The Audion Theatre

Capreol was once a self-sufficient community. Residents lived, worked, and shopped within our town’s borders and never needed to leave—everything necessary for everyday living was within walking distance. In fact, at one time it was more common for Capreolites to travel to Toronto (by train) than it was to make the long and difficult journey to Sudbury. People didn’t commute regularly to the Nickel City until the late 1950s and then only for important reasons…certainly not to watch a movie.

We had our own movie theatre, starting as early as 1919…depending who you ask.

Capreol’s theatre.

According to one version of our town’s history, Capreol’s first theatre—the Imperial—opened just one year after the town was officially incorporated. Built by William Rossman, owner and operator of the nearby Rossman Hall, the building (pictured below at an unknown date) was located where the Capreol Pro Hardware currently sits. Apparently the building was sold in 1923 to Henry Plexman, who renamed it the Audion Theatre when “talking pictures” began coming out in the 1930s.

While there is no doubt as to its location or original name, a competing theory has the Imperial Theatre built slightly later, in 1923, by Henry Plexman—with Rossman not involved at all—and renamed in the 1940s by subsequent owners.

The first theory makes more sense in terms of chronology. Silent movies would have been the only option for the Imperial Theatre when it first opened (be that 1919 or 1923). The “Talkies” proved a revolutionary technology and marketing this new type of film, by changing the theatre’s name to Audion (a play of ‘audible’—meaning ‘heard’), would have made a lot of sense when that changed.

If we accept that ‘Audion’ came about because of talking pictures then the following photographs, allegedly of our theatre’s lobby, can provide a rough date. The film being advertised beside the ticket booth, entitled Hold Everything, was released in 1930. So the name change had to be from around that time—certainly not the 1940s, as argued by the second theory.

Note the ticket prices—20 cents for children

Because of World War ll, the Audion was closed in 1939. It wasn’t until 1943 that the theatre was reopened. Purchasedby Harry and Jean Bilsborough, the couple operated the Audion Theatre for almost three decades. (The Bilsboroughs also built, 1951, and operated the Garson Theatre for a time.) New owners took over in 1972. And various people ran Capreol’s movie theatre until it closed in 1980.

The Imperial/Audion Theatre became more than just a movie-house. At various times it served as the temporary home of St. Alban the Martyr Anglican Church, Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic Church, and Trinity United Church for various reasons. A popular destination for young and old, especially during tough financial times (a movie could help you forget your difficulties for a while, a bargain at a nickel), the theatre also offered employment opportunities for Capreol’s youth—many of whom worked as ushers and concession stand workers.

Theatre lobbies tended to be much more luxurious back in the day. Even small town movie-houses often incorporated exotic themes (Greek, Egyptian, or Parisian were common), decorated with lush materials and rich colours (dark red and gold proved popular), and used architectural extravagances like pillars or arches to enhance the atmosphere. Going “to the movies” was a treat, made all the more special by the hushed atmosphere and imposing decor—a far cry from the multi-plexus of today where the audience is treated more like cattle than valued patrons.

Capreol’s Audion Theatre, famously, had a ‘Parrot’ curtain. (Despite the name not all such curtains featured birds, though many did. Most, instead featured a colourful ‘tropical’ pattern.) Though modest compared to many grander theatres, our town’s was one of the first to have a ‘Cry room’—a private space for mothers to take noisy infants/toddler to calm the children without disturbing other movie watchers.

For generations of Capreol movie-goers, the Bilsborough’s are the couple most strongly associated with the Audion Theatre. In honour of their decades of hard work we include a few words about them specifically:

Harry Bilsborough was born in Lancashire England in 1902. He left his homeland and came to Canada in 1910. In 1927, Harry worked for the CNR as a painter on the bridge building gang. In 1928, Harry was united with Jean Plexman of Capreol, Father Williams of Our Lady of Peace Church was the presiding priest. They operated the Audion Theatre from 1943 until their retirement in 1972.

Harry and Jean were extremely active in the affairs of Capreol. Harry was a member of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 179 for over 50 years and was president in 1977-79. In 1954, he was not only the first Grand Knight of The Knights of Columbus Council 3866, he also served as the Grand Knight from 1954-60. He was on Town Council for four terms in the 50’s and 60’s. The Capreol Lions Club was chartered in April 1964 with Harry as one of the founding members of the Lions serving as president in 1967. Harry and Jean were instrumental in forming the Senior Citizens Club 240 on February 23,1967. Harry was a member of the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 928 which was chartered on December 22, 1928. Jean also helped with Moose Lodge community activities. Harry was also a lifetime member of the Sudbury Chapter of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International.

Jean was very involved with Our Lady of Peace Church. On March 14 1954, Jean was one of the founding members of the Daughters of Isabella and served as their first regent. Jean was also the driving force in the formation of the local Cancer Society. Jean was a founding member of the Catholic Women’s League, formerly the Daughters of Isabella,.

Harry and Jean had two children Henry and Ollie. Henry married Marlene Morrow and they have four children, William, Robert, Elizabeth and Jean. Ollie married and has a son, Patrick Supple. Pat and his wife Gloria now live in Creston British Columbia.Harry passed away on April 19, 1986 at the age of 83. Jean lived at the Finlandia Village in Sudbury until her death at the age of 106. Ollie at this time still lives in Capreol where the Bilsborough legacy began.

Thanks to Alex Nepitt for much of this information. Several photos were borrowed from Facebook, specifically the group ‘Memories of Capreol’.

Posted on: May 7, 2022, by :