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A celebration worthy of 100 years

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(L-R) Debby Knight and Peggy Rohatyn were the ushers during the centennial celebrations at the Orpheum Theatre.

The Orpheum Theatre in Estevan has been operating continuously since it opened on April 6, 1914.

It has been showing movies during times of war, depression and economic boom. It has also been the site of concerts, stage shows, touring plays, local dramas, Presbyterian church services, post-war meetings, newscasts and even wedding vows.

The Orpheum has been celebrating its centennial this month with a variety of community events. Silent movies were shown from April 4 to 6, rekindling memories for some theatre-goers, and introducing the genre to others.

About 50 to 100 people attended each showing on the 4th and 5th.

"So many people thought that it was one of the coolest things they had seen," said Jocelyn Dougherty, who has co-owned the theatre with her husband, Alan, since 1998. "One lady told me that her aunt took her to a silent film when she was eight years old, so it was so exciting for her to actually come to another one."
Residents from the Estevan Regional Nursing Home attended some of the movies, and Dougherty said they loved the silent flicks.

Colorado resident Rodney Sauer was flown in to be the piano accompanist for the silent movies.

"I think it helped tremendously to have an actual live performer to get the feel of sitting there and trying to remember what it was like 100 years ago when they actually did see the movie," said Dougherty.

The centrepiece of the celebrations came on April 6, which was the Orpheum's 100th birthday. Hundreds of people came to tour the renovated Orpheum, to view the Orpheum's new Cinema No. 2, and to congratulate the Dougherty's on the milestone.

Sauer was the emcee for the event, and he read the Orpheum's history. He noted that when the Orpheum opened, it had over 600 seats.

It was owned by several members of the McKenzie family from 1914 until 1962, when it was purchased by Frank Mus. The Orpheum remained in the Mus family until it was purchased by the Dougherty's in 1998.

"The Orpheum has continually been a family-run, independent business," Sauer said.

Mary Elizabeth McKenzie, whose father and grandfather owned the theatre, was at the centennial celebration, along with two members of the Mus family – Alice King and Earl Mus.

King recalled when she met with the Dougherty's for the first time to discuss the purchase of the Orpheum.

"I could never have dreamed that it could have turned out to be as beautiful as it is, and you've just done a wonderful job," King said.

Dougherty was thrilled to have Mus, King and McKenzie present for the festivities.

"It made the event so much more special to be able to have the past owners, or in Mrs. McKenzie's case, a relative of the past owners, in attendance," Dougherty said.
After the speeches, a film strip was cut to mark the Orpheum's 100th birthday and the opening of the new second cinema. A slide show documented the Orpheum's past. And the audience enjoyed four silent movies, with Sauer providing the piano accompany.

The first ever talking picture at the Orpheum, Alibi, was shown in the evening. It debuted at the Orpheum back in 1929.

The Orpheum then showed retro movies from April 7 to 10. There was a movie for each decade from the 1930s to the 2000s.

The centennial celebrations will wrap up on April 11 with a concert by renowned Saskatchewan guitarist Jack Semple. Tickets are still available.

Alan Frew of Glass Tiger fame was slated to play on April 12, but Dougherty said the singer had to postpone the concert for personal reasons. It has been rescheduled for September 25.


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