Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada.
189 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
1911 to 1913
1914 to 1928
1913 to 2004
Event, Person, Organization:
Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres
Research Report Number:
Existing plaque: Mounted inside on wall of second floor lobby 189 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario
Designed by New York architect Thomas Lamb for the Loew circuit, this double-decker complex was unique in Canada, and included many features later found in movie palaces. The lower theatre, with "Renaissance" decor, opened in late 1913. It shared its vaudeville and movie shows with the smaller Winter Garden above, which opened in early 1914 and was extraordinarily decorated with real beech leaves and garden murals. The Winter Garden was closed in 1928, and remained essentially untouched for over half a century.
Description of Historic Place
The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres National Historic Site of Canada is a rare stacked theatre building in downtown Toronto. Built in the early twentieth century for vaudeville performances, its relatively sober exterior with its two-storey, masonry façade belies the sumptuous interiors with the elegant Elgin Theatre at ground level and the magical Winter Garden Theatre above. Official recognition refers to the building on its legal property at the time of designation.
The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres were designated a national historic site of Canada in 1982 because: it is, apparently, the last untouched example in Canada of the work of one of the world’s pre-eminent “Movie Palace” architects; this double-decker complex was unique in Canada and included many features later found in movie palaces.
The heritage value of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres National Historic Site of Canada lies in its double-decker form, its illustration of early movie palace architecture and its preservation of the designs of New York “movie-palace” architect Thomas Lamb, who designed the structure for the Loew Theatre circuit. The ground floor Elgin Theatre opened in late 1913 with a Renaissance Revival decor, while the smaller upper-storey Winter Garden Theatre opened in early 1914. Both offered vaudeville and movie entertainment. The Winter Garden, with its naturalistic “atmospheric” decor, closed in 1928 and remained virtually untouched for over half a century. The Elgin remained open, being frequently altered to adapt to changing times. Both theatres were restored by the Ontario Heritage Foundation in the 1980s.
Sources Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1985, June 1988.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage value of this site include: its location on Yonge Street in the heart of downtown Toronto; its siting, flush to the sidewalk, aligned with other commercial buildings on the street; its classically inspired, masonry and terracotta façade with an ornate marquee; its steel frame construction technology, allowing for large, uninterrupted interior volumes and balconies supported by steel trusses; the functional organization with stacked theatres, an exterior box office, and a large columned lobby with corridor to auditorium; the surviving evidence of the original decor, furnishings and finishes, particularly the atmospheric decor of the Winter Garden Theatre with its trailing vines, beech leaf components, garden furnishings and garden murals, and the Renaissance Revival decor of the Elgin Theatre with its classical motifs, gilding and scagliola; elements of the design of the Elgin Theatre typical of Lamb movie palaces, such as the use of cantilevered balcony trusses in the auditorium, the virtual elimination of obstructing columns, and evidence of the close attention paid to details associated with fire prevention, manifest in exits, lights, metal stairs and fireproof finishes.