Sherbrooke theatre sells off its 90-year-old seats, but saves 1 for 'George the ghost'

Their wood may be faded, and the upholstery worn out, but that didn't hurt demand for the nearly 90-year-old seats of Sherbrooke's Granada Theatre.

The historic music hall — which has hosted everyone from Louis Armstrong to Arcade Fire — put 200 of its 1929 seats up for sale on Dec. 11. Every single one was reserved within the first two hours.

"The response was amazing," said Annie Santarosa, assistant manager at the Granada.

Though some of the seats had been restored over the years, the frames were original. The theatre will be installing 500 new seats in 2019. 

But a single, original wooden bench, seat P-13, will stay put. 

"We won't touch it because it has a special history to it," said Santarosa.

George, the friendly ghost

Legend has it the theatre has "a friendly ghost" who sometimes plays tricks on staff and performers, like knocking on the walls of the green room before a show.

"His name is George, and there are two versions about George," Santarosa said.

One story says George was once a faithful janitor at the theatre. But in the most most popular version of the story, George was a regular client in the 1940s, who passed away in his seat from a stroke. 

Alison Brunette/CBC

"That's how the story goes," she said.

With the exception of P-13, the other seats were sold for $90 a pair. It was "a symbolic price," Santarosa said, to acknowledge 90 years of music and theatre at the Granada.

The buyers were mostly people who wanted to keep a piece of Sherbrooke history, she said. "It's sad to see those original seats go away, but we have to think about the comfort of our clients."

90 years of music legends

The Granada Theatre has seen a long list of musical legends on stage since it opened in 1929, including Armstrong, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Bruce Cockburn.

Santarosa's own highlight is the two sold-out shows Arcade Fire played in 2010, premiering its album The Suburbs. The album went on to win Album of the Year at the Grammy's, while the band played before arena-sized crowds around the world. 

"Just the fact that we had the chance to welcome them here on our stage, that was a big thrill for us," Santarosa said.

Fonds Claire Dion/La Société d'histoire de Sherbrooke

Musician Jean-Guy Robert, who grew up in Sherbrooke, has fond memories of being both in the audience and performing on stage at the Granada.

His recalled watching films like The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, which were screened there in the 1960s. His first concert was French singer Gilbert Bécaud in 1975.

"But imagine — Louis Armstrong playing here," said Robert.

Fonds Radio-Québec/La Société d'histoire de Sherbrooke

In his "hippie years," Robert saw seminal Quebec acts like Harmonium, Marie-Claire and Richard Séguin play the Granada.

"Guys like Robert Cyr and Jim Corcoran — these were the guys I would hang out with at that age," Robert said, remembering the vibrant music scene in Eastern Townships in the 1970s and 1980s.

More recently, Robert said he was impressed by performances at the Granada by Walk Off The Earth, the Barr Brothers, and Jean Leloup. But in the end, he said, it all comes down to the venue.

"Every time I come here I'm amazed by the architecture, by the decor. You don't see that anywhere else."