Toronto’s Top 10 Lost Vaudeville Theatres

In planning for Vaudeville Revue we’ve learned a lot about Toronto’s former Vaudeville theatres that have disappeared over the years. Whether they were converted into something for a new use or demolished altogether, the are very few Vaudeville palaces still standing in our city today.

Here’s a look at some of the greats that have been lost over the past century.

1. Shea’s Hippodrome

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Shea’s Hippodrome – 440 Bay St., Toronto

When Shea’s Hippodrome opened in 1914 it was Vaudeville theatre in Canada was was quickly deemed one of the top 4 in North America. Sadly, this colossal beauty had a short life;  the Hippodrome was demolished in 1957. For an interesting story about its very unique and very expensive Wurlitzer Organ, check this out.


2. The Standard (The Strand, The Victory, Victory Burlesque)

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The Standard – Corner of Spadina & Dundas, Toronto

The Standard opened in 1921 as a Yiddish theatre and remained a centre of Toronto’s Jewish community until it was converted to a cinema in 1934 and renamed The Strand. In 1941 it was rebranded again, this time as The Victory, part of the Twentieth Century Theatre chain. In 1961 it became the Victory Burlesque, one of only 3 burlesque houses in the city. While the building still remains, the theatre closed its doors permanently in 1975.

3. Shea’s Victoria

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Shea’s Victoria – 83 Victoria St., Toronto

 

The Shea Brothers opened their second theatre, Shea’s Victoria, on the corner of Richmond and Victoria in 1910. This 1800 seat theatre included a projector so that films could be screened in addition to live theatre performances.

4. The Uptown

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The Uptown Theatre – Corner of Yonge & Bloor

Loew’s Uptown Theatre opened in 1920, a 3000 seat sister theatre to The Pantages (currently the Ed Mirvish Theatre). This one as well was created for both cinema and Vaudeville. In 2001, new regulations required the theatre to become wheelchair accessible, something that would have cost about $700 000. Despite community outcries, the theatre was demolished in 2003. Sadly, the ill-advised removal of a structural beam lead to its accidental collapse and resulted in the death of a 27 year old man.

5. The Belsize (Regent, Crest)

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The Belsize – 551 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto

The Belsize Theatre opened in 1927, another venue for theatre and film. Unlike many on this list, The Belsize didn’t turn from live theatre to film, but the other way around. In the 1950s the only theatre of note showing live theatre was The Royal Alexandra (who showed primarily American shows and tours) and many felt that a place was needed to showcase Canadian theatre. In 1953 the venue ceased showing films and was renovated and reopened as The Crest, a live theatre venue. In 1971 films began showing again and in 1988 it was again renovated and reopened, this time as The Regent, a movie theatre that still stands today.

6. The Runneymede

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The Runnymede – 2225 Bloor St. West, Toronto

The Runnymede Theatre opened in 1927 as an “atmospheric Vaudeville”house, the first of its kind in Toronto. The venue was meant to make you feel as though you were transported to somewhere magical and exotic; the ceiling was painted blue and bulbs were lit up like stars, silver and blue lights were projected to give the feeling of clouds. By 1999, the theatre was no longer profitable, even as a 2-screen cinema. The building was purchased by a Chapters Bookstore, and in the conversion they kept and maintained much of the interior. Today, it is the location of a Shoppers Drug Mart, and while it still features much of the original trim and interior facade, there’s something very sad looking about its current appearance.

7. Capitol Theatre

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The Capitol Theatre – 2492 Yonge St., Toronto

The Capitol opened in 1918 and showed Vaudeville acts and silent films. By 1933, the theatre was converted to show only films. The theatre closed its doors in 1998 and remained empty for several years, before finally being purchased, undergoing major renovations and reopening as The Capitol Event Theatre. While the seats were removed and a bar installed, much of the original ornate interior remains, much like it does at the Runnymede.

8. Academy Theatre

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The Academy – 1286 Bloor St. W, Toronto

The Academy opened in 1914, a smaller venue than most on the list with only 410 seats. It’s not known when exactly the theatre stopped showing Vaudeville acts, or when it stopped operating as a cinema, but it is likely to have occurred sometime after the 1960s. The venue still stands, though has not operated as a theatre in years.

9. Variety (Arcadian) Theatre

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The Arcadian (formerly Variety) Theatre – 8-10 Queen St. East

I have significantly less information on this theatre, but it housed in a building built in the late 1880s, and was likely built before the 1920s. In the late 1920s its name was changed to The Arcadian, and it seems that by the 30s it was a cinema and no longer live venue. The theatre closed in 1954 and for some time had a retail show that used the old sign. However, it has since been demolished.

10. Madison Theatre (The Midtown, The Capri, The Eden, Bloor Cinema, Hot Docs Cinema)

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The Madison Theatre – 506 Bloor St. W, Toronto

The Madison has had more renos and new names than most on this list. It originally opened in 1913, an early Picture Palace that also featured Vaudeville acts. In 1940 it was demolished and rebuilt as The Midtown, a cinema; all that remained of the original building were the two side walls. Movie attendance declined in the second half of the 20th century, and in the 1960s it was under the new management of the Famous Players chain and renamed the Capri. In 1973 it was again re-branded, this time as The Eden, and the theatre switched from playing mostly double-bills to a heavily censored “adult”films. Come 1979, Famous Players closed The Eden and re-opened it as The Bloor Cinema, now offering first-run, family-friendly entertainment. Soon the theatre introduced memberships and classic theatre runs, and eventually became a part of the Festival Theatre circuit. In the late 2000s the theatre had a bit of an uncertain future (read more here), but eventually it was bought, renovated, and re-opened as what it stands as today; The Hot Docs Cinema.

Think we missed some important former Vaudeville theatres? Tweet us your suggestions; @BygoneTheatre #VaudevilleRevue

Want to learn more about Toronto’s theatre history? Check out this amazing blog, where I sourced a lot of our material; Historic Toronto.

We may not have a Vaudeville house to perform in, but we’ll have historic acts on our stage and artifacts and more history like this in our lobby; join us for Vaudeville Revue, June 22-24th, Alumnae Theatre. Tickets on sale now.

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Vaudeville Revue – June 22-24, 2016

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Rope: Opening Weekend

On Friday Rope opened to a packed audience; our Opening Night Gala was a hit and the show was a smashing success. I’m so proud of all those who have been involved and it was wonderful to finally see everything fall into place onstage. This Saturday November 22nd we have two performances; a 2:00pm matinee, which as of late Friday night is 78% sold out and a 7:30pm evening show, which is currently 93% sold out. It’s great to have such full houses and we open the show is received well!

If you would like to get tickets to this weekend’s performance, check out TOtix.ca. Tickets can be purchased online up to 2 hours before the event. After that, tickets can only be purchased at the door; cash only, please.

If you are unable to join us for opening weekend, not to fear! Next Friday November 28th we have a 2:00pm PWYC matinee for Arts Workers and a 7:30pm performance. On Saturday November 29th we have a 2:00pm matinee and we close that evening at 7:30pm.

All photos courtesy of the talented Danielle Son; check out her website here: http://www.logosphotography.org/.

To see the rest of the production stills check out our facebook page.

More updates coming soon!
-E

Friends of Bygone – The Gibson House Museum

Bygone is thrilled to be partnering with the historic Gibson House Museum for our upcoming production of Rope. The 19th century home is a beautiful setting for this site-specific production. For those of you who are not familiar with the museum, here are some highlights and fun facts;

Built in 1851, Gibson House was the home of Scottish immigrant David Gibson and his family. He was a land surveyor who helped map early Toronto. Wanted by the government for participating in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, Gibson was forced to flee to the United States where he and his family remained for 11 years. On their return to York County, the Gibsons built this beautiful home and once again became active members of their rural community.

Visitors can step back in time and explore this elegant farmhouse. Its serene Georgian-style exterior belies the dramatic lives of the Gibson family.

Gibson House Museum is one of 10 historic museums operated by the City of Toronto. Toronto’s Historic Sites engage visitors, inspire passion, challenge ideas and connect the past to the present. (information taken from the City of Toronto website, 2014)

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Gibson House Museum in North York is a red brick Georgian Revival farmhouse located on land that was acquired by the Gibson family in 1829. David and Elizabeth Gibson lived in a wood frame house on the site until they were forced to flee to the United States during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. The building that now stands was constructed in 1851 after the family’s return to Toronto, and was home to David and Eliza’s household as well as their son Peter Silas Gibson’s family until 1916. The house was occupied by a series of owners and tenants until the Township of North York acquired the property in 1965. Gibson House was restored and opened as a heritage museum on June 6, 1971.

Gibson House is owned by the City of Toronto, and is managed and operated by the City’s Cultural Services.

Statement of Heritage Value

  • The David Gibson House is located at 5172 Yonge Street in Municipal Ward 23. It is a designated heritage site under by-law 27975 passed by the North York City Council on December 15, 1980.
  • Gibson House is associated with the domestic and public lives of David and Eliza Gibson, who were prominent members of the rural Willow Dale community in the North York township and significant figures in the history of Upper Canada. Gibson House is one of a number of nineteenth-century rural farmhouses that survived the major urban development that accompanied the city’s expansion into North York in the twentieth century. The building has been modified over time to suit the needs of several generations of the Gibson family, as well as those of various later owners and tenants.
  • Gibson House is an example of the late Georgian architectural style, and has undergone extensive renovations and restorations since its construction. The building’s exterior retains a number of original features, while the internal layout and period-room restorations are based on historical documents from the Gibson Gibson House Museum family and contemporary furnishings in similar houses from the mid-nineteenth century.
  • The Gibson property has produced a number of archaeological findings, including artefacts dating from the mid- to late nineteenth century that are associated with the domestic lives of the Gibson family and those of the house’s later inhabitants.
  • Gibson House was once part of an active and progressive working farm, and was a significant feature within the Willow Dale community nine miles from the town of York. The expanding city gradually absorbed the farmland and villages of North York. Gibson House is now surrounded by a thoroughly urban landscape, and serves as a reminder of the borough’s early settlements and rural history.

Character Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage value of this site include:

Historic Value

  1. Gibson House is historically significant for its connection to the Gibson family. The Scottish immigrant David Gibson (1804 – 1864) immigrated to Quebec in 1825 and worked as a surveyor in Upper Canada for many years. Gibson assisted in mapping much of early Toronto, including the city’s streets and sidewalks, and was also a successful farmer and an influential politician in his local district. David was a member of the Legislative Assembly in 1834 and 1836, as well as a leader of the Reform movement. After the Rebellion of 1837 he was forced to live as a fugitive in Upper Canada before escaping to the United States. His wife, Elizabeth Milne Gibson, and their four children joined him after the first Gibson House was burned by Government soliders. Eliza Gibson traveled regularly to Upper Canada to collect rents from the family’s properties until David’s father James and half-brother William arrived from Scotland and began to manage the Willow Dale farm. The Gibson family returned to Upper Canada in 1848, and moved into the second Gibson house in 1851.
  2. The Gibson property was willed to David and Eliza’s daughter, Margaret Jane, upon David’s death in 1864. The property then passed to Margaret’s brother Peter Silas and his wife Eliza Holmes, who raised their ten children in the house. Most of the historic Gibson farm was sold for sub-division in 1913, except for an acre at the south east corner where the Gibson House and Gibson Park are located, and a third of an acre on the south east corner that was deeded to Peter Silas’ eldest son, Harold Holmes, upon his marriage in 1897. Harold built a large red brick house on this site that was used as the new family home and then as a public library until its demolition in 1957.
  3. The Gibson farmhouse was rented to relatives of the Gibson family in the 1920s. In 1942 the house was sold to local contractor Noel Knowles who modernized the building and introduced a number of extensive renovations. After Mr. Knowles’ death in 1952 the house was sold and then rented to a series of tenants. In 1960 the North York Historical Society was founded by a group of citizens who had come together to advocate for Gibson House. The Township of North York purchased the remaining Gibson House property in 1965 for $1.00 and other considerations “for the purpose of a museum, historic site, or public park,” and in 1966 the building underwent exterior and structural restorations under the direction of the restoration architect B. Napier Simpson.
  4. The site was used as a storage facility until 1970, when the North York Council chose to restore and operate Gibson House as a heritage museum in response to the National Centennial in 1967. Council entered into a private restoration agreement with Brigadier-General J.A. McGinnis of the Toronto Historical Board, and the house interior was recreated under the direction of the Museums Advisor Dorothy Duncan to reflect the Gibsons’ home circa 1851, based on contemporary documents from the period. The Gibson House Museum opened to the public on June 6, 1971.
  5. Gibson House is associated with the Gibson family, and the development of the rural North York communities. This relationship is represented by an extensive archival collection that includes the personal papers, correspondence, and journals of David Gibson, as well as documents relating to the history of the house as a museum, other members of the Gibson family, later tenants, and inhabitants of local communities. Collections are stored on-site, and are also available at the Archives of Ontario, the North York Library, the North York Historical Society Archives, the City of Toronto Archives, and the National Archives of Canada. Some materials are also in the private possession of descendants of the Gibson family.
  6. The Museum’s artefact collection includes a small but significant collection of Gibson artifacts, including David Gibson’s surveying instruments and a tall case clock the works of which were removed from the first frame house by Eliza Gibson before fire consumed her house. The remainder of the collection was purchased or acquired from local donors and consists of materials representative of the various local homes, farms, and businesses of the mid-nineteenth century.

Architectural Value

  1. Gibson House was built with quality materials, and its design reflects the lifestyle of an established family with a leading place in their community. It is an example of Upper Canadian Georgian architecture, and also includes a number of variations based on diverse stylistic choices and later additions to the original building. The house is two-and-a-half storeys high, with a five-bay façade and rectangular plan, and includes evenly placed, symmetrical windows, a later kitchen extension, and a full basement. The building was constructed on a fieldstone base with red bricks made on the property, and the exterior includes a number of decorative components, including the yellow brick bands, the white brick voussoirs over the windows and doors, and the corner quoins, as well as the gables with black brick motifs. The Neo-Classical doorway with elliptical fanlight transom, rectangular sidelights, and two-panel Greek revival door is also original, while the porch has been restored according to nineteenth-century photographs.
  2. The house interior was renovated and subdivided to accommodate various tenants in the mid-twentieth century, and subsequent restorations represent the building as it might have appeared in 1851. The interior plan follows the conventional Georgian pattern of a centre hall with straight stairway and symmetrically disposed rooms, although much of the internal layout has been restored and interpreted based on building receipts, bills, and lists as well as references to the house and construction in letters and diaries. The restoration was also informed by Gibson artifacts in the museum’s collection as well as objects still in family hands, oral history interviews with the Gibsons’ surviving grandchildren, and comparisons to similar contemporary houses.

Archaeological Value

  1. Much of the Gibson House site has been disturbed by ongoing habitation and nearby urban development, however buried archaeological remains have been unearthed since the property’s restoration as a heritage museum. Site staff and volunteers have uncovered a variety of objects associated with nineteenth and early-twentieth century domestic life, including building materials such as nails and bricks, toys, ceramics, and a leather harness with metal attachments. These artefacts are stored on site, and may be associated with the Gibson family.
  2. In November to December 2008 a Stage 1-2 archaeological assessment was undertaken at the Menkes Gibson Square development property (5170 Yonge Street) to the south of Gibson House. The Stage 2 archaeological survey discovered additional nineteenth century Euro-Canadian artefacts such as miscellaneous building materials and ceramic sherds in test pits along a strip of undisturbed soil south of the house. These preliminary findings suggest that further archaeological deposits associated with occupants on the Gibson property may be found during the course of future excavations. All site planning related to Gibson House should be undertaken with reference to potential archaeological
    features, in conjunction with the City of Toronto’s Master Plan for Archaeological Resources.

Contextual Value

  1. Gibson House is one of the few surviving features of historic Willow Dale, a small crossroads community that was situated on Yonge Street nine miles from the town of York. Willow Dale was originally known as Kummer’s (or Cummer’s) settlement, and contained a population of 150 in the late 1850s. Willow Dale and its neighbouring North York communities benefited from their placement on Yonge Street, one of the earliest and most heavily traveled transport routes in Upper Canada. Local mills prospered due to the rivers of the Don Watershed that supplied an essential resource for settlers and created a distinctive natural landscape; David Gibson petitioned the government to open a community post office in the mid-nineteenth century, and suggested the name Willow Dale in honour of the numerous willow trees that grew in the district.
  2. Gibson House was a significant structure in rural North York and is connected to the life and history of the Gibson family, as well as the development of the Willowdale community. The building’s survival and restoration in the twentieth century demonstrates its enduring local importance, and its wider significance as a historic landmark and cultural resource in the City of Toronto.
  3. A Tolman Sweet apple tree, the last remaining tree from the orchard that David Gibson established in 1832, stands on the parkland south of Gibson House. Cuttings Gibson from the two Tolman Sweets and a Snow Apple that were standing in the late 1980s were used to establish a number of trees that now stand in Dempsey Park.

 

All information gathered from the City of Toronto website, http://www1.toronto.ca.

Want to see the home in a totally new way? Join us for Rope November 21-29, 2014 and see the show mounted in the Gibson House parlor. Tickets available now through TO Tix.