Canada’s Atmospheric Theatres – The Runnymede
In Toronto, one could consider the Winter Garden Theatre, covered in leafy greens and vines, to be a proto-Atmospheric, but the first true Atmospheric in Canada was Toronto’s Runnymede Theatre, located at 2225 Bloor St. West. It was designed by prominent Toronto architect Alfred Chapman, renown for his work on the Royal Ontario Museum and Palais Royale.
Dubbed “Canada’s Theatre Beautiful”, the 1400-seat Famous Players house opened on June 2, 1927 to a feature double-bill preceded by a live stage act. The place was packed, as a lineup of eager patrons curled around the corner of Bloor St. onto Beresford Ave, as mounted policemen patrolled the streets to keep order. The lineup itself was cut short along the intersection to let motorists drive through to the British American Gasoline station that once figured at the corner where the Pizza Pizza now stands.
Along with most of North America, Toronto was enjoying a time of great economic prosperity, and even the working-class residents of Bloor West had a little more to spare at the time. A good bricklayer was paid about $1 per hour, and a waitress might bring in about $30 a month. In 1925, room and board was averaging about $6 a week, and for the wealthy, a nine-room house in Rosedale was on the market for $10 000. The fact that every neighbourhood had at least one movie theatre did not deter anyone from other forms of entertainment; the night before the Runnymede’s grand opening, the “Harold Rich-Morris Versatile Canadians Orchestra” played the Palais Royale. If you couldn’t make it, don’t fret! CFCA was there to broadcast the whole show, which included such hits as “If You Want To Do Something Big, Go Wash An Elephant,” and “50 000 Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.”
Public drunkenness was an issue that year. The re-elected government of Premier Howard Ferguson had repealed prohibition, enacted since 1916 and replaced it with the LCBO, meant as a compromise between complete temperance and the deregulated sale of liquor. No longer needing to hide in a speakeasy had some thinking they could drink their gut-rot in broad daylight.
The Runnymede was renovated in the late 1930s, now boasting a total of 1500 seats. Other theatres in the area, like the Mavety (near Dundas St. W), had existed since 1919, and others, like the Lyndhurst, at 2290 Bloor St. West, was already around when the Runnymede opened.
The closing of the Runnymede wasn’t an isolated incident that year. Toronto had recently lost The Hollywood at Yonge & St-Clair, the Westwood at Bloor and Kipling and the Capitol at Yonge and Eglinton. But not all was lost for the Runnymede, however, as Chapters restored the interior to its 1920s splendour. It now resembles a technicolor dream, and rows upon rows of books are dwarfed by the walls of the atmospheric garden that once delighted movie patrons.
I took these photos during a recent trip to the former Runnymede Theatre, located at 2225 Bloor St. W in Toronto. While I’d much rather be sitting in one of the seats, munching on popcorn while a movie is playing, this is a close second, as many old theatres tend to be demolished or become private rental venues like the Eglinton or the Capitol.