Unmasking The Masks

Sometimes you laugh. Sometimes you cry.

But, if you’re an original 1935 carved limestone Comedy or a Tragedy mask on the front of the Westdale Theatre, you’ve been relegated to either laughing or crying in secret for almost 50 years.

When the Westdale Cinema Group took possession of the Westdale Theatre in June of 2017, it didn’t take long before we were comparing the facade most of us had known most of our lives with archival photogra

phs of the original facade taken in 1937 and in 1947, respectively. When the theatre opened in August, 1935, it featured an Art Deco facade of limestone and brick. Included in the design were two, carved masks – Comedy and Tragedy, well-known symbols of theatre.

Research tells us that the original facade was covered up around 1969, almost 50 years ago. The light box that covered the front of the original facade was capped with 8 letters highlighted in green neon spelling out the name of the theatre – WESTDALE. What that light box also covered were the two expressive faces.

We wondered if they were still there? If yes, were they in good shape, or had they been damaged when the light box had been installed? No one knew for sure. We decided to take a look. A section of the back panel of the light box was cut away. It revealed the intact mask of Comedy. Due to some concerns about the current structural integrity of the original parapet wall, we stopped there, awaiting a structural report from our engineers.

Was Tragedy waiting to be revealed?

Well, with the safety precautions taken, and with a heritage permit in hand, we first secured the original stone and brick and then carefully removed the metal light box. The downturned face of Tragedy soon had the entire crew smiling. Both masks were intact.

The parapet wall, with the carved masks and the beautifully detailed limestone accent pieces had to be taken down, brick-by-brick and stone-by-stone. Our engineers had designed a modern way of reinforcing the parapet wall from behind so that it could be rebuilt, but also be secure for another 82 years. Every brick is being removed with care, cleaned and stacked. Comedy and Tragedy have been lifted out and laid down, side-by-side. And now, the work of rebuilding, of restoring, the facade has begun. All of the pieces that were there are being put back in place.

And the two old faces that had begun life together in 1935, overlooking Westdale village, will once again cast their gaze over the street and neighbourhood below. All before the end of the year.

Much has changed in the 82 years since the Westdale Theatre opened its doors, but, sometimes, with a little extra care, some things can stay the same.

Thanks to our entire team for their dedication and attention to detail. We’re very excited with the progress. And we hope you will be too.