A First-Class Opera House
Construction on the Empress Theatre started in 1910 during the great boom period of Fort Macleod’s growth. The Empress was a franchise of the “Famous Players” chain and the fourth theatre in Fort Macleod at that time. Throughout its lifetime, the theatre has occupied a central location along Main Street.
The Empress Theatre has always played an important role in the community. Since the opening, it has served as a vaudeville house, concert hall, lecture hall, live theatre, and finally as a moving picture theatre.
The tiny basement dressing rooms of the theatre showcase numerous performers who have passed over the stage of the Empress. Recorded on the walls are the names of such acts as “Texas Tony and his Wonder Horse Baby Doll/The Purple Sage Riders, 1935, from Isabella, California” and the “CPR Minstrels, 1923”. This tradition has carried on as evidenced by the names of contemporary performers written on the wood frame walls.
J.S. Lambert, a well-known contractor in Fort Macleod for T.B. Martin, the original owner, completed the Empress Theatre in 1912. The Lethbridge Herald carried the first announcement of a “new opera house” to be built in Fort Macleod in the January 1910 issue. It was to be a “first class theatre” with “every modern accessory”, orchestra pit and artistic furnishings.