I was looking through a 1922 issue of Maclean's Magazine, in case there was something written in it about Montreal City Hall and corruption. I am researching the second draft of my eplay Milk and Water, about Montreal in 1927, the era of American Prohibition. You see, Torontonians of the era liked to trash Montreal politics.
Instead, I found a most interesting article about Movies and Education by Nicholas North.
Like Thomas Edison, the author of the piece thought the film medium was no good for traditional 'storytelling' and better suited to educational purposes.
This Mr.North visited a movie theatre (in Toronto, I'm guessing) during a children's matinee where he was one of the few adults in attendance. There, he witnessed kids from 2 to 14 watching movie fare of a very low quality, or so he thought.
Let's see, he describes the 3 movies he sat through as a typical cowboy, bandit, rope, pistol variety; a farce where a Christian preacher is ridiculed by a mischievous orphan girl; and a melodrama with women with too few clothes and too much makeup, and he says that most kids in the theatre looked bored. Only a few of them actually applauded the action on the screen.
So he figured they'd be happier watching documentaries about how bread is made.
I am writing Milk and Water about Montreal in 1927, the year of the Laurier Palace Theatre Fire. My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services was implicated.
Many young children died in the infamous fire, 77 I think, asphyxiated by smoke and the crush of bodies. Only one adult died, so it was assumed that grownups ran over children in a rush to the door.
There were probably few grownups in the theatre to start with, it being a Sunday children's matinee.
Apparently, it was against the law in Quebec for children under 16 to attend these motion pictures sans adult, but they did anyway. (My grandfather is accused of allowing this to happen, by forcing police on the beat to look the other way and by cancelling citations made against theatres. This fact figures in my story Milk and Water. My grandfather's brother was VP of a motion picture chain in Montreal.)
From this 1922 Macleans article, it appears that in Toronto in 1922 very young children could attend motion pictures without an adult guardian and that few people objected, except perhaps the morality campaigners, who objected to just about everything.
I know from reading information from the era that this was commonplace across North America.
The majority of motion picture clients were kids, and the majority of the children were boys who often came in groups or sneaked in alone (and later became filmmakers in their own right :).
And as motion pictures were working class entertainment and families of this class had little time off and lots of children, older children were in charge of younger children and took them to the theatre to get them out of Mom's hair.
And Mom likely felt the movie theatre, however decrepit, a safer place than the street, due to the widely publicized dangers of motorcars and trucks which were, right about that moment, that year, inexorably taking over from horse-drawn vehicles. (The livery lobby held a parade in Montreal that year, to showcase how useful horses still were to business.)
But in Quebec,in January 1927, we had a fatal fire in a motion picture house, a fire that changed the entertainment landscape for all Quebeckers- for a long long time.
(Oddly, a certain police officer, a Constable, Conrad Trudeau, predicted a fatal fire like this would happen in testimony he gave to the Coderre Commission on Police Corruption in December 1924. "There's going to be a catastrophe, one day," he said. Then this cop, who thought that boys learned about crime from watching cops and robbers movies, singled out my grandfather as someone who interfered with his work. Constable Trudeau was then fired by my grandfather for bribery -and quickly too, while the Commission was still ongoing.Hmm. Fishy. Oh so fishy.)
After that fire in the Ste Catherine Street East Movie theatre, no kids under 16 in Quebec could attend motion pictures, EVEN IF ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT. The cockeyed reasoning: even if adults accompany kids, if there is a fire, the smaller children will get trampled in the rush to the door.
That particular law, passed within a year on a wave of maternal hysteria fueled by Church leaders and the newspaper accounts and the fiery rhetoric of opportunistic politicans like Camillien Houde, lasted a full forty years, until 1967. I didn't get to see that propaganda piece Sound of Music in the Snowdon Theatre on Decarie (around the corner from where I lived) until a year after it came out!
The law clearly wasn't about children's safety, it was about POLITICS. The churches (Protestant and Catholic) were losing their clients to the motion pictures and the Nationalists were afraid of Hollywood's ever increasing influence, (no secret, it was all over the press) and to top it off the talkies were about to make their debut. Even Big Labour wanted Sunday showings cancelled. Oh, and anti-Semitism had a part to play in all this too.
Sounds to me a bit like Harper's Omnibus Crime Bill, it pretends to be about protecting children, but it serves other political purposes, a host of them, no doubt. But 40 years is such a long time.