Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres

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Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre
Elgin and Wintergarden.JPG
The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres
Address 189 Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario
Owner Ontario Heritage Trust
Type Edwardian stacked theatres
Opened 1913
Rebuilt 1987–1989 restoration
Years active 1913–present
Architect Thomas W. Lamb
Designated 1982
The Elgin Theatre's opulent interior with plaster cherubs, gold filigree and ornate opera boxes.
The Winter Garden Theatre has walls hand-painted in watercolours. The ceiling is decorated with lanterns and dried beech leaves.[1]

The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres are a pair of stacked theatres located at 189 Yonge Street in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Winter Garden Theatre is seven storeys above the Elgin Theatre.[2] They are the last surviving Edwardian stacked theatres in the world.

Early history[edit]

The pair of theatres were originally built as the flagship of Marcus Loew's theatre chain in 1913. The building was designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb, who also designed the Ed Mirvish Theatre nearby.[3]

Both theatres were built to show vaudeville acts and the short silent movies of the time. Each theatre was intended to compete in a different market.

The gold-and-marble, domed, 'hard-top' lower theatre (originally called Loew's Yonge Street Theatre) was home to continuous vaudeville and movies. The upper-level Winter Garden is an 'atmospheric' country garden under the stars. The upper theatre was built for the 'Big Time' vaudeville market and had reserved seats at premium prices, catering to the upper middle class.[4] As well as competing in a different market, the upper theatre could be used for experimentation with acts, without the risk of closing the lower theatre.

By 1928, feature-length silent films were popular, but sound films were just coming into their own. In 1928, the lower theatre was converted to show sound films and the upper theatre was closed. The Winter Garden remained shuttered for about sixty years. Left inside it was a large collection of vaudeville flats and scenery, now the world's largest surviving collection. In 1969, Loews sold the Elgin to Famous Players. By the 1970s, the Elgin was showing mainly B movies and soft-core pornography.

Later history[edit]

In 1981, the Ontario Heritage Foundation bought the structure from Famous Players. From March 1985 through March 1987 the musical Cats was very successfully presented in the essentially unrestored Elgin, showing the viability of the theatre. The building was closed in 1987 to be fully restored, and then reopened in 1989.

In 1991, Dr. David Griesinger and Steve Barbar of Lexicon, Inc., at the request of acousticians Neil Muncy and Robert Tanner, installed the first production LARES system in the Elgin Theatre. LARES is an electroacoustic enhancement system that augments architectural acoustics. This initial LARES system used two microphones placed at the balcony's front edge to pick up sound from the stage. The microphone signals were digitized and processed in two mainframe computers, and the resulting signals were sent to 56 loudspeakers in the main ceiling and 60 under the balcony, for the purpose of providing additional intelligibility and ambience.[5][6]

The Elgin Theatre was home to The Who's Tommy musical in the mid-1990s. It also housed the world premiere of the Napoleon musical in 1994. That musical transferred to London's West End in 2000. Since 1996, Ross Petty Productions has staged pantomimes at the Elgin Theatre each Christmas season.[7]

From February 10 to 14, 2004, Conan O'Brien taped 4 episodes of NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien from the Elgin Theatre.[8] The visit came about via the Toronto City Council's CDN$1 million (~US$750,000 at the time) payment to NBC in order to have the American late night television program come to Toronto for a week worth of shows, part of the overall council-funded PR effort of promoting Toronto as a tourist destination for Americans in the wake of the widely publicized summer 2003 Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic that had an adverse impact on the city's tourism industry.[9]

The Elgin Theatre also serves as one of the hosts to the annual Toronto International Film Festival.

The location is the setting for the music video for the song "Changes" by Montreal band Stars, and the Winter Garden is the setting for part of the 1994 film Camilla.

The cover photos of Rush's 1981 live album Exit...Stage Left were shot at the Winter Garden and the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium.

The Elgin Theatre played host to the taping of Bryan Adams in Concert for the American broadcast of Great Performances on PBS. The show was filmed in July 2014 and first aired on March 2, 2015.[10]

Other Thomas Lamb theatres in Canada[edit]


  1. ^ De Freitas, Kate. "A Winter Wonderland". Attractions Ontario Staff Blogs. Attractions Ontario. Retrieved 28 May 2010. ... hand painted walls and ceiling canopy of real beech leaves & lanterns. 
  2. ^ Pound, Richard W. (2005). 'Fitzhenry and Whiteside Book of Canadian Facts and Dates'. Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 
  3. ^ "Ontario Heritage Trust - The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre - About us". heritagetrust.on.ca. 2011. Retrieved 23 November 2011. 
  4. ^ Russell, Hillary (1989). 'Double Take: The Story of The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres'. Dundurn Press Limited. 
  5. ^ AES 90th Convention. February 19-22, 1991. David Griesinger, Lexicon. Improving Room Acoustics Through Time-Variant Synthetic Reverberation
  6. ^ E-coustic Systems. Elgin Theatre
  7. ^ Flowers, Ellen and Gordon Pim. "The evolution of the panto", Heritage Matters, Ontario Heritage Trust, Volume 11, Issue 3, September 2013, p. 6
  8. ^ Dan Zinman. "Late Night with Conan O'Brien in Toronto". Archived from the original on July 8, 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Vlessing, Etan (17 February 2004). "Why is Conan O'Brien so high on Toronto?". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 22 January 2017. 
  10. ^ "Bryan Adams in Concert: Preview". pbs.org. PBS / WNET. Retrieved 22 March 2015. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°39′11″N 79°22′45″W / 43.65306°N 79.37917°W / 43.65306; -79.37917