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Wolfville icon Al Whittle remembered as modest, kind and caring

Al Whittle, who managed the Wolfville's move theatre for 47 years and was a fixture in the town's arts community, is shown at the theatre that now bears his name and is run as a co-operative. Whittle passed away Saturday at the age of 91
Al Whittle, who managed the Wolfville's movie theatre for 47 years and was a fixture in the town's arts community, is shown at the theatre that now bears his name and is run as a co-operative. Whittle passed away Saturday at the age of 91 - File-SaltWire

Friends and community members are offering fond memories of Al Whittle, an icon in the town of Wofville and its film community for more than half a century.

Whittle passed away Saturday at the age of 91.

Originally from Port Elgin, N.B., Whittle was about 24 when he came to Wolfville to manage the Acadia Cinema on Main Street in 1953, and stayed there for the 47 years. When he arrived he was about 24 years old, and at the time he was the youngest theatre manager in Canada.

He was the ticket-taker, projectionist, popcorn maker and anything else that needed to be done. He turned it from a single screen to two and then smaller theatres as it struggled to compete with the new multiplex in nearby New Minas, but also to cater to distributors' demands that some movies remain playing for extra weeks.

When he retired in 2000, the family who owned the theatre closed it. A couple of redevelopment projects didn't pan out, and eventually an ad-hoc committee got together to form the Acadia Cinema Cooperative, which worked with the Just Us Coffee Roasters Co-op to buy the building. The purchase was to preserve the building and provide a place for the showing of alternative films through the fim society.


OBITUARY: Albert Ellsworth Whittle


One of the conditions of sale from the family was the the theatre be named after Whittle, who was an honorary member of the co-operative.

Steven Slipp of Wolfville was on the ad-hoc committee, and later served as the cinema co-op board chair.

“He was definitely a fixture in the community,” Slipp said, pointing out that Whittle also worked for decades taking tickets at Acadia University's dining hall.

“He was kind of a bridge between Acadia and the town in that so many people knew him in both the business community and also the university. He was just a super-nice guy,” Slipp said.

He said Whittle was a private person who didn't marry, but loved his cats. So much so, in fact, that for a couple of years after he moved to a seniors' home he kept his house for the cats to stay in.

“He's one of those iconic characters for sure,” Slipp said. He was one of the cornerstones of Wolfville life.”

Longtime theatre manager Al Whittle joins Mary Costello, left, and Olivia Frampton at the entrance of the theatre named after him. -File - File photo
Longtime theatre manager Al Whittle joins Mary Costello, left, and Olivia Frampton at the entrance of the theatre named after him. -File - File photo

Former NDP MLA Ramona Jennex was starting her teaching career in Wolfville in the 1980s and rented the apartment above the theatre from Whittle for four years.

“I saw Al almost every day (in those years),” said Jennex. “It was the best apartment in the world, and he was the best landlord.”

She and Whittle became a good friends, and he was “genuinely interested in everyone he talked to. He was always kind and caring, and in all the time I knew Al, I never heard him say a negative thing about anything or anyone. He was always really positive.”

Jennex said Whittle loved to cook and would often show up at her apartment with a new dish he had tried.

“He was a wonderful person and a wonderful friend.”

She said when the theatre was named after him “he was so humbled and so grateful for that honour. It just meant so much to him.”

She said she's sure that because of Whittle's impact on Wolfville and Acadia, when news of his passing spreads “there will be thousands and thousands of people offering condolences, because everyone knew Al. He was just a genuinely kind, caring person.”

Wolfville town councillor Wendy Elliott, a former reporter, interviewed Whittle several times over the years.

“He was just a very quiet, self-effacing guy."

Whittle was modest, “but contributed what he could to all kinds of ventures in town,” she said, and while he didn't see himself as important, he  contributed to the town's arts scene throughout his life.

Wolfville mayor Wendy Donovan said the town plans to fly its flag at half mast in honour of Whittle.

“He was a smiling face around town, and I'm sure his loss will be missed,” she said.

She said people in the town are remembering Whittle for “a good life, well-lived, with a great reputation. It's a sad day, we were lucky to have him.”

A short film from 2013 featuring Whittle talking about his life in the movies can be found here.

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