Ode to Edmonton cinephiles: Rediscovering a Clareview time capsule

‘The point of a capsule is supposed to bring people together, and you know, look back at where we were.’

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Efforts of a relentless north Edmonton resident may lead to digging up the past in the form of a time capsule buried more than 20 years ago at the former Clareview movie theatre complex.

“I sort of forgot about it and I assumed that it was excavated, or moved,” said area resident and theatre buff Michael Vecchio.

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History is all around us; sometimes at our fingertips, sometimes within our view, and other times, it’s beneath our feet. The latter was the case for the forgotten time capsule at the Clareview complex, now a Goodlife Fitness.

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Vecchio is a self-described cinephile with strong memories of the theatre, shuttered in 2015.

A few weeks ago, he and a friend were in the area of the old cinema’s location when he pointed the capsule plaque out.

“In the same spot that it was, there’s this capsule, or at least there’s a plaque,” said Vecchio.

Time capsule
Nelly Taylor sweeps off the marker from construction debris as the entrance is being renovated. When the Clareview theatre closed, GoodLife Fitness moved in. But near the front door of the building is a plaque from 1996 marking the spot of a time capsule to be opened in a century. Photo taken May 22, 2024. Photos by Shaughn Butts-Postmedia Photo by Shaughn Butts /Shaughn Butts

A long history

The theatre opened in 1996, when the capsule was buried. It was not set to be exhumed until Dec. 13, 2096. The capsule, coincidentally, was sponsored by the Edmonton Journal.

“It was so ambitious. I mean, 100 years,” said Vecchio, incredulous.

Opened in the mid ’90s by Cineplex Odeon, the 10 screen theatre was a staple in the community. Its ownership bounced from Cineplex to Empire Theatres in the mid 2000s before Landmark Cinemas picked it up in the 2010s. But Landmark didn’t have the theatre for long before its closure in 2015.

In that span of time, Vecchio said the theatre imprinted itself in the mind of the young movie-goer, along with others in the community. He recalled some fond memories of the theatre, including his first viewing of Disney Pixar’s A Bug’s Life.

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“I’ve been a movie lover since I was a boy. And Clareview cinemas was really a very important part of my childhood and my adolescence.”

Starting with A Bug’s Life, Vecchio reminisced of watching some of the eras biggest hits (and flops), from iconic trilogies like Star Wars episodes one to three, and the Lord of the Rings, to major franchises like Harry Potter and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

The last movie he remembers seeing at the theatre was Whiplash, starring Miles Teller and JK Simmons.

clareview theatre
Michael Vecchio photographed in front of the Clareview theatre before its closing. Supplied/Michael Vecchio Photo by Supplied Photo /Michael Vecchio

Sourcing the capsule’s fate

When Vecchio stumbled upon the plaque, he wondered whether the remnants of his childhood theatre might still be packed into the capsule and sleeping beneath the pale concrete under his feet.

Instead of blindly wondering whether the package of history was still there or not, he began reaching out to anyone he could who might have information about the capsule.

He asked the city councillor for the area, Aaron Paquette, about it.

“He said, basically, first off, they didn’t know anything about it. Secondly, it’s private property, so there’s nothing we can do as the city about it.”

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Next, Vecchio reached out to Landmark Cinemas.

“Surprisingly, they had no record of this capsule,” he said, adding that Landmark thanked him for bringing it to their attention but explained that they didn’t own or rent the property anymore and couldn’t offer any further help.

Finally, Vecchio found and contacted the property management company responsible for Clareview Town Centre, Choice Properties. After some correspondence, Vecchio got a hold of the director of leasing for Western Canada Retail with Choice Properties, Jay de Nance. In a recent email to Vecchio, de Nance said the group would be sourcing an estimate from their contractors to find out the cost to exhume what’s left of the capsule.

Vecchio is relieved by that news, which he feels is as close to a confirmation that he can get that the capsule is still underfoot and has not been unceremoniously removed.

Looking back to bring us together

Vecchio’s desire to have the theatre remembered outweighs his curiosity to crack open the piece of history. Moving it to another theatre would serve a similar purpose to sustain the ambitions of the people who interned it, ones who hoped for a 100 year future reign of cinemas. And those who probably wouldn’t have predicted the curve balls heading towards the theatre industry, like streaming services, home premieres, and a global pandemic.

“The point of a capsule is supposed to bring people together, and you know, look back at where we were,” he said.

But that does not stop him from speculating about its contents.

“I don’t even know what they could have put in there. What, movie tickets from ’96? Other memorabilia? Space Jam, I think that was ’96’,” he guessed.

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