The Patricia Theatre is a 260-seat performing arts centre and cinema in the Townsite district of Powell River.
It first opened in a tent in 1913 before building its first permanent home. The current theatre was built in 1928.
“It is a premier live performance venue. It has been the scene of a lot of courtships, a lot of weddings, a lot of entertainment, concerts, all of that,” said Ann Nelson, owner of the Patrica.
It was built near the pulp and paper mill to serve the growing population of Powell River after the mill opened, but, over the years, saw good times and bad. 2002 was one of those down years and that’s when Ann Nelson and her son took over.
“We took over at the request of the Credit Union in 2002, my son and I because they were having to foreclose on the previous owner,” said Nelson.
The two made a go of it for 19 years.
Before COVID hit they were open 364 days a year, showing all the Hollywood blockbusters and local films.
“The next nearest theatre is an hour and a half by ferry and then another twenty minutes drive into Courtenay,” explained Nelson.
That might be one reason why the Patricia Theatre is the oldest operating theatre in Canada.
Now in her 79th year and with the doors still closed due to COVID, Nelson has been using CERB money and her pension to pay the mortgage.
The mortgage is up at the end of April and even though Nelson says the local Credit Union is being very helpful and will allow her to continue making monthly payments, the bank will not renew the mortgage at the end of April.
So Nelson is now working with a local non-profit society that would like to take over the theatre.
“It needs to be a community asset, it needs to be run by a charity that has access to funding programs,” said Nelson who says she has been contacted by developers, but fears they would tear it down to build townhouses or condos.
Enter the Powell River Film Society, which has an agreement to purchase the theatre and is trying to raise $450,000 to assume the mortgage, buy out Ann and keep the shows running.
“A charitable non-profit society needs to step up because it’s not a business model that any sane business person would take on quite frankly,” said Executive Director Gary Shilling. “It has to be done through love of the theatre, love of the heritage of it and the experience.”
He says he is looking into applying for grants and ultimately feels optimistic about the theatre’s future but adds every dollar contributed is important.
Information about donating can be found here.