A look back in time: The Place Riel Theatre and all its glory

By in Culture
The Arts Building in 1962. University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-8371.

It’s a little known fact that the University of Saskatchewan used to have one of the most popular movie theatres in all of Saskatoon — that’s right, back in the 1970s till the late 1990s, students could catch the latest flicks right here on campus.

Opening in 1975, the Place Riel Theatre was located in the Arts Building, where the Neatby-Timblin Theatre is today, and held an impressive 370 people. The theatre was built in response to a survey conducted by students in the early 1970s, which showed one of the highest priorities was to have a movie theatre on campus. Chris Jones, who later became the artistic director of the Broadway Theatre, was the founding director of the theatre.

The theatre was popular with students as it had low prices and good selections. From Casablanca to The Exorcist, it played both the new and old with everything from independent films, classics to second-runs. Movies were screened every Wednesday through Saturday with regular midnight screenings as well.

In 1976, admission to the Place Riel Theatre was $1.50, a crazy comparison to the now $12.50 general or $21.50 VIP admission fee at the Scotiabank Theatre.

In 1992, the theatre upgraded the sound system and became known as one of the best cinemas in Saskatoon, and it catered

University of Saskatchewan students are keen on the idea of Place Riel Threatre re-opening. Photo Illustration: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor

to more people than just students — no wonder the theatre was so popular. However, by the mid 1990s, prices had increased to $4 per ticket.

Unfortunately, the Place Riel Theatre closed in April of 1998 mostly due to the competitive prices of the new Centre and Rainbow Cinemas.

It isn’t hard to imagine how fun it would be to have a movie theatre on campus. After a long day of classes, studying, essay writing and working, you could leave the library and just walk a couple of minutes, meet up with friends and enjoy a nice evening at the movies.

Although there are no current plans for the Place Riel Theatre to re-open, U of S students are keen on the idea. Abby Holtslander, a third-year psychology student, thought the theatre would help campus culture.

Al Bromley, general manager of Place Riel Society, seated in the place Riel Theatre in 1966. University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-11144.

“A movie theatre on campus would be an amazing addition to our university. I think it could liven up campus culture and bring people together. I can see it being a huge success,” Holtslander said.

A fourth-year anatomy and cell biology student, Evan Atwood*, made similar points to Holtslander talking about campus culture.

“Yes, we need more activities that promote campus culture and create traditions at the U of S. In order to create a strong campus culture, students need to be engaged starting from day one,” Atwood said.

Atwood also mentioned the importance of creating an inclusive campus, where events can cater to all students.

“Unfortunately, many first years are underage and therefore unable to participate in beer gardens, house parties or other 19+ events. The U of S should strive to create a culture and tradition that is accessible to everyone,” Atwood said.

The re-opening of Place Riel Theatre, wherever that could be located on campus, would be a great opportunity for the university to build and help strengthen campus community and bring students together.

It also provides students with a fun and entertaining way to relax amidst all the stress that comes with the life of being a student, by being convenient, accessible and potentially less expensive than its competition.

“Nowadays it’s so expensive to go to Scotiabank Theatre, not to mention buying snacks on top of that. Students who live on campus or close by could have a convenient way to spend their spare time,” fourth-year psychology student Kira Toews said.

The Arts Building in the early 1960s. University of Saskatchewan, University Archive & Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-134.

A theatre on campus wouldn’t just be convenient to those who live on, or close by to it, but also for any student, considering most students spend time studying up on campus at the library or with classmates. With this theatre, you could then study well into the evening and then catch a late flick before heading home.

Even current U of S students who weren’t aware there was ever a theatre on campus were intrigued by the idea — including second-year physiology and pharmacology student George-Paul O’Byrne.

“I had no idea there was a movie theatre in Place Riel to be honest, but now I want one. There’s no shortage of spaces here, but it’d be cool to have a theatre set up specifically, ya know?” O’Byrne said.

The theatre could be promoted in many different ways — including coupons, events and special screenings or theme nights. To attract students from all the different colleges and departments, the theatre could show a wide range of movies covering various topics.

Maybe students could even suggest films to show and with enough support, they could be brought into the theatre for screening — the options are endless when you begin something anew.

Whether the theatre ever re-opens or not, I think it’s fair to say it would be a popular spot.

As Toews said, “Who doesn’t love going to the movies?!”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Bridget Morrison / Culture Editor

Feature Photo: University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-8370