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What cinemas used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / August 12, 2013

Toronto cinema historyTracking the history of cinemas in Toronto is no small task. There are well over 100 movie theatres to account for, some of which have left little recorded history. I've already taken a small stab at presenting some of our city's cinematic history with a look at some of Toronto's more significant lost theatres, but given that I've devoted time to shopping malls, grocery stores, butcher shops, gas stations, etc. it seems only right to include a more thoroughgoing visual account of movie theatres.

The gallery below is still far from complete, of course, but provides a decent overview of the city's cinematic legacy. Some of the noteworthy theatres not included below include the Runnymede (now a Chapters bookstore), Mies Movie House, the Brighton (Roncesvalles & Galley), The Mount Pleasant and Regent theatres, The Hollywood and Hyland near Yonge and St. Clair, The Cinema, the Yonge/Elgin, The Royal and a host of others.

It's actually quite amazing how many of these buildings are still standing, if not in use as theatres. Once one knows where to look, evidence of Toronto's former movie theatres is quite widespread. Toward that end, a great basic resource is this list of cinemas past and present that have graced our city streets, though the cinema treasures archives are also a valuable resource. For a more in depth look at the history of movie theatres in Toronto, the best resource is surely Silent Toronto, which has images and accounts of many of the theatres not pictured below. Also worth a look is this exhibit summary from the Ontario Archives, which has extensive holdings featuring the province's lost movie theatres.

Enjoy the images below, and share your memories of Toronto's cinematic history.


Comique TheatreComique Theatre (Yonge & Dundas area), 1910

Auditorium TheatreAuditorium Theatre (Queen & Spadina), 1910

Rialto TheatreRialto Theatre (Yonge & Shuter), 1916

Odeon TheatreOdeon Theatre (1558 Queen West), 1918

Madison TheatreMadison Theatre (Bathurst and Bloor, site of current Bloor Cinema), 1919

Capitol TheatreCapitol Theatre (Yonge & Castelfield), 1921

Colonial TheatreColonial Theatre (Queen & Bay), 1921

FoxThe Fox (Beaches), 1934

University TheatreUniversity Theatre (now a Pottery Barn), 1940s

Tivoli TheatreTivoli Theatre (Yonge & Richmond), 1940s

Midtown Bloor 1941Midtown (where the Bloor Cinema is now), 1941

RevueThe Revue (Roncesvalles, interior), 1941 via Ontario Archives

Joy TheatreJoy Theatre (Queen & Jones), 1946

Fairlawn TheatreFairlawn Theatre (Yonge & Fairlawn), 1947

Eglinton TheatreEglinton Theatre (Eglinton & Avenue area), 1947

Nortown TheatreNortown Theatre (Eglinton & Bathurst area), 1948

Shea's TheatreShea's Hippodrome (Queen & Bay), 1954

Shea's TheatreTowne Cinema (Yonge & Bloor), 1950s

Willow TheareWillow Theatre (Yonge & Ellerslie), 1950s (source unknown)

Kingsway TheatreKingsway Theatre, 1958

AlhambraAlhambra Theatre (Bloor & Bathurst), 1960

Odeon TheatreOdeon Theatre (Yonge & Carlton), 1960s

Bay TheatreBay Theatre (Bay & Queen), 1962

UptownThe Uptown (Yonge & Bloor), 1970

Broadway TheatreBroadway Theatre (Queen & Bay), 1972

Westwood TheatreWestwood Theatre (Bloor & Kipling), 1974

Imperial SixImperial Six ad via Silent Toronto

Coronet TheatreCoronet Theatre (Yonge & Gerrard), 1979

Rio TheatreRio Theatre (Yonge & Gerrard), 1980

Photos from the Toronto Archives unless otherwise noted



Mike / August 12, 2013 at 03:11 pm
This is awesome!

Would you be able to find some pictures or history on the Rainbow Cinema at Market Square (across the street from St. Lawrence Market) I love that theatre. It takes me back to the theatres I used to goto as a kid back in the 90's, and would love to know more about what that space was before it's current state.

James / August 12, 2013 at 03:35 pm
Hey Mike,

That cinema was built for Cineplex....and opened in 1983.

The entrance used to be in a different spot, accessed from the inside of Market Square (was once a tiny little mall like area).

Around the time the supermarket went in, the cinema entrance was shifted to the outside. Don't remember the year.

Rainbow did redecorate in their colour scheme.

A / August 12, 2013 at 03:36 pm
the cinemas at Market Square were built as a cinemas
run by Cineplex if I remember correctly -- there was a small mall where the Metro is now with restaurants and stores .. they showed more "art films" when it first opened .. and then went more main stream .. I remember seeing Hannah K, St Elmos Fire,
Angel Heart there in the 80's
Fiona Williams / August 12, 2013 at 03:49 pm
Fascinating. I'm maybe a little closer to finding out just what theater may have previously occupied that junk store I remember on Queen Street in the late 1970s. It was definitely early silent, and most likely pre First World War.

I've been in a number of the later ones listed, most notably the Fox and the Revue when they were part of the Festival chain.
Mike / August 12, 2013 at 04:46 pm
Thanks James and A! Very interesting! I had no idea that before Metro, the space use to be a little mall.

I now really hope to somehow find pictures of what it looked like back then.
Greg Hannah / August 12, 2013 at 05:17 pm
The Madison and the Midtown (today, it's Bloor Hotdocs cinema) is the same cinema. In the 1930's or early 1940's the fire department and Theatre's Branch had concerns about exits in the event of an emergency so it was closed and a major remodeling took place. The front exterior of the cinema was also "modernized" at the same time. So they are both the same cinema, with some alterations. It was also called the Capri in the 1960's and became a skin flick house in the early 1970's for a decade, and it was called the Eden cinema until Famous Players renamed it and started running first-run flicks again. It re-opened as the Bloor cinema about 1980 with the re-release of a censored "PG" version of "Saturday Night Fever".
Also, the Tivoli was on Richmond St. (south side) at Victoria Street, not Yonge Street.
ginnee / August 12, 2013 at 05:53 pm
Another great resource is the book "The Nabes" by John Sebert. He catalogued the neighbourhood cinemas throughout Toronto.
Rob / August 12, 2013 at 06:38 pm
Amazing shots. It would be great to have seen classic photos of the Humber 'Odeon' and Famous Players at Runnymede and Bloor
Rio / August 12, 2013 at 06:56 pm
Great stuff! My grandfather and great-grandfather owned a bunch of theatres in Toronto from the 20s to the early 90s, including the Broadway and the Rio...both pictured above. When the Rio closed in 1991, we acquired all the theatre's movie posters. We post a picture a day from our collection here:
Randy / August 12, 2013 at 08:23 pm
Where's the Beaver in the Junction ? Where's the State on Bloor St W ??
Adam Sobolak / August 12, 2013 at 08:54 pm
The Broadway photo isn't 1972; more like c1964/65 (around the time Nathan Phillips Square was being finished, and before the blockfront was torn down in preparation for the present-day Sheraton Centre)
W. K. Lis / August 12, 2013 at 09:04 pm
People could walk to a cinema. Took about ten minutes to get to the Parkdale near Queen & Roncesvalles.

These days you have to drive or take public transit. Have to waste 30 to 40 minutes. The only benefit these days is that you can now check availability and get tickets online.
Me / August 12, 2013 at 09:04 pm
Ah yes, The Rio. What an absolute shithole. Still, it had it's appeal on many a cold night with it's all nighters.
outofit / August 13, 2013 at 05:36 am
Another well done look at our past - thanks. I grew up near Kingston Road and Midland and in the 40s there were 3 "shows" I went to regularly on Saturdays. I would take Shoniker's old Danforth bus to the Luttrell loop (where the College streetcars started)and go to the Avalon theatre on the south side of Danforth at the loop. Other Saturdays it would be the TTC bus to the Birchmount loop take the Kingston Road street car to Victoria Park and go to either the Manor a bit west of Vic Park on the north side of Kingston Road and a bit further west the Scarborough theatre. Great memories of the serials.
Michael Crichton / August 13, 2013 at 06:36 am
I wonder where all those fabulous neon signs went...
Nick / August 13, 2013 at 09:48 am
RIP WESTWOOD..... Gotta make room for those Condos. Eff Heritage.

Kingsway could use better MGMT.. Can see it going under in the next Year or so ( really hope it doesn't though)
chris / August 13, 2013 at 01:12 pm
Thanks for that picture of The Midtown, which I've never seen before. Now I understand why there's a notch in the middle of the marquee canopy. I still don't understand why there used to be six lightboxes on the front. When it was the Bloor, only five were needed to spell the theater name - the sixth was just blank. A picture of the Eden might clear up that mystery.
John Dimon / August 14, 2013 at 10:06 pm
Awesome images of our past golden years. Wish I had taken pictures of the Bluebell (later the Gay) at Dundas and Parliament Streets, or the Carlton Theatre and Eclipse on Parliament Street. Anybody remember these legendary 50's necking places?
renee Crawford / August 15, 2013 at 01:02 am
my dad says he used to go every weekend as a little boy to a cinema on lansdowne just north of bloor on the east side near the subway. does anybody have any info on this or a photo? i'd love to show him.
Godfrey Mallion / August 15, 2013 at 05:25 am
The Lansdowne Theatre was located on Lansdowne just north of Bloor. It operated from 1936 until 1958. See www.torontomovietheatres/rivest for info.
Crycket / November 14, 2014 at 01:22 pm
The Pantages theatre, which became a movie house and back into a live theatre...and has swapped names many times over (is currently the Ed Mirvish Theatre)
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