UrbanToronto has partnered with Heritage Toronto to capture a moment in Toronto's past. On a weekly basis, we will both be highlighting a historic photo of the city's people, places and events, and will be telling the stories behind them. 

Many thanks to both Gary Switzer of MOD Developements and Maya Bilbao for putting together the photos and research. This week's photo:


Shea's Victoria Theatre, also known at times as Shea's Vaudeville Theatre, was built during the golden age of vaudeville in Toronto. Vaudeville was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the United States and Canada from the late 19th century to the 1930s. Theatres of all sizes and designs were built to accommodate this form of variety entertainment that showcased several acts per show such as jugglers, comedians, magicians, acrobats, actors, trained animals, and singers. Shea's Victoria was built on the southeast corner of Richmond and Victoria streets not far from other popular theatres including Loew's Yonge Street and the Pantages. It was one of three theatres built in Toronto by brothers Jerry and Michael Shea. (The other two theatres were Shea's Yonge Street and Shea's Hippodrome). This illustrious duo born in Ontario eventually made their mark in Buffalo, New York and were wildly successful vaudeville theatre owners and builders. Shea's Victoria was designed by Rochester New York architectural firm, L.H Lempert and Son featuring a fairly simple exterior but opulent interior. In fact, when the theatre opened in 1910, Shea's Victoria was touted “Toronto's handsomest playhouse” with about 2000 seats, making it, for a time, one of the largest vaudeville theatres in North America. The grand opera house style auditorium was decorated in gold with ornate box seats, oak wainscotting, and a mural above the proscenium arch that read “The Triumph of Youth.“ Many great acts passed through Shea's Victoria including the O'Connor Sisters. These talented six sisters from Etobicoke sang and danced their way into vaudeville stardom, playing in theatres across Canada and the United States. But there were hundreds of everyday acts that played here, ones that offer a glimpse into this now distant theatre genre. For instance, the February 8th, 1914 issue of the Toronto Star reviewed acts at Shea's including Fred Duprez, monologist and singing comedian; Miss Ruth Gurley's aerial eccentricities, and a drama “Wives of the Rich” presented by author-actor Claude Gillingwater with Miss Edith Lyle. Many years later, when the popularity of vaudeville diminished, Shea's Victoria was transformed into a movie theatre. It suffered the wrecking ball in the 1950's and is presently the site of a parking lot. Across Victoria Street where a hotel stands today was the location of the Tivoli Theatre. Originally built as Allen's Downtown Theatre, the Tivoli was a great theatre in its own right that gained notoriety for showing Warner Brothers “100 % All Talking Picture” called The Terror in December of 1928. Although Shea's and the Tivoli have vanished, what does remain from this 1924 photograph is the Confederation Life Building lining the north side of Richmond Street. This mammoth structure opened in the 1890's and was designed in the Romanesque Revival style sharing similar features with other buildings of its generation including Old City Hall and Queen's Park. Behind it, on the northwest corner of Richmond at Yonge is the Hudson's Bay Company that first opened as the Robert Simpson Company department store in 1896, and was the first “fireproofed store” in Canada. While it still stands today, what has vanished is the Temple Building, barely recognizeable in this photo except for its distinctive roof line. It was built in 1895 on the northwest corner of Richmond and Bay as the North American headquarters of the Independent Order of Foresters. It was one of Toronto’s early skyscrapers, rising to 11 storeys, credited with being a catalyst for the development of office buildings on Bay Street.


http://www.torontosun.com/life/columnists/mike_filey/2009/03/29/8923656-sun.html"]www.torontosun.com/life/columnists/mike_filey/2009/03/29/8923656-sun.html http://www.thebulletin.ca/cbulletin/content.jsp?ctid=1000011&cnid=1002448"]http://www.thebulletin.ca/cbulletin/content.jsp?ctid=1000011&cnid=1002448 Palaces of the Night. P. 32-37, passim http://www.world-theatres.com/Toronto_Theatres.htm#S"]http://www.world-theatres.com/Toronto_Theatres.htm#S http://www.dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/architects/view/1548"]http://www.dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/architects/view/1548 http://torontoist.com/2009/05/vintage_toronto_ads_talkies_at_the.php"]http://torontoist.com/2009/05/vintage_toronto_ads_talkies_at_the.php Toronto Star – Page of the Past – February 8th, 1914 Page 4.

Also for your consideration: Heritage Toronto is hosting a Mayoral debate in September and producing a report on heritage, and they would love to have the interested members of UrbanToronto comment. Please visit this link to have your say!