The Capital was half of a pair of theatres erected side by side on the site first occupied, in 1911, by the Moncton’s original stage, The Dominion. The first of the duo was The Empress, built on the foundation of the old Dominion, with The Capital opening next in 1922. Both were originally designed for vaudeville performances, and the original Capital Theatre dressing rooms are still intact behind the stage.
In 1926, a fire that started at The Empress spread into the backstage area of The Capital. Despite considerable damage to both, The Capital was able to reopen only seven months later, only with seating cut down to 800 – well short of it’s original capacity, and refitted to serve as a cinema, bringing in all the classic silent and B&W era films as the first movie house in the city. The Empress reopened as a live venue, but by 1953 her stage was also converted to a movie screen. Both were eventually closed – The Empress some time in the 1960s and The Capital by the late 1980s. The buildings were earmarked for demolition, with the lots to be occupied by parking garages.
The Empress Block (as the attached brick buildings were known) attracted the attentions of the New Brunswick Historical Society. The preservation of old structures and historic landmarks was becoming a topic of interest around the time of the twin theatres’ scheduled demolitions. Feeling the pressure, and seeing an opportunity to inject a bit of history and glamour into a lacklustre Main Street, The City of Moncton purchased both The Capital and The Empress in 1991 as part of a downtown revitalization project. The original plan seems to have been to convert the space for retail while maintaining the original facades, but while removing layers of paint around The Capital stage, workers discovered a mural of Aphrodite by renowned theatre artist Emmanuel Briffa. With this find, it was decided that the stages should be brought back as a home for live performance. While The Empress was too heavily damaged inside by fire and later alterations to be fully restored, The Capital was found to be in excellent structural shape. Even the original exterior brickwork had been placed back in position following the 1926 fire. Following a multi million dollar investment by the city, The Capital reopened in 1993, returned as close as possible to its original beauty and seating capacity.
There are two distinct stories, from different time periods, offered up as the ‘official’ theatre ghost. The better established, and most often cited, dates back to the fire in 1926. Hanging in the main lobby, on a wall facing the ticket booth, is a black & white photograph of a fire fighter, The brass plaque mounted beneath the picture identifies him as Alexander “Sandy” Lindsay, a volunteer fireman who died when crushed under the burning remains of a collapsing stage. To this day, Sandy is the only City of Moncton firefighter to die in active duty. Tour guides, particularly when entertaining high school groups, often stop at the photograph and point out Sandy as the the spirit reported to haunt the stage after hours.
The second ghost of The Capital is reported as a young girl. She supposedly moved into residence after dying from a fall on the stairs, caused by tripping as she raced back from the now removed concessions stand, perhaps running in hopes that her urge for popcorn wouldn’t cause her to miss too much of the film. This is the ghost you hear of from staff and visitors in the modern era. There have been numerous people say that they’ve felt a breeze pass by on the stairs, despite this area having no nearby windows or obvious air conditioning vents. On repeated occasions, a female form has been seen behind the ticket counter – which, coincidently, was once the concessions area – long after the staff has closed that section for the night. The unidentified girl is frequently reported moving around the lobby. Perhaps she’s checking to see when folks will get around to giving her a photo and plaque like her more famous fellow spirit, Sandy the Fireman.