Vancouver’s known for its H-shaped telephone pole alleyways which have been featured in film and television series for decades. Some have names given to them by historians or businesses but others, like Ackery Alley between Granville and Seymour, were named in tribute.
Ivan Ackery was the Orpheum Theatre’s manager between 1935 and 1969, and Chuck Davis writes that it’s fair to say that Ackery was the single most important person in the Orpheum’s history.
From the very beginning Ackery was totally committed to whatever he was doing. In 1927, the year the Orpheum opened, 28-year-old Ivan happened to be manager at a rival theatre, the Victoria on Victoria Drive near East 43rd. “And I remember going down Granville Street that year, and I thumbed my nose at the Orpheum. Oh, I was so jealous.”
He actually did that. He actually put his right thumb up against his nose and wiggled his fingers at this upstart picture palace. He had no idea that about eight years later they’d put him in charge of running the place, the biggest theatre in Canada, and he would do such a great job that he would stay there for the next 35. [VancouverHistory]
Chuck Davis wrote a 4-part article on his Vancouver History website and there are about 11 index references to Ackery in Chuck Davis’ History of Metropolitan Vancouver. Ackery was that important to Vancouver’s entertainment scene for three straight decades, while his legacy lives on.
Ackery came to Canada in 1914 and served for the Canadian Army in WWI. His first theatre job in Vancouver was as an usher at the Capitol on Granville in 1923. He was then promoted to manager of the Victoria Theatre in South Vancouver in 1927 and then to manager of the Dominion Theatre in downtown Vancouver in 1930. A big part of a theatre manager’s role in those days was promoting the films and live shows that were coming through and being sure to fill seats. Ackery became known for his promotional abilities and stunts. He also managed the Capitol Theatre in Victoria in 1932 but returned to Vancouver in 1934 to manage the Strand Theatre, a big promotion from his company Famous Players. Just a year later he moved onto the Orpheum where he would stay until 1969.
All of the legendary tales you hear about the Orpheum – from the Canadian premiere of Gone with the Wind to live shows featuring Ella Fitzgerald, George Burns, Jack Benny, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong were all during Ackery’s time.
In his many trips to New York and Hollywood to pick up awards for his promotional efforts Ivan rubbed elbows with a lot of well-known movie personalities: Gene Tierney, Michael Caine, Victor Jory, Alan Ladd, Elizabeth Taylor, Ethel Merman, Bob Hope, George Sanders, Jack Benny . . . but, as mentioned, he never lost the awe he felt when in the presence of major stars. [VancouverHistory]
After retirement, Ackery was still involved in the local community and in the 1970′s he spearheaded the campaign to save the Orpheum. He was inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame and you can find his plaque on Granville Street’s Star Walk.
On October 30, 1985 one of the proudest days in Ivan’s life occurred. The event (at the Orpheum, of course!) was Ivan’s 86th birthday celebration. The show was emceed by Red Robinson, and Mayor Mike Harcourt was there to declare October 30, 1985 Ivan Ackery Day. At the end of the ceremony, Ivan was brought to tears by a standing ovation from the audience. “I want to thank most of all the public. The public of Vancouver has been so great to me. [VancouverHistory]
Ivan Ackery passed away in 1989, just shy of his 90th birthday. If you want to read about Vaudeville in Vancouver, our entertainment district’s history, and the Orpheum’s legacy, read up on Ivan Ackery. Check out his autobiography and take a minute to pause at Ackery’s Alley the next time you’re walking up Smithe, between Seymour and Granville.