regent theatre

Residents pushing back against renovation of nearly 100-year-old Toronto landmark

A 1920s-era theatre in Toronto's Davisville Village is slated for a major refresh in the hands of some well-known developers and architects, but locals in the area are taking issue with how the project will change the space not only physically, but also in regards to its programming.

The Regent Theatre, which originally debuted as The Belsize in 1927, has hosted all sorts of live performances and screenings at 551 Mount Pleasant Road over the course of its lengthy tenure, undergoing a number of renovations along the way.

When the historic building was put up for sale for $9 million in 2017, Toronto-St. Paul's Councillor Josh Matlow and others championed for the venue to be revamped rather than lost forever to a condo or other new build — and were successful in doing so.

But, even though the plans for the property from NORR Architects, Harriri Pontarini Architects and EllisDon seems to aim to restore the theatre and maintain (and expand) its legacy, people still have their qualms with them.

A website for a "Mt. Pleasant Village Revival Residents Association" and a fundraising page have cropped up in opposition of the forthcoming construction, asking others to help "save the Regent Theatre and our neighbourhood."

"You may have heard about the proposal to restore the Regent Theatre. This is not a restoration! This is a demolition followed by new construction that will massively expand the size of the theatre, re-inventing it as a 'place of amusement,'" reads the appeal to halt the project in its current form.

"We fundamentally believe the Regent has no right to build what it is proposing."

Creators go on to argue that a proposed 600-person theatre seating area "that can be converted into a large hall," a new 1,860-square-foot community space, and a commercial kitchen that would allow the theatre to double as a private events space are negative, not positive additions, especially for people living on the residential street behind the lot.

The association is also bemoaning the future iteration of the Regent's potential success, strangely enough, which could lead it to become "a very busy place, attracting users 12 hours a day until late in the evening."

"This development will create significant traffic and parking pressures on a quiet residential neighbourhood that does not have the infrastructure to support it. What will you do when you come home and all the parking spaces on your street and in the area are occupied?" the group asks.

Terra Bruce Productions, the Newfoundland-based company that purchased the theatre, has not posted many updates about its endeavour but has made it clear that it intends for the stage to host live acts again.

In 2022, Councillor Matlow wrote that the firm "shares our vision of bringing live theatre back to midtown" and that "important heritage elements will find a home in the new theatre."

Even at the time, some wondered about the extent to which heritage protections could prevent any extensive demo of the building, with Terra Bruce hoping to maintain the structure's facade but gut the other three walls, the roof, the basement and other interior elements.

Almost two years on, work is yet to commence, with stakeholders still awaiting the necessary approvals from the City. At least one minor variance application for the site has been refused during the process for not maintaining the general intent and purpose of the zoning bylaw and official plan, among other reasons.

Lead photo by

NORR/Hariri Pontarini via City of Toronto

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