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Matz remembers end of The Strand era

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Projectionist Olaf Matz remembers many things from his tenure at the Tillsonburg Strand Theatre on Broadway.

And one of them is a slip of paper he received in 1992 terminating his job at the theatre after a run of 34 years, eight months and 25 days.

"This is to inform you that the Strand Theatre property has been sold, therefore your position with the company will be terminated as of Oct. 29, 1992."

It was signed by Strand manager Linda Gohm. Matz, who had worked past retirement at 65, was able to get an extension. With the Strand closing, he retired.

"The union wanted me to retire at 65, but the theatre company manager said I was doing a good job, and everything was going downhill. The union didn't want to renew their contract with them, it was such a low scale... the union was too greedy. That's what killed a lot of the jobs. But the management said he can work here as long as he wants to... which the union didn't like, but they accepted it and I was happy. It was only three or four nights a week, or something like that, and I had an apprentice. We got along fine until closing time, and that was it."

The Tillsonburg News and The Tillsonburg Independent News both did stories on the 'end of an era.' Once considered ornate when it opened June 1, 1939, with the film 'There's Always a Woman', the Strand was "somewhat dilapidated", wrote News reporter Doug Schmidt, when it closed in 1992 with 'The Mighty Ducks.'

Tough economic times took the blame for the closing, wrote Independent News reporter Jeff Helsdon.

Matz kept the stories, and various photos from over the years in a scrapbook.

"There's a lot more stuff in here, all kinds of stuff," Matz laughed. "It'd keep you going for a year."

His career as a projectionist started around the end of the Second World War.

"I started as an apprentice at the Elgin Theatre in Port Elgin. It was a year and a half apprenticeship to get a first class licence, and I passed this one Oct. 16, 1945. As soon as I was discharged from the army, I got my first class licence."

The licence was required, said Matz, because projectionists had to learn all about electricity and running the film.

"The whole history's in this story," he said, pointing to a copy of a story from the Port Rowan Good News."It wasn't simple – in those days we had the old carbon arc, like welding rods for light, and you had to adjust them and keep them going perfect, otherwise the picture would fade. Now, they just put in a cassette (computer hard drive) and you don't even need a projectionist."

His first job as a fully-licenced projectionist was on Pelee Island where he ran a 16mm for about a year and a half, then Port Rowan. It closed when the television era came in. Then I got a job at St. Thomas drive-in for two years, then there was an opening at the Tillsonburg theatre, and I was there until it closed."

Matz said the booming VCR video cassette era was partially to blame.

Schmidt's story cited the local economy for the Strand's closing, and the priority choices that people make, with Gohm saying "A lot of people are out of work here, people can't afford entertainment."

The final showing of The Mighty Ducks was offered free of charge, and it was the first time the theatre had been full in the past year.

"The biggest show I ever ran was The Ten Commandments," said Matz.

"And I remember the biggest surprise I ever had in my life. I went to Toronto one time, the biggest theatre in Toronto – it seated a couple thousand people. I sat down beside these two air force guys, and here they were two friends of mine from Port Elgin. In a big theatre like that!"

These days he doesn't go down to the theatre much.

"Oh, two or three times," he said, recalling visits to Broadway Cinemas.

"They let me in free when I go," he smiled. "But I kind of lost the interest, you know."

Still an active man in his 90s, Matz said it doesn't take much to keep him busy.

"I'm just thankful that I'm up and mobile, at my age. I don't need a wheelchair or a cane."

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