life and times
hiram who
birth of the auto
border cities
sports heritage

The Walkerville Theatre: Finally Getting a Life?

from Issue #16: Summer 2001

By Chris Gilham

read earlier story on The Tivoli, click here

Vaudeville theatre, movie house, bingo hall, kid’s theatre: the Walkerville Theatre, a.k.a."theTivoli" has had many incarnations since its opening over 80 years ago. In the near future the theatre, mostly unused in recent years, may take on a new life.

Current leaseholders Joe Ganci and Jeremy Marentette have plans that they say include "a balanced, multi-faceted venue that will benefit the entire community." The duos’ plans for the historic theatre include a gay and lesbian bar on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings, while the remaining days will support public events, including charities, benefits, fashion shows, art exhibitions, concerts and possibly — movies, as in days gone by.

Many residents oppose these plans, especially as it relates to Ganci and Marentette’s liquor licence application that will allow the nightclub to host up to 500 people. A petition opposing the liquor license application was coincidentally signed by 500 people, including Don Denomme, a 25-year neighbourhood resident.

"We have enough bars in the area — period," says Denome "We don’t want to turn Walkerville into another downtown. We want to continue to have a nice family neighbourhood."

Denomme, who has restored several buildings in the neighbourhood, would like to see something done with the theatre, but declares that if a bar is the only answer "…then tear it down."

Ganci and Marentette are proceeding with the nightclub concept whether the liquor license is approved or not — but they are confident they will get approval.

"People hear about the petitions against bars, but they never hear about the letters of support that are submitted as well. We see no reason why this commercial area, with other bars nearby, won’t get approved," says Ganci.

And not all residents are opposed to plans for a new nightclub in Walkerville.

Nancy Nicholson Banks, who lives and works in Olde Walkerville supports the plans for the Theatre.

"Change is a good thing. I think we should give their idea a good chance. There are many gay and lesbian people in the area; they are a part of

our society."

Resident David Pepper questions the need for another nightclub in Walkerville.

"I would like to see a use that would benefit everyone. There are not a lot of things to do in the area for children — a museum would be great." Pepper notes that grants are available from the government.

One of six area bars is right in Pepper’s neighbourhood; he and his neighbours have experienced problems as a result.

"At 2:30 in the morning, patrons are yelling and cursing as they head home, they’re urinating between houses, or breaking things — I’ve had my car windows smashed twice."

"Late-night violence will not be an issue," says Ganci. "Our grand opening in September is booked solid. The average age of our guests is 30, and most are professionals. The gay and lesbian community, many from right here in Walkerville, are much more mature than the people in the kiddie bars downtown."

Resident Nancy Johns believes the community will benefit from the plans for the theatre.

"It’s nice to see something opening in the theatre; it’ll clean up the place. If patrons park where they’re supposed to park then there will be no problem. I don’t think the type of crowd that will be coming to the theatre will be noisy or violent. Actually, these two guys are doing a fabulous thing for the community."

"Parking will not be a problem," says Marentette. "Agreements with three local businesses to rent parking spaces are already in place."

A municipal lot on the corner of Lincoln and Wyandotte will also be used. And the two men also have plans to valet park, which they say will eliminate concerns about patrons parking in residential areas.

Ganci and Marentette feel residents who oppose their project don’t understand their plans for the theatre and think that some may be misinformed about the seating capacity requested in the liquor license application.

"This theatre can seat 1500 people. We’ve applied for a 500 seating capacity license, not 1500" says Ganci.

According to the local licensing office, increasing the seating capacity of the liquor license requires similar procedures to the initial application. But clubs that set up in the city’s core were able to increase their capacity after being granted licenses, usually with little red tape.

Joe Perpich of the Lincoln Road United Church Men’s Group led the petition against the liquor license.

"Three years ago," says Perpich, "another petition was circulated when the previous owners applied for a liquor license. The application was withdrawn although I’m not certain whether it was due to the petition. This time, approximately 500 people signed the petition within a two — three-week period."

A Gladstone resident for many years, Perpich is familiar with the impact of the existing local licensed establishments.

"I think there’s an over-intensification now… there are six licensed establishments between Hall, Walker, Riverside and Niagara."

According to Perpich, having a commercial strip running through a residential area "makes it difficult for people to come home after work and live their lives. The petition was to help avoid more problems for locals."

Like Pepper, he would like to see the theatre developed to become more suitable to the needs of the community.

The debate over the liquor license has been fractious, to put it gently. Ganci and Marentette claim to have had little success in reaching out to those who oppose their plans. According to Ganci: "We made several attempts to contact the United Church, but we were ignored. Then we were told that the church had nothing to say to us."

Clearly frustrated, Ganci says, "We wanted them to know about our plans to help this community. We thought churches were supposed to open their hearts to people, but they wouldn’t for us; we think they’ve treated us unfairly."

As for the fate of the theatre Ganci says, "We’re putting not only our life savings into it, but also our heart and soul. We want people to know that we care."

(Editor’s Note: We want to hear from both local and former residents about their views on the fate of The Walkerville Theatre — we’ll publish these in the October Issue — see our contact info on page 4).



©1999-2015— Walkerville Publishing — All Rights Reserved