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The Metro: From ‘Ewww!’ to ‘Woo-hoo!’

20090708-Metro-Theatre from blogto.com

This week, I had the opportunity to meet with Matthew Languay, owner of Basecamp Climbing Inc., a rock-climbing facility which will open this fall in central Toronto, in the space that has been occupied by the former porn-focused Metro Theatre lo these many decades. There has been a lot of favourable media coverage about him taking this project on, the links to which can be found here.

Although I cannot participate in the sport myself, my interest is in the building because my grandfather, Carol C. Wells, had a significant interest in the property a hundred years ago when he was running Wells Bros. Amusements (see the introductory post about the blog’s name for more information.) Matthew was kind enough to share info with me about what he has discovered so far about the structure and what he has planned for it. We met over coffee in mid-town.

An avid climber with a mechanical engineering and climbing-wall building background, Matthew has been part of the interior demolition, so we shared photos and facts and put some visuals to the parts of my grandpa’s written memoirs that deal with the Metro. We will bring you his images and follow up as the building is renovated.

In the fall of 1913, Carol Wells met Mr.s Sher and Zimmerman, who were interested in converting a large store they had at Clinton and Bloor St.s into a movie theatre but were having trouble securing a permit. Grandpa Wells had experience in this, having established a successful business in projection engineering, supplies, repairs and installations. For his help, he negotiated a host of responsibilities but also perks, including working six days a week as the theatre’s projectionist.

Unfortunately, they opened on a very cold January 14th of 1914, and business did not boom: Carol felt it was due to Sher and Zimmerman only having one projector, while other theatres were now running continuous shows with two projectors. He convinced them to keep up with the times’s demands, and business picked up. Eventually, he transferred his permit to Mr. Sher amidst various negotiations. One condition was that Grandpa acquired part of the basement to partition off for a workshop and storage area, about 15 ft. sq., which Matthew photographed by chance, not knowing the background of it. While I don’t have the details about how this involvement at the Metro cinema concluded, it seems he may have left the arrangement as his business expanded in Toronto and across southern Ontario.

It is frustrating that I cannot find more details about my family connection to the theatre, not even its name at that time. It is also unclear why media often report that it was built in 1938, when it is unlikely another cinema was extant at the same intersection and its history started some twenty-four years earlier. If anyone can direct me to evidence about this, please contact me via this site.

basecamp8Photograph of the owner of Basecamp Climbing by Maxwell Summerlee

Matthew and I will share more info as his new venture develops! Personally, I’d like to have the marquee sign, with the ‘girl’ on the front, as a memento of the Wells Bros.’s connection to the cinema’s history. I’ll put a bug in the entrepreneur’s ear….