The ByTowne Cinema is a one-screen repertory movie theatre located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Opened in 1947, the cinema is one of Ottawa's oldest movie theatres and the city's main venue for independent and foreign films.[1] The 650-seat cinema is located on Rideau Street at Nelson, several blocks east of the Rideau Centre.

ByTowne Cinema
ByTowne entrance .jpg
Former namesNelson Theatre
Location325 Rideau Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 5Y4
Coordinates45°25′47″N 75°41′05″W / 45.429597°N 75.684750°W / 45.429597; -75.684750Coordinates: 45°25′47″N 75°41′05″W / 45.429597°N 75.684750°W / 45.429597; -75.684750
OperatorBruce White
Opened10 February 1947 (1947-02-10)
Renovated1960s, 1990s, 2000, 2011, 2013
ArchitectHarold Kaplan and Abraham Sprachman


The one-screen cinema was built by Hyman Berlin throughout the fall and winter of 1946; it opened on February 10, 1947 as the Nelson Theatre.[2]

ByTowne's originsEdit

The ByTowne Cinema was not always called as such and was not always located on Rideau St.

1968-1989: The Towne CinemaEdit

Located on 5 Beachwood Avenue, in the New Edinburgh district of Ottawa, the theatre was built in 1947 under the name the Linden Theatre.

In 1968, the theatre was renamed to the Towne Cinema and was operated by Germain Cadieux. Since 1973, it was best known as one of Ottawa's first repertory cinemas, showing cult and classic productions, foreign and independent films. At the time, this unique and distinct format was new to Ontario cinemas. The Towne also became "Ottawa's alternative movie house".[3]

After many successful years of operation, the Towne Cinema closed in June 1989 and was renovated into retail space.[3]

1947-1988: The Nelson TheatreEdit

Opened in 1947 on Rideau St., the Nelson was one of the city's leading cinemas for decades. Admission was 25 cents for general seating and 35 cents for the upper loge. Two years, Berlin leased the Nelson to the Famous Players chain of cinemas.[4]

During the time of Famous Players' lease, they advertised the available air conditioning with a huge banner that was suspended from the marquee.[3]

In 1988, Famous Players was no longer interested in running a single-screen cinema. Subsequently, the cinema was periodically closed when the chain moved to multiplexes. The Berlin family sold the cinema to the operators of the Towne Cinema.

Name originsEdit
Stone engraving on the wall of the entrance at the ByTowne Cinema

Nelson Theatre was the original name at the time of opening. It is a logical name, since it is located on the corner of Rideau St. and Nelson St.

However, the name was actually selected by Mrs. J.H. Goyette through a naming contest. This contest received more than 4,000 suggestions and Mrs. J.H Goyette won a $100 cash prize.[5]

1988-present: The ByTowne CinemaEdit

On October 1, 1988, Bruce White and Jean Cloutier reopened the cinema, [6] renamed the ByTowne, in honour of Bytown, Ottawa's original name until January 1, 1855, and because it was the second cinema for the owners of the Towne Cinema on Beachwood Avenue. The ByTowne Cinema began showing alternative and repertory films, with different films each day.[3]

Timeline of theatre operationsEdit

  • The Linden Theatre (1947-1968)
  • The Towne Cinema (1968-1989)
  • The Nelson Theatre (1947-1988)
  • The ByTowne Cinema (1988–present)


Beginning at the Towne Cinema, Jean Cloutier, who was an usher, was asked to become a manager by the former operator of the Towne. Also, Bruce White began as a graphic designer for the Towne Cinema's programme. In 1983, Cadieux sold the Towne Cinema to Jean Cloutier and Bruce White.[3]

In 1988, Bruce White and Jean Cloutier bought the Nelson Theatre for $790,000. Similar to the Towne Cinema, the pair transformed the Nelson into a repertory cinema, under the name ByTowne Cinema.[4]

The Towne and the ByTowne operated simultaneously for 9 months, with slightly different programs. In June 1989, White moved the entire operation to the ByTowne and closed the Towne Cinema.[3]


The cinema was built in 1946 by the prolific architects Harold Kaplan and Abraham Sprachman.[5]

The last existing original theatre marquee in the Ottawa-Hull area.[3]

Since 1947, the ByTowne has made many improvements and renovations: the screen and projection, completely renovated the washrooms and installed new seats with more legroom.[2]

The theatre was renovated in the early sixties to add wider and plusher seats, reducing its seating capacity from 940 to 770. Likewise, 70 mm projection facilities, along with new sound systems and wider screens were installed.[3]

The cinema was renovated again in 2000 and 175 old ByTowne seats were replaced. One hundred and fifty "airline-style" seats were salvaged from the recently closed Capitol Square multiplex on Queen Street. When those seats were installed in the 1980s, they were known as "the best seats in town", equipped with high backs and cupholders. The seating in the ByTowne Cinema was reduced to 670 and the renovations costed $30,000. On March 25, 2000, in order to pay for the renovations, a garage sale was held by the ByTowne Cinema. Movie posters, CDs, and film reels were offered as sale items.[7]

In the fall of 2011, the cinema installed Christie digital projector, although its two 35mm projectors remain operational.[2] In May 2013, the ByTowne renovated its auditorium. The ground level seats were replaced with 435 new Greystone "Madrid" chairs. The total number of seating was reduced to 650.[8]

General informationEdit

Admission and membershipsEdit

The ByTowne Cinema's main entrance.

General admission is $12.00 (for non-members). The ByTowne Cinema offers full year memberships for $12.00. ByTowne members receive a discounted admission price of $8.00, as well a subscription to receive the ByTowne Guide.

Seniors (65+) and full-time students can purchase ByTowne memberships for $6.00.[9]

The ByTowne GuideEdit

Bi-monthly, the ByTowne Cinema self publishes The ByTowne Guide. With a full listing of each film that will play at the cinema for the next two months, the publication also includes many pictures, local advertising, reviews and other commentary.[10] This form of advertisement originates from the Towne Cinema.[3]


Hollywood hitsEdit

"El Cid", "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "The Exorcist", made their debut at the cinema. Later on, the cinema hosted big box-office bestsellers such as "Jaws", "Raiders Of The Lost Ark", "Star Trek", as well as some of their sequels.[2]

Other popular films displayed at the cinema, but not limited to:[11]


"The Sound Of Music", showed for a long period in 1965, is amongst some of the previously shown musicals. Subsequently, many other notable musicals, like "Funny Girl" and "Willy Wonka& the Chocolate Factory" were screened.[2]

Independent and foreign filmsEdit

The ByTowne is best known for showing a wide variety of independent, "non-mainstream", cult and international films.[3]

2017: The BreadwinnerEdit

On September 22, 2017, the ByTowne Cinema hosted a red carpet screening of "The Breadwinner". This film screening was a part of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.[12]

Threat to Canadian repertory cinemasEdit

Repertory cinemas, such as the ByTowne and Mayfair Theatre, show Canadian and foreign films that other major chains will not. However, over the past years, repertory theatres have been having financial difficulties. Especially with the new rules set by Hollywood distributors, it is even harder for repertory cinemas to sustain. For example, Buena Vista Pictures prohibits the showings of Disney films for family matinees in repertory theatres.

The ByTowne Cinema produces most of their profit on Canadian and independent foreign films. Owner Bruce White explains, "we book most of our films from distributors that are Canadian owned. This is not to say that we never do business with the Americans, but the extra grief that they generate is inversely proportionate to the amount of business that we do".[13] White also adds that "Disney isn't worth the hassle" and trying to change the minds of the big companies is pointless.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "ByTowne Cinema | Ottawa's home of international and independent movies". Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  2. ^ a b c d e "About Us". ByTowne Cinema.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Miguelez, Alain (2004). A Theatre Near You: 150 Years of Going to the Show in Ottawa-Gatineau. Manotick, ON: Penumbra Press. pp. 267–272, 274–282. ISBN 189413138X.
  4. ^ a b Kelly, Doug (11 August 1988). "Movie fans offered piece of Bytowne action -- and free pass". The Ottawa Citizen.
  5. ^ a b "Neighbourhood Walk: Taking a stroll along Uptown Rideau". Spacing Ottawa. 15 July 2014.
  6. ^ "Towne Cinema in Ottawa, CA - Cinema Treasures". Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  7. ^ "Bytowne Cinema starts to install new seats". The Ottawa Citizen. 7 March 2000.
  9. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". ByTowne Cinema.
  10. ^ "The ByTowne Guide. Advertising Rate Card" (PDF). ByTowne Cinema.
  11. ^ a b "Movie Archive". ByTowne Cinema.
  12. ^ McKenna, Catherine (21 September 2017). "Media advisory - Red carpet screening of The Breadwinner at Ottawa International Animation Festival". Canada NewsWire; Ottawa.
  13. ^ a b Unland, Karen (1994). "Movie house horrors: Hollywood film distributors threaten Canada's repertory cinemas". This Magazine; Toronto.

External linksEdit