Lecture on Toronto Theatres at the Revue Cinema

Above image from January 1929 shows Yonge St. facing north from Queen St. On the bill at the Loews Yonge St. is a Buster Keaton film, probably Steamboat Bill. Source: Toronto Transit Commission.

Ten-cent admission, newsreels, adventure serials and slapstick. That’s what you would find if you could return to the early days of movie-going. As this site, dedicated to preserving the stories of our varied theatres, nears its first anniversary, I am partnering with Toronto’s Revue Cinema on a new lecture series chronicling the history of local movie theatres.

On August 22, the first lecture, “Toronto Movie Theatres: Palaces for the People,” will be presented by Ryerson professor Paul S. Moore. A sociologist and historian, Moore has written a definitive study of Toronto cinemas and their relation to mass audiences: Now Playing: Early Moviegoing and the Regulation of Fun. He’ll delve into the history of local theatre chains and the architects who designed the buildings. He will also discuss how neighbourhood moviehouses played a vital role in the city’s urban development.

Following the lecture will be a screening of the National Film Board’s seldom-seen documentary, Dreamland: A History of Early Canadian Movies 1895-1939.

Dreamland highlights the efforts of Canadian filmmakers prior to the creation of the National Film Board. It also features images of early Toronto cinemas, footage from the Great Toronto Fire of 1904, as well as interviews with theatre impresarios such as Nat Taylor, the founder of 20th Century Theatres and Cineplex Odeon.

Taylor played a major role in defining Toronto’s cinematic landscape, but he wasn’t the first to come along since John Griffin opened his first Yonge St. theatre in 1906. Writing in Canadian Picture Pioneers magazine in 1990, Taylor recalled an evening where he was asked to name all the theatres that once lined Queen St. West. Reflecting on 1918, the year he entered the movie business, he named them all with encyclopedic accuracy: “Starting at Yonge St.,” he said, “there was the Photodrome and the Colonial east of Bay, and west of Bay was the Globe, which subsequently became the Broadway.”

Taylor, who passed away in 2004, went on to name 20 cinemas from Yonge to Roncesvalles. The former Orpheum at Queen & Bathurst is now a furniture store; the former Parkdale, steps from Queen & Roncesvalles, an antique mall.

Regrettably, most of the city’s old cinemas have disappeared. This lecture – let’s just call it an afternoon at the movies – aims to pay them tribute, so what better place to marvel at the nostalgia at hand than at the Revue, the city’s oldest surviving cinema!

Lecture – Toronto Movie Theatres: Palaces For The People
Screening – Dreamland: A History of Early Canadian Movies
The Revue Cinema, 400 Roncesvalles Ave.
Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009 — 4:00pm
Admission is a suggested $5 donation

This event also values the support of Heritage Toronto, the City of Toronto Archives, Spacing and the Revue Film Society.


  • Norman

    Hi, I missed this lecture. Will there be another, or how can I get more info. I would like to start a book on the history of Toronto’s cinemas and any help would be apreciated. Thank you, Norman

  • Paul Truster

    Hi! actually the Buster Keaton film is probably Steamboat Bill, Jr., since Ernest Torrence (probably the misspelled “Ernst” on the marquee) appeared in that film with Buster.

  • Paul, you’re most likely correct. Thanks for clarifying that!

Leave a Comment