One sits on top of the other. On the bottom – the resplendent ELGIN, and on top – the WINTER GARDEN, with its pastel lamps and leafy bowers.These are the last remaining double-decker Edwardian-era theatres in the world. 189 Yonge Street, above Queen.<PHOTO ABOVE – The Elgin><PHOTO ABOVE – The Winter Garden>This National Historic Site offers year-round tours – Thursdays at 5pm & Saturdays at 11am. Adults $12; students and seniors $10. Cash only. No reservations required.Tours include samples from the vaudeville scenery collection, the Winter Garden’s original Simplex Silent Film Projector and a vaudeville-era dressing room. Ontario Heritage Trust website – http://www.heritagetrust.on.ca
This yellow brick building on Dundas Street West at Spadina Avenue opened its doors in 1922 as The Standard Theatre. Designed by architect Benjamin Brown, it was home to Yiddish comedy, original Jewish and translated plays, music, and left-wing politics. The building went on to become The Strand, a movie house, and from there the Victory Burlesque. These days, on street level, it’s a 7,000 square-foot Rexall Pharmacy Plus.
In 1961, the Victory was one of three burlesque theatres in town, but by the mid-sixties the other two had disappeared. Ryerson & University of Toronto students were among its most loyal fans.
Occasionally The Victory doubled as a music venue. The New York Dolls, Kiss, Iggy Pop & Rush all played there. TORONTO’s educational television station even did a live New Year’s Eve telecast from the Victory.
As far as we know, the old theatre itself is still intact – ghosts and all. Now there’s hope that a community-based space of some kind will appear on the upper levels. No sign of that yet.
Founded in 1968 and housed in a designated historical building at 16 Ryerson Avenue, Theatre Passe Muraille has long been an incubator for Canadian playwrights and actors. The premises was originally the home of Nasmith Bakery and Stables.
In 2007 the building was purchased by the City of TORONTO in a partnership deal with Artscape, a not-for-profit arts group that builds and develops different kinds of creative spaces. Theatres are among them.
Passe Muraille’s founding principles included the idea that theatre shouldn’t be about real estate. Plays can be made and staged anywhere – in barns, churches, bars, lofts, even in former bakeries. As well – theatre should endeavour to mirror social change, and that’s been a guiding principle of the company ever since. <PHOTO ABOVE – Kristintbooth>In 1984 KEANU REEVES appeared in Brad Fraser’s play “Wolfboy” at the Passe Muraille. The story, about a teenager with wolfish tendencies, became a cult hit – and was later made into a musical. At about the same time, Keanu was a correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s youth magazine “Going Great”. He now has a star on Hollywood Boulevard and the rest is history.To learn more about Theatre Passe Muraille and its 50th birthday celebration go to http://www.passemuraille.on.ca
As Jane Jacobs once said “new ideas need old buildings”, and the Berkeley Street Complex, 26 Berkeley Street, personifies that comment. Built as a Consumer’s Gas pumping station in 1887, the venerable structure contains two theatres, a large rehearsal space, props and wardrobe facilities and administrative offices.Demolition wreckers were on their way in 1971, but thanks to the efforts of TOM HENDRY, co-founder of TORONTO Free Theatre, the building was saved. It’s partly owned by the City of TORONTO, supported by the Toronto Arts Council Strategic Funding, and is an East Side base for the Canadian Stage Company.
In 1959, artistic director GEORGE LUSCOMBE (1926-1999) established The Workshop Theatre, one of Canada’s first professional theatre companies. The counterculture company moved into a warehouse at 12 Alexander Street in 1967. <PHOTO ABOVE – City of Toronto Archives>
Toronto Workshop Productions developed an innovative style, transforming documentary material into productions that ignited the political conscience of a generation. The tradition continues to this day – as Buddies in Bad Times – with an emphasis on LGBTQ theatre, cabaret, new plays and The Rhubarb Festival. In 1981 Mr. Luscombe was invested as a Member for the Order of Canada for “his contributions to the development of theatre in Canada.” In 1989, after three years of retirement, he successfully advocated for the building’s perpetual use as a community theatre space, and it was purchased by the City of Toronto.
Buddies in Bad Times is about to have two high-rise neighbours on its west side. But the theatre continues thanks to the foresight of George Luscombe.
The Soulpepper Theatre Company and George Brown College have collaborated since 2005 to make the Young Centre an ultra-active arts complex. Something’s nearly always happening in its four theatres and four studio spaces inside two rebuilt Gooderham and Worts tank houses.
Soulpepper was founded in 1998 by twelve TORONTO artists. Their dream was to produce lesser known theatrical classics. The Company has become an important part of our city’s theatre season, presenting year-round Canadian interpretations of works by playwrights Pinter, Wilder, Beckett, Stoppard and Chekhov among many others.
The Young Centre for the Performing Arts is located at 55 Tank House Lane in the Distillery District. For information and tickets go to http://www.soulpepper.ca
The UPTOWN, one of TORONTO’s finest vaudeville houses opened in 1920 and was demolished for a condominium development in 2003 <PHOTO ABOVE>. It met an unpleasant end, collapsing inward while being demolished, killing one young man and wounding fourteen others.
A cinema with 3,000 seats in one auditorium, the Uptown was eventually converted into one of North America’s first multiplexes in 1969. The Uptown 1, 2 and 3 played major Hollywood releases, and the Backstage 1 and 2 regularly screened art films.
In 2001, new regulations required wheelchair access to all theatres. The Uptown’s owners refused to lay out the required $700,000, and sold the building to developers who knocked it down. During demolition, a large section of the theatre collapsed after a vital steel support beam on a roof truss was cut. The Uptown fell in on itself, taking an adjacent language school with it.
They’re the only surviving double-decker theatres in the world <MODEL ABOVE>, and you’ll find them at 189 Yonge Street in downtown TORONTO. Guided tours of this National Historic Site are back on Thursday afternoons at 5pm, and Saturdays at 11am.
Heritage Toronto’s year ‘round tours include visits backstage, samples from the world’s largest collection of vaudeville scenery, the Winter Garden’s original Simplex Silent Film projector, an old time elevator ride, a restored dressing room, stories and artifacts.
The BILTMORE, 319 Yonge Street, was one of three downtown cinemas known for showing double and triple bills for a modest admission price. The others were the Downtown and the Rio – all within a few metres of each other. The BILTMORE was constructed by the wealthy OKUN brothers, who’d made their fortune selling ladies hats under the Biltmore label.
This flagship theatre had 916 seats, 300 in the balcony – interior photo http://www.localfilmcultures.ca – and sat on land now occupied by a large shopping centre and a multiplex of 26 movie screens.
<EXTERIOR PHOTOS – City of Toronto Archives>