Adventures in Powell River: Patricia Theatre’s gardens and ghosts
Step through the front door of Townsite’s Patricia Theatre and take a step back in time.
Upon entering the classic-style foyer, silver screen legends gaze at you from their portraits on the walls, and treats, like homemade cookies and fresh popcorn, tempt you from the concession. The original Girvan Studios murals have been restored from archival photos and the vibrancy of the art is a show in itself.
But back up. Go back outside to the sidewalk.
You’ll see what you probably barely noticed as you made a beeline for the box office window: a garden.
A garden of roses, lilies, rhododendrons, poppies; the list goes on and on. There’s something blooming practically all year round.
For Ann Nelson, who co-owns the Patricia Entertainment Co. with her son Brian, the garden is an important part of the theatre.
One of Ann’s garden helpers is good friend Nina Mussellam, who’s also the treasurer of the Friends of the Historic Patricia Theatre Society (which supports the restoration and preservation of the theatre building). Nina welcomes any new garden helpers as there’s always lots to do; dead-heading alone requires almost constant attention.
Nina’s favourite blooms are the old varieties of scented roses. Some of these date back to 1928, when this current theatre building was built.
Among the shrubs and blooms there’s also a dear friend. Several years ago, Phil Murphy passed away. Phil was a big part of the theatre, helping out with operations, serving on the Friends board, and assisting with the digital conversion in 2012 that ensured the Patricia could continue operating. Phil’s ashes are in the garden of the theatre he loved so much.
Is the Patricia Theatre actually Haunted?
As you can imagine, as Canada’s oldest continuously-operating movie theatre (established in 1913), the Patricia has a long and colourful history. It also has at least six ghosts.
Ann has often caught glimpses of a balding, bespectacled man in a medical-type tunic. Ann believes this to be Dr. Marlatt, who at one time had a dentist office in the space where Ann now lives upstairs at the theatre. Ann describes him as “evil” because of his nastiness, especially toward children. He was known not to use anaesthetics.
The Ghost of Myron McLeod
Another ghost seen upstairs is possibly that of Myron McLeod, who managed the theatre going back to 1928. He became full owner some time between 1933 and 1943, until 1979 when he sold it.
During renovations in 2003, Dan, one of the crew, was down on all fours working an all-nighter to refinish the floors. As he worked, something made him look up and there was a smiling man sitting on a nearby desk with his thumbs in his pockets. The man seemed to approve of the work being done. In his weariness, Dan didn’t think much of it and continued his work until he realized what he’d seen was impossible as all furniture had been removed from the area.
Startled, he looked up to find no desk and no man.
One of the most terrifying occurrences happened backstage when a worker became trapped. He was all alone when all the doors locked up tight against him. He pounded and pounded, hollering for help. No one came. And then like magic, all locks released. As the worker bolted from his temporary prison, he saw a well-dressed man hand-in-hand with a young girl in a winter coat holding a small purse. They were in attire circa the 1940s and were departing through the back fire exit, the main exit for patrons back in the early days of the theatre.
After this incident, the worker refused to return.
There’s also a playful ghost whose cold fingers Walter Martella felt at the back of his neck while he waited to rehearse for the first Friends of the Patricia fundraiser.
He thought it was his son Marcello, but not so.
Later that same day, Walter went backstage to the area of the staircase up to what was the ladies’ dressing room during the Vaudeville days. Upon approach, a woman’s voice bellowed, “Get outta here! No men allowed!” When Walter didn’t immediately depart, she yelled it again and then he did leave.
Ann feels Patricia’s ghosts are benign and fairly friendly. None of Ann’s cats have ever reacted in any negative way. She has the sense not that the ghosts are restless, but that they’re happy to co-exist with us.
Except guys, maybe don’t go near the backstage ladies’ dressing room.
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