For an evening out, residents of Drumheller and the surrounding areas can go downtown to take in a movie at the historic Napier Theatre.
With its single screen, theatre style seating, vintage movie posters, and historic snapshots, the Napier stands apart from the multiplexes and their stadium style seating, and generic decor. The Napier Theatre is not just a place to spend an evening watching the latest films, it’s a part of the history of Drumheller.
Garnett Napier Coyle, the namesake of the theatre, arrived in Drumheller in about 1910 where he invested in local business such as the Newcastle Collieries and the Regent and Napier Theatres.
The original Napier Theatre opened on Friday September 19, 1919, in aid of the Great War Veterans Memorial Hall. On opening night, the Napier showed the silent film Whispering Chorus, directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
Other acts included a vaudeville act, an impersonator, William Guterson, aka Bapco Bill the Lightning Artist, who impressed the audience with his quick sketches, a wrestling bout, a production of If England Dies Tonight with a symphony orchestra, and a performance by Winifred Haliday, a Calgary born, California educated dancer.
The theatre operated for the next 42 years under the ownership of Garnett Napier Coyle, who resided in Montreal most of the year. Jim de Zeeuw was made manager of the theatre until his death in 1946. Marguerite Playle, who started at the Napier when she was 16, took over management of the theatre afterwards. During that time the theatre continued to show films alongside live performances.
On December 5, 1951 tragedy struck the original Napier Theatre as a fire engulfed the cinema. A full fire fighting brigade battled the blaze during the night. In the end the blaze claimed the Napier Theatre and fire fighter Adolph Guterson, son of the Fire Chief William Guterson.
The Napier did not give up, however. Even though the Napier itself was demolished, Marguerite Playle, manager of the theatre, moved the operation to the Legion Hall and was showing Stars in my Crown, and bookings for live performances continued.
The Napier Theatre was rebuilt in the same location and reopened in 1953, showing of River of No Return, starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe.
Garnett Napier Coyle passed away in 1961 in Quebec, but the Napier Theatre continued and was bought by Bob Shapiro in 1968, who operated the Sky-Lite Drive-In Theatre that operated in Drumheller from 1953 to 1973. After Bob Shapiro passed away in 1974, ownership passed to his son Lorne.
In 1985, Lorne sold the Napier Theatre to Landmark Cinemas of Alberta. Current owners Jeff and Kathy Larson then bought the theatre in 1996, and renovated much of the theatre and sold it to Keith Barnard in 1999. Ownership passed back to Jeff and Kathy in 2005.
Today, the Napier Theatre is continuing the role it has held for nearly a century providing entertainment for the community. While you might not be able to catch a live wrestling match or a lightning quick sketch artist performing on stage, that history pervades the Napier Theatre, and cannot be found in any multiplex.