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The Dying Breath of Ottawa’s Down Town Cinemas

The Dying Breath of Ottawa’s Down Town Cinemas


By Adam Slight

This week it was announced that the Empire Theatres at the World Exchange Plaza down town will not be renewing its 20 year lease in the facilities. With the recent closure of Rideau Centre Cinemas, this announcement marks the end of Hollywood cinema exhibition in down town Ottawa.

Many down-towners are outraged that they can no longer walk to a theatre for a night at the movies, and must instead take a long bus ride out to South Keys, Gloucester, or the West End. I’ve heard many ask, “Why would they do this?” (using the proverbial “they” to refer to the major theatre exhibitors).


RIP Empire Theatres

The thing that we should realize that it isn’t the theatre chains we need to blame. Theatre execs at Empire Theatres aren’t sitting up there in their magical tower asking, “How can we make down town Ottawa just a little bit shittier?” Just the sheer square-footage of a movie theatre space must make rent astronomical, not to mention that the rental space is down town. Factor in the fact that the Hollywood movie industry is “suffering” (by relative standards), with Netflix, and Internet downloading competing for your leisurely viewing pleasure, and fun-time spending in a general slump with the population, the margins are getting pretty thin for a down town movie theatre displaying films that you might just opt to just download in a few months.

The real culprit, in my humble opinion, is suburban sprawl, and the backwards approach that cities (Ottawa in particular) seem to have towards urban development—“You know, if we just really spread people out, that’s going to do wonders for the local economy, environment, transit, and social interaction!!” That’s right. Down town movie-viewing is just another victim of Kanata and Orleans—and other suburban communities that are spreading the city thin.

Now let’s take a moment of silence for all the Ottawa movie theatres that have passed on to movie-theatre hell due to the ever-shifting industry that is film exhibition.

All photo credits go to Alain Miguelez.

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Silvia Logan on August 31, 2013 AT 10 pm

I think that they should have at least one movie theatre opened in downtown Ottawa or build one at the Rideau centre.

Megan on September 4, 2013 AT 12 pm

City Council has deferred discussions on the matter, but the owners of World Exchange are only seeking permission to convert to offices should no one come forward to take over the cinemas. Apparently, three chains have been in discussions to potentially take it over. This is not a done deal yet.

Mark Dore on September 4, 2013 AT 12 pm

You missed two major theaters: The Elgin whose sign still graces the building above Harvey’s – the curved window a reminder of its ticket booth on that very spot and The Elmdale just west of Parkdale on Wellington.
The World Exchange operated by Empire should remain for file patrons and for the business it brings to Subway, Cheezy Pizza, Shoppers Drug Mart etc. It is part of downtown life as much as the coffee houses ever ten feet.

Tim Elliott on September 20, 2013 AT 04 pm

That would mean that the downtown of our nation’s capital would not have a movie theatre! Unbelievable!