UrbanToronto has partnered with Heritage Toronto to capture a moment in Toronto's past. On a weekly basis, we highlight historic photos of the city's people, places and events, and tell the stories behind them.
The Allens' majestic Beach Theatre opened on December 15, 1919, months after the premiere of their other east-end showplace, the Danforth. The Allens theatre chain extended nationwide, but in Toronto, they also owned the Allen, which later become the Tivoli, the College, St-Clair, Parkdale and the original Bloor Theatre, which now houses Lee's Palace.
Faced with growing debts, the Allens declared bankruptcy in 1923 and Famous Players Canada Corporation picked up the majority of their assets, including the Beach, which was located at 1971 Queen St. East.
Unlike today, where a megaplex or chain-run movie house only shows film, it wasn't all that uncommon in the '20s and '30s for a celebrity or a variety act to take the stage before the projector would flicker. Sometimes the celebrities weren't even human.
On a snowy February 9, 1928, the Beach theatre was filled to capacity with children who turned out to see Fellow, coined by the Toronto Daily Star the following day as “the intellectual star of dogdom.” Sure, Rin Tin Tin, Balto, Lassie and other famous dogs could rescue a child stuck in a well, but Fellow was the real deal, able to understand words spoken by his master, a Mr. Herbert of Detroit.
Earlier in the day, before entertaining thousands of kids during two performances at the Beach, the detective dog demonstrated his sleuthing abilities to the Journal Club at the University of Toronto. “Poise should be his middle name,” mentioned the Daily Star.
Indeed, Famous Players loved bringing out the guests – a few years later, Our Gang's Farina would visit the chain's flagship theatre, the Imperial. The Beach closed in 1969. The structure still stands, although redesigned as a mall, and probably doesn't show off super smart dogs anymore.
Many thanks to both Gary Switzer of MOD Developments and Eric Veillette for putting together the photos and research.