The City of Nanaimo formed the Nanaimo and District Harbourfront Centre Society in 1989 to build an 800-seat theatre on the breathtaking waterfront in downtown Nanaimo. The name was officially changed to the Port Theatre Society in 1998. The Port Theatre opened on Sept. 9, 1998, thanks to federal and provincial grants and an outstanding level of community support. Of the $13.1 million budget, $8.6 million came from infrastructure grants, while the remaining $4.5 million was from individuals, service clubs and corporate donations, the City of Nanaimo and Regional District of Nanaimo Areas A, B, C, D and E.
The goal of architect Terry Williams was to build a theatre that had good sight lines from all seats, excellent acoustics, and a wonderful sense of intimacy. Audiences and artists have raved about these features since it opened.
“The combined efforts of the dreamers, volunteers, board members, planners, designers, donors and staff made the amazing Port Theatre vision a reality,” said Sandra Thomson, who was development officer, general manager, and director of programming and development over the years.
Today, the Port Theatre Society co-manages the Port Theatre with the City of Nanaimo. The theatre has earned a national reputation for its acclaimed Spotlight Series which presents Canadian and internationally renowned artists. The Port Theatre is an important gathering place and serves as a home for many professional organizations, community groups, and events. On average, more than 250 events are held in the theatre each year, attracting more than 110,000 people. Over the years, the Port Theatre has been an employer to 403 employees.
“Rarely are we given the opportunity to be part of bringing a dream to life, a small grassroots dream that has grown to national and international acclaim,” said Bruce Halliday, who was technical director and general manager. “My 25 years at the Port Theatre Society was that and more, witnessing this community embrace and support our work in bringing the highest artistic quality and progressively diverse programming, while maintaining our commitment to engaging with and welcoming everyone to share the experience of live performance. We are stronger, kinder … better for sharing these moments.”
The Port Theatre’s support of the community would not be possible without the community’s support of the theatre. The theatre thanks all 9,160 households that have made a donation to the Port Theatre Society in the past 25 years.
Celebrate the Port Theatre’s Silver Jubilee on Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The event features the Vancouver Island Symphony, Joëlle Rabu and Nico Rhodes, Vibe Dance Studio, Ay Lelum – The Good House of Design, and Agasha Mutesasira. Visit www.porttheatre.com.
Port Theatre milestone moments:
1998 The Port Theatre opened in September after decades of fundraising and community support. The Nylons and the Vancouver Island Symphony gave the grand-opening performance.
2001 The Diana Krall Piano Fund Gala Benefit raised $25,000. Phil Ashbee’s ‘Salmon Coming Home’ was installed in the lobby, and the Steinway concert grand piano was purchased.
2003 A fifth anniversary gala raised $30,000, completing the piano fundraising campaign.
2005 The acoustic stage enclosure was delivered. The Port Theatre began selling tickets online.
2011 Classical Coffee Concerts debuted.
2016 The OffStage Series of performances in the lobby was introduced. An economic impact study by the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation showed $6-8 million of annual community impact.
2018 Port Theatre reaches 200 to 300 events per year.
2019 A fundraising initiative was launched for patrons to round up their ticket purchases, with the additional dollars going to the theatre’s operating fund. The long-awaited marquee was installed above the main entrance.
2020 The COVID-19 pandemic led to the purchase of video equipment and training for live-streaming which was used to stream 49 events over the next two years.
2021 The Discovery Series was launched, featuring emerging artists from Vancouver Island. The Marley dance floor was purchased, and all exterior windows were replaced.
2022 A Fall Connections fundraiser raised almost $7,000 to split between three Nanaimo professional arts companies. The Port Theatre Society initiated a $20,000 community support program to help local arts organizations who were negatively impacted by the pandemic.
2023 The Port Theatre celebrates 25 years.