The Building

The Empress Theatre is the only Egyptian-revival theatre in Canada, and one of the finest examples of the type in North America. 

Long considered one of the most spectacular movie theatres built in Montreal, the Empress is as architecturally unique as it is historically significant. Officially opened by Mayor Camilien Houde in 1928, the Empress’ Egyptian Revival style was largely inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb in 1922. The richly decorated interiors gave the impression of ancient Egyptian court, and as such was one of the most imaginative theatres ever constructed.

The landmarks main architectural feature is an immense stone facade decorated with bas-relief and hieroglyphics inspired by the Temple of Isis at Philae and the Temple of Horus at Edfu. The richly decorated interiors, inspired by romantic Orientalism popular of the era, was a premier example of the atmospheric style that characterized many of Montreals golden age theatres.

The Empress was designed by Joseph-Alcide Chaussé, longtime chief architect for the City of Montreal, and its interiors were designed and decorated by the famed Maltese-Canadian theatre designer Emmanuel Briffa. In full or in part, Briffa was responsible for many of Montreals golden age cinemas, though only Parc Avenues Rialto Theatre remains in operation. Its prominent location across from Girouard Park was no accident; in the era of its construction, theatres and cinemas were typically built in central locations on important commercial thoroughfares at or near the centre of the community the theatre was intended to serve. Such is still the case today.

Historical Value

The Empress bears witness to the development of popular entertainment and the rise of the neighbourhood cinema in Montreal:

  • As the Empress, an ornate double-bill theatre
  • As the Royal Follies Cabaret, from 1963 to 1965
  • As Cinéma V, a repertory movie theatre

Architectural Value

  • Egyptian Revival styled atmospheric theatre
  • The only one of the type in all of Canada
  • One of the finest examples of the type in North America

Urban Value

  • The Empress has been identified as a site of exceptional heritage value in the NDG urban plan
  • Its location across from Girouard Park, near the centre of the Sherbrooke Street West commercial sector, and within walking distance both of a major Métro station and over 30,000 residential addresses, makes the Empress ideally situated to succeed. Its revival will bring new life to our neighbourhood and provide additional economic and cultural stimulus