The Dolphin Theatre: Gone But Fondly Remembered

014On Tuesday, May 27th, the Dolphin Theatre located on Hastings Street in North Burnaby showed its last shows. It would make room for a planned condominium project. The Dolphin Theatre doesn’t have the same legendary status as recently closed theatres like the Hollywood or the Ridge but it did provide a place for a community.

The Dolphin Theatre was a small movie theatre located in North Burnaby by the corner of Hastings and Willingdon. It was opened in 1966 and featured two screens with a total seating capacity of 430. It started as an independent theatre and continued to be successful at operating for a long time. However during the last decade, the Dolphin Theatre had been under threat from problems commonly experienced by most smaller theatres in Greater Vancouver like land development issues, rising costs of rent, the changing forms of entertainment and the changing technologies of showing movies.

People young and old came to the last showing at the Dolphin.
People young and old came to the last showing at the Dolphin.

In 2010, Rahim Manji started operating the Dolphin Theatre. Manji also operated the Hollywood 3 cinema in Surrey and Pitt Meadows theatre. For a look at the Hollywood 3 theatres he runs, click here. He has shown a wide variety of films over t the Dolphin but he mostly had family films showing for someplace in the neighborhood to bring the whole family to. Since that time, other theatres have closed down like the independently-owned Hollywood, Ridge and Denman and megaplexes like the Granville 7 and Station Square. Last year it was decided that a four-story mixed use development would be built on the area of the Dolphin. The project includes commercial space, residential units, and 11 wheelchair-accessible units for people with disabilities.

The Dolphin Theatre isn’t one in which I have been loyal to for a long time. Actually I just started liking it over last summer. I just decided to see We’re The Millers there one time because I wanted to see what all the buzz was all about. There had been times in the past i wanted to go there but distance and timing were almost always an issue. Finally I had my chance. It was a good theatre for those who just wanted to relax. Nothing grandiose. Nothing too styled up. Actually I think most of it has remained unchanged since it opened. As for the screen, they’d have an advertising system before the movies different from that of Cineplex or the other chain theatres. One more set for local theatres much like the one for the Rio Theatre, one of the last independent theatres in existence. Anyways I enjoyed the show and hoped to come back to see more.

Funny how it was only until then I realized how close I was to the theatre. Took me that long to figure out? Since that time I decided to go whenever a movie I wanted to see was showing. I would return weeks later to see Gravity. I remembered before the film, there were no trailers shown. Days later when I saw nothing on the website about anything upcoming there, I wondered if it was about to close. I researched the news and saw a story from months earlier of its fate in city hall. Anyways I was relieved the next day to learn movies were still being shown there. I also went to see Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games. I also tried a $2 Tuesday, one of the theatre’s big highlights, and saw Frozen with a couple of friends.

Then I heard the news when a friend posted the news story on her Facebook page. I was unhappy about it and I decided to go on its last day  May 27th for its last showing: The Amazing Spiderman 2. I got there ten minutes before showtime but by then, I was too late. It was too long of a line and already it was filled with people who wanted to visit the Dolphin for the last showing. Rahim handed out passes for a free movie over at the two other Hollywood 3 theatres for those who couldn’t get in. Fortunately I was able to talk to Rahim. I told him I didn’t mind not seeing the show but I wanted to see the closing speech. He was willing to do so.

The crowd at the last showing was a mixed bag of people: young and old. I’m sure there were some that came to witness the last day of the theatre but for some in the audience, they came to be part of a theatre that they were appreciative of. I’m sure there were many from the neighborhood of North Burnaby who came that night, appreciative of a place that helped keep the local kids off the streets. Just before The Amazing Spiderman 2 was about to start, Rahim and his other co-workers stood at the front and he thanked the audience for coming to the last showing at the Dolphin. There were times he had to hold himself back. However he ended his speech mentioning that independent theatres in Vancouver are a dying breed. There are only three left. That was a hard truth but necessary to be mentioned at that time. I talked to him after his speech and I wished him well with the other two theatres.

It’s true about the problem of independent theatres in Vancouver. I already mentioned the problems at the beginning and of some that have closed down. However it’s not the only problem. Two years ago Burnaby had three movie theatres to go to: the Dolphin, Station Square and SilverCity at Metrotown. Station Square had to be closed down because of a land development taking place. Actually all but a few businesses on that chuck of land that was part of Station Square that included a Future Shop and a Save-On-Foods had to relocate themselves and make way for the whole area to be torn down for the development. They’re still doing construction to it right now. It’s almost two years. Now with the Dolphin closed there’s only the SilverCity at Metrotown. It’s a shame only one right now.

I actually found out there will be a new movie theatre opening up in the redevelopment of the Brentwood Town Centre. I consider that to be a plus for the city as it gives the kids someplace to go to. However Rahim saw it through an independent theatre point of view and is unhappy it will be one of those chain theatres. That was a good point. I only know of the Rio and the Dunbar being the only independent ones still standing. Sure there’s the VanCity and the Cinematheque but they are involved with film on a higher scale and have their own offices there.

It is a shame that I was only able to know the Dolphin Theatre for not even a year. Too bad it closed recently. Nevertheless I’m glad I had the chance to visit it when I did. Sure I wish I did it sooner. Sure I wish I could do it now. But I’m glad I had the chance.

Goodbye Dolphin Theatre. Thanks for the entertainment you’ve given the neighborhood over the years.

The Dolphin Theatre: 1966-2014
The Dolphin Theatre: 1966-2014

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