Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Kütne Reader reader Bob Guesford recently pointed out something to me that I never noticed: two giant walls from the old Strand Theatre in downtown Trail still stand.
The site of the Strand, 1330 Cedar Ave. was formerly home to Trail Opera House, built in 1917, and later renamed the Liberty Theatre. After remodelling and a major expansion, it reopened in 1938 as the three-storey, 900-seat Strand, a movie house managed by Will Harper for Famous Players.
While the lobby stood where the Liberty used to be, the now L-shaped building wrapped behind the adjacent Hughes Block, built in 1937. The seats and projection booth were parallel to the alley.
Three postcard views of the Strand Theatre, which opened in 1938. On the first two cards the marquee bills Anna Neagle in Piccadilly Incident (1946) and Secret Service Investigator (1948). (Greg Nesteroff collection)
The Strand also occupies a dubious place in Trail history. According to Injustice Served: The Story of British Columbia’s Enemy Aliens During World War II (2012), it was home to the police office where local Italians deemed enemy aliens reported.
Mario Mondin recalled in the book that his mother Emilia would take him with her.
It was sheer stupidity for one to say that my mother was an enemy alien … We would go to the Strand Block building and line up in the hallway and then go up to the second floor office. There would be quite a buzz in the queue of those registering, among whom many were Italians known to my parents. I was only four or five at the time but I do recall that we didn’t speak Italian there … One would line up in front of this large desk on which a register was visible. Sign and you were done!
Author Raymond Culos writes: “Many of those polled felt that being compelled to report each month to the [police] constituted an indignity and personal embarrassment. Other respondents regarded this dictum a travesty of justice and denial of a person’s basic rights.”
At about 6:20 a.m. on Dec. 11, 1956, fire broke out in the theatre. Manager Alec Barclay and his wife escaped their apartment, along with two others from a separate apartment.
Thirty-five firefighters battled the blaze for more than four hours in freezing temperatures as flames threatened to engulf the entire block, including the post office. Four firefighters were taken to hospital after being overcome with smoke.
It was called the biggest fire in Trail in 25 years. Damage was estimated at $200,000. The theatre was destroyed — the roof caved in — along with three offices on the second floor. The cause was not established, but the point of origin was variously reported as on the stage and in the balcony at the southeast corner.
“Thick fireproof walls between the theatre and the adjoining stores prevented the flames from spreading,” The Vancouver Sun reported.
In 1960, a new Sally Shop was built on the former Strand site. However, the walls at the rear of the Hughes Block were left standing. They’re still there today as the area is now a parking lot.
The building seen below in the middle is on the site of the former Strand lobby. The Hughes Block is seen at left and the old post office at right. The former Strand wall is seen peeking out overtop the Hughes Block.
The Strand is remembered in this heritage marker.
Updated March 10, 2020 to add the part about the Strand block being where local Italians reported to police during World War II.