The first part is available here:
It was probably sometime in early 1958 when the Bridge on the River Kwai was shown at the Popular Theater in Grand Falls. It had to have come there, it was big film. Why would I mentioned this?
Because the Bridge on the River Kwai is about Allied prisoners of war who were forced to build a railway for the Japanese. Most of the British troops forced to build that bridge were captured at Singapore. It also happened that the owner and operator of the Popular Theater, Charlie Edwards, was among the British and Empire servicemen captured at Singapore, and Charlie was also forced to work building a railway by the Japanese.
I wonder what Charlie thought of that movie. He had been there, he had witnessed horrors they were unable to show in a major film in the late 1950’s.
The film depicts the building of the Bangkok to Rangoon Railway through Thailand and Burma. Charlie it seems, was forced to work on a different railway in present day Indonesia. Conditions in Japanese prisoner of war camps were horrendous with thousands of prisoners dying of starvation, exhaustion, disease and at the hands of the Japanese. Charlie saw men bayoneted. He later spoke of how men would men would commit suicide by tacking a Japanese guard off of some height, killing themselves and the guard in the process.
Leading Aircrewman Charlie Edwards spent three years and ten months in Japanese captivity and was liberated at the end of the war. He was sent back though, Singapore, Ceylon and Egypt. On the way back he contracted Malaria. He was greeted by his family and a brass band when he arrived at Windsor Station.
Charlie went right back to working at the mill doing electrical work and working with his family in the theater in his spare time. During that time the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company had a lot more than just the electrical work at the mill to deal with. The Company took care of the electrical system for the town-site of Grand Falls and all of the houses. Electricians such as Charlie also did work outside of town in the logging towns and depots, for example if lighting was being installed in the carpenters shop in Badger or if a generator was being set up for lighting at the South Twin Lakes Depot.
At the same time the movies became more and more popular during the post war period. At the same time, the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company was trying to divest itself from community matters in Grand Falls. Also around this time Patrick Edwards passed away. This left Charlie in charge of the theater operation. In 1954 or 55 he decided that the best course of action was to built a standalone movie theater.
Other Movie Theaters
Although the history of the Popular Theater goes a very long way back, it was housed in the Town Hall. The first standalone specific movie theater in Grand Falls or Windsor was in Windsor. It was the King Edward Theater, owned by George Gibson. He started it sometime around 1936 and sold it when he left town in about 1939 or 40. I believe the Basha family may have bought it. The Bashas went on and built another theater in Windsor about 1947-49, the Vogue Theater. Besides these theaters Father Francis Meaney operated a theater in the basement of St. Joseph’s for many years, though he almost exclusively showed westerns.
The building that housed the Vogue Theater is still on Main Street. Can you guess what it is?
For a time, Charlie stayed on with the Company. After a while he realized he couldn’t keep up with the demands of having what were essentially two full time jobs. He resigned from The Company to focus on the Theater full time. It was the late 1950’s Television was still in its infancy and many in both Grand Falls and Windsor still regularly attended the newest “show.”
Charlie came from a large family with a number of siblings and younger half-siblings, many of whom worked at the theater. The most well known and perhaps iconic was Jerry. Gerard Edwards, was much younger than his half-brother Charlie. Jerry had some sort of disability, but he had an uncanny memory, especially for people and their families. He was also well over six feet tall. Jerry worked the concessions for Charlie up until the early 1980’s and is well remembered by many in the town. In the old days he used to bring around advertising flyers for the theater to businesses all around Grand Falls and Windsor. Jerry walked everywhere while doing this and he continued to walk all around town well into old age.
As the owner of the theater Charlie was known to be a kind and impeccably dressed man. at Christmas, many Children in the town were treated to a free movie and treats a the theater, though this may have been though the mill or mill unions. Charlie noted that the idea had come with his father from St. John’s where apples and oranges were given out at the old theaters at Christmas. He is also remembered for taking no nonsense during movies. He would patrol the theater with a flashlight and if kids got too unruly he would stop the movie and threaten to turn it off altogether if they didn’t quiet down. Often he would berate the unruly youngsters and call them hooligans.
From fairly early on Edwards was involved with municipal politics. He was elected Councillor and Deputy Mayor. Charlie became the second Mayor of the Town of Grand Falls, when in 1973 he succeeded Walter B, Tucker. He served as Mayor until 1981.
He continued to own and run the theater until he was well beyond retirement age. When he finally sold the Popular Theater to some local businessmen in 1991 Charlie was close to 80 years old!
Charlie Edwards passed away on Christmas Eve 1997, at the age of 85.
Jerry passed away in July of 2012, at the age of 83.
Charlie’s old Popular Theater is still that, a movie theater, though the name has since been changed to the “Classic”. It has gone through a number of owners since Charlie sold it, things were pretty consistent during the 1990’s, people, especially young people still went to movies fairly frequently. For for some time a while back the future of the place was in question, but the current operators, Shawn and Jackie Feener has done a lot of things to diversify the use of the old building, such as bringing in musical and comedy acts. This is great because it is one of the few classic old style movie theaters left in the province.
There is a story or local legend that when Charlie was Mayor, Famous Players wanted to set up a theater at the mall, I am not sure of the time frame, but it would have been sometime between 1974 and 81. Of course Charlie was against it and it never came to fruition. Although there is a considerable tinge of conflict of interest in this story, there is a likelihood that had famous players set up, they probably would have pulled out by now (like in Gander)and there would be no theater in Grand Falls-Windsor and another vacant space on High Street.
Because the Popular Theater was a small independent operation it used to take a few months to get certain movies. I often joke that first movie I ever remember seeing at the theater was E.T when I was about two years old. Why is that funny? E.T came out the year before I was born.*
* It had to have been some sort of re-release, but the joke works on the same level as the one about the lady who gave birth on the “Newfie Bullet“-you know the one-
Did you hear the one about the missus that had the baby on the Newfie Bullet?
She wasn’t pregnant when she got on in Port Aux Basques (or St. John’s)