Opulent red and gold laced curtains, the warm sound of live music and a vibrant atmosphere – the Nanaimo Opera House was one of historic city’s most grand venues. Opening in 1889, it featured musical productions, plays and vaudeville shows for some of the most notable local and visiting performers of the era. It came at a time of when cultural interests in Nanaimo were exploding and new settlers were looking for a sophisticated place to spend their evenings off.
A three-storey brick building, the Opera House also featured a hotel on the top two floors. But the building’s showpiece was the ground floor theatre. Inside, a grand mirrored rotunda, royal boxes, galleries and an orchestra pit created the perfect setting for lavish affairs. Spanning decades, many performances dazzled audiences here including Pauline Johnson and Company, the Canadian poet and writer. Popular in the late 19th century, her performances incorporated notes from her Father’s Aboriginal heritage and her mother’s English background.
The Nanaimo Opera House was also the host to one of the first moving picture shows in Nanaimo in 1902. They played a series of over 10,000 animated images of the Coronation of Edward VII from London, England. The Opera House also served as the location for political and community events. Now the site of the Dorchester Hotel, the Nanaimo Opera House has become an important piece in the Harbour City’s history.