A new memoir by movie buff and longtime film and television writer Daniel Lalande explores a golden age of Ottawa movie theatres that many new residents might not have even known existed: a downtown strip of theatres that would have been any movie lover’s dream.
Lalande was born in Ottawa and, besides a few years in an anglophone Montreal suburb, has lived and worked here all his life. He currently lives in Old Ottawa South. The new book captures what it was like to be a moviegoer at a time when Ottawa residents were spoilt for choice.
As the title suggests, Reel Ottawa: A Memoir — with The Movie Theatres We Loved isn’t a history book, but a memoir about Lalande, a self-described “movie juvie.” After getting interest from local Ottawa Press and Publishing, Lalande, who has worked in film and television most of his life, boosted the local angle with a sharper focus on the once-bustling “downtown movie scene.”
“There was a little downtown circuit that your whole life revolved around, which was the Elgin, the Somerset, the Place de Ville, the Capitol Square, the Nelson, and the Rideau,” Lalande said. “It was almost like a little neighbourhood.”
That lengthy list—hard to image at a time when even the ByTowne’s fate was up in the air—includes only the reputable theatres, Lalande said. As a boy, he was warned never to go to the Rialto theatre. Another Ottawa theatre, the Regent on the corner of Bank and Sparks, had a strip club on the bottom floor and a habit of showing Disney movies on the top floor. (And people say Ottawa’s boring!)
“Nostalgia’s a weird, twisted thing,” Lalande said, reflecting on the fond memories that people have of the sleazy Rialto.
Ottawa punches above its weight as a movie-going city, Lalande said. The Elgin, the flagship of the downtown scene, was the first theatre in North America, if not the world, to have a second screen.
While this book might focus on Lalande as a moviegoer, he has also built a venerable career while living in Ottawa. He has credits on The Raccoons (for which he still receives residual cheques), other family shows, a couple of movies, and TV specials on all the major broadcasters.
Of course, anyone walking around downtown Ottawa now can tell you that these venerable movie houses no longer exist—with the curious exception of the perfectly preserved Place de Ville, locked away in a Centretown office building. Lalande said that VHS players started to “devalue” the moviegoing experience, but the real nail in the coffin was the closure of the venerable Somerset in 2000, the largest theatre at the time and “a place that was synonymous with spectacle.” Nowadays, even many of the buildings are unrecognizable, repurposed into grocery stores and office buildings.
Next, Lalande is hoping to put together a short story collection where each story takes place in a different Ottawa neighbourhood and a critical work about American film comedy of the 1970s.
While you might not be able to go to a strip club/single-screen movie theatre anymore, you can explore the golden era of cinema in Ottawa through Reel Ottawa: A Memoir – with The Movie Theatres We Loved.
Reel Ottawa: A Memoir — with The Movie Theatres We Loved by Daniel Lalande is now available for purchase on the Ottawa Press and Publishing website and most bookstores, including Chapters/Indigo.