Theatres & Cultural Centres in Nelson BC and Kootenay Lake

Theatres & Cultural Centres in Nelson BC and Kootenay Lake

For a small city, Nelson and Kootenay Lake's reputation as a cultural destination sure gets a lot of attention. But, what really makes the arts and culture scene tick? It's a combination of impressive theatres and the passionate efforts of residents: that's the secret.

The Civic TheatreCapitol Theatre and Langham Cultural Centre have had their share of ups and downs in nearly a century of operation. It’s those challenges mixed with fervent community pride that has made them such celebrated cultural pillars in the region. But it’s been a long road for both institutions.

Capitol Theatre

The Capitol Theatre opened in 1927 principally as a movie house and the occasional live performance venue. It’s glory days were short lived, as the Famous Player Theatre chain, who controlled the leases on both the Capitol and the larger Civic Theatre opted to use the Civic to entertain Nelson’s movie goers. The Capitol Theatre fell into disrepair by 1960. The grand building was even used as an auction hall, furniture warehouse and a real estate office, a far cry from its roots.

A group of passionate locals formed the Capitol Theatre Restoration Society in 1982 and took on the challenge of restoring the Capitol to its former beauty, and with the support of various grants and community efforts, it was re-opened in 1988, welcoming over 40,000 audience and artists annually. The art-deco beauty of the theatre was lovingly rebuilt, and improvements and expansions created a lobby, changing rooms, scene shop and box office.

Although it still screens unique films and festivals from time to time, the Capitol is primarily a live presentation house. With Nelson’s reputation for attracting artists and creative people from around the world, the theatre offers high caliber professional performances while also providing local residents with a unique opportunity to hone their skills with in-house productions, including year round programming, and a well-received summer show. Additional concerts and plays are on tap through the year.

The Civic Theatre

That same desire to foster and celebrate creativity and artistry is at the heart of the nearby Civic Theatre. Like the Capitol, it shares a turbulent past from its origins in the 1930s as the best facility of its kind from the Lower Mainland to Winnipeg. Originally created as a depression era “back to work” project, it was part of a larger facility that included a library, badminton hall, and ice rink, the latter of which still operates today.

Although it was designed as a live theatre venue, complete with orchestra pit and stage rigging, it quickly changed into Nelson’s fifth cinema house. It closed in disrepair in 2010, but the Nelson Civic Theatre Society formed quickly after and has since operated the venue with an emphasis on a variety of film screenings, events, and educational and community building programs. The Civic still retains its warm, spacious and grand atmosphere that harkens back to the golden era of cinemas, welcoming over 50,000 guests each year.

The future is bright for this celebrated theatre. Lobby renovations, expanded meeting and creative spaces, upgrades and the addition of two more screens will allow the Civic to feature even more films and events.

The Langham Cultural Centre

The cultural vibe of the area extends throughout the Kootenay Lake region, including the picturesque waterfront town of Kaslo. It’s home to the Langham Cultural Society and its namesake building, a provincial heritage site that dates back to 1896.

Originally a hotel, it has seen many different purposes, including a brothel, boat-building site, bottling plant, and an internment centre for Japanese Canadians during WWII. Today the 2nd and 3rd stories of the Langham commemorate this experience, and the art galleries and theatre on the 1st floor regularly feature Japanese and Asian Canadian exhibits, programs and cultural presentations.

Slated for demolition in the 1970s, a small group of dedicated citizens worked to restore the building to its current glory. The result is a multi-purpose venue that features various events and collections. Concerts, performances, speaker series, and film screenings are all on tap through the summer.


With a past as storied as their future, these three vibrant heritage buildings continue to play an important role in fostering the arts and culture for which the Kootenay Lake region is so well known.

By John Bowden

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Family Friendly
Cultural Explorer

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