, he started a theatre chain with the Capitol and expanded to Ottawa, Orillia, Midland, Welland, St. Thomas, London and Belleville. Moorehead later sold the theatre to Les Gregory, who later died in a private plane crash. After Gregory’s death, the theatre was sold again and went on to survive a historic 1948 flood.
In 1949, the Canadian Odeon Theatre chain took ownership of the building and re-named it the Odeon Theatre, which it remained until it was purchased by the city of Brampton in 1981. After the city took ownership, it was transformed back into a live theatre venue and reopened as such in 1983. In 1989, the city, with help from the province, restored the structure and re-named it the The Heritage Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Right now, the City is still looking for a buyer that can handle a heritage property.
“The Heritage Theatre Block was placed on the market in the second half of 2017,” said City spokesperson Natalie Stogdill.
The last time the City received public feedback was some years ago.
“The City held an open house to obtain feedback from the public on the Heritage Theatre Block in 2012,” said Stogdill.
“In addition, community input has been sought through several master planning exercises, and the Vision 2040 process. All of that feedback continues to inform the City's approach to the adaptive reuse of the property.”
“Given all the recent developments in the plans for downtown Brampton, the City is working on creating a new marketing strategy for the Heritage Theatre Block, aligned with the University announcement, the Downtown Reimagined project, and the Planning Vision. Staff will report back to Council with more details when they are available.”
The City has been in touch with Humphreys about his model and his vision.
“Staff has been in contact with Mr. Humphreys about his scale model of downtown Brampton, and will get in touch with him to discuss his petition,” said Stogdill.
“We share his belief in the many possible future uses of the Heritage Block property and its potential to enhance the downtown area.”
Humphreys aims to gather as much public feedback as possible on what should become of the property.
“My goal is to acquire 10,000 signatures by Christmas and once this is done, I can assess the data and establish levels of support for certain ideas,” said Humphreys.
“For instance, 30 per cent would like the theatre to house live bands, 20 per cent for seminar events such as TED Talks, 30 per cent for a movie theatre, 20 per cent for other activities. My ultimate goal is to convey this data to aspiring developers who are interested in this property and hopefully, influence their designs.”
And he wants to take that vision even further.
“Another goal is for myself to meet with Larry Beasley, the renowned urban planner responsible for the ‘Brampton 2040 Vision’. I do believe that he would be intrigued and in support of this project for downtown.”
As of Wednesday August 15, Humphreys’s petition has gathered 112 signatures.
What do you think should go in the Heritage Theatre space?
All body photos courtesy of Matthew Humphreys