In the centre of today’s Chinatown on Spadina Avenue, is is hard to believe that there was once a risqué burlesque theatre that scandalized the city. One of Toronto’s mayor’s spoke out against one of the “ladies” on its stage and created so much publicity for her that he was declared the unofficial head of her fan club. The theatre was on the northeast corner of Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street West. Today, the yellow-brick building is an integral part of the street scene. Hundreds of people pass it daily, but few are cognizant of the structure. However, for those of us who are older, the building revives memories of a theatre that in earlier decades was famous and infamous. The street corner where it was located has a long history in the life of the city.
The first building on the northeast corner of Spadina and Dundas Street was the small frame church of the Methodist New Connection Congregation, built in 1871. The church property was later purchased by Dr. Henry H. Moorehead, who constructed an impressive residence and dwelt in it for over thirty-five years. The photo below, from the Toronto Archives, shows the home of Henry H. Moorehouse in about the year 1915.
Dr. Moore’s house was demolished and in 1921 a theatre was erected, designed by Benjamin Brown. It was named The Standard Theatre. In its day, it was one of the finest Yiddish theatres in North America. The theatre was financed by selling shares to the local Yiddish community, its stage offering melodramas, comedies, and tragedies. A New York touring Company performed the classics in the theatre, translating Shakespeare into Yiddish. In 1929, the police were called to control a riot that broke out at a meeting to commemorate the death of Lenin.
In 1935, the theatre was renamed the Strand and became primarily a movie house, though it continued to offer live theatre and lectures. To celebrate the end of the Second World War, the name of the theatre was changed to the Victory. It again offered live performances when its stage featured burlesque.
The theatre in 1934, when it was named the Stand. The British musical “Evergreen” is on the marquee.
In the 1960s, the Victory Theatre elicited many complaints from the citizens of “Toronto the Good,” and was under constant scrutiny by the morality squad. In 1962, two detectives reported that at a performance at the Victory, one of the girls, “… after removing all her costume, with the exception of a flesh-coloured G-string and pasties, [she] lay on the floor gyrating and raising her hips and simulating the act of sexual intercourse, while moaning as she was performing. At the conclusion of her act, she lowered her G-string, exposing the pubic hair and a portion of her private person.” Charges were laid and the theatre was fined $100. The manger was fined $50 or five days in jail. However, when the stripper appeared in court, the judge dismissed the charges against her.
In 1962, the theatre was cited for displaying signs on the street that showed semi-clad girls. The morality squad laid charges and the theatre agreed to have the girls shown in bathing suits or similar attire. During its infamous period as one of Toronto’s famous “strip-joints” it featured such famous stars as Knackers Knock, Ineda (I-need-a) Man, Cup Cakes Cassidy, and the Bazoom Girl. The Victory Theatre became a favourite of university students and artistic types who enjoyed watching the tassels twirl as busty gals gyrated and danced to provocative music.
During the 1970s, the area surrounding the theatre slowly changed and it became a focal point for the Asian Community. In 1975, Hang Hing bought the theatres, renovated it, and renamed it the Golden Harvest Theatre. The theatre was closed in 1994 and the building converted for other commercial purposes, including several shops and a bank. In 2017, a Rexall Drug Store opened on the first floor of the building. However, the theatre auditorium inside remains intact, awaiting a revival of this famous venue. Burlesque anyone?
The Victory Theatre in the 1940s, when Shopsy’s Delicatessen was on Spadina Avenue.
Auditorium of the Victory, Photo City of Toronto Archives.
View of the stage area from the balcony. City of Toronto Archives.
Lobby of the Victory, Ontario Archives, OA 2201-11
The Victory in the summer during the 1980s
The building where the Victory was located, after is ceased to contain a theatre. City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, It.177
The building at Spadina and Dundas in 2012, the site of the Victory Theatre
Decorative trim that survives today on the facade of the building
The site of the old Victory Theatre (2012)
A link to view interior photos of the Victory when it was the Golden Harvest Cinema. https://tayloronhistory.com/2015/06/29/torontos-sinful-victory-theatrenew-photos/
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“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. This richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.
“Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses. To place an order for this book, published by History Press:
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“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.
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“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:
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6 thoughts on “The sinful “Victory” burlesque theatre at Dundas and Spadina”
I’m surprised you didn’t mention its brief period as a rock venue around 1974. The New York Dolls, Rush, the Stooges, KISS, and Peter Frampton are among those known to have played there.
Thanks for the information. I was not aware of this period in the history of the theatre.
I worked for Borden’s Dairy in the cold storage loading trucks in 1961. What a difference now. I live in B.C. now and have for 40 years, It is nice to see some of the history. The dairy was located around the crescent to the right looking up from the south.
Metropolitan United Church is on Queen St.,not King St. as noted in your description.
I worked at the Victory back in the early 70’s and was also there when Lou Landers and Rose Bosen sold it to 3 guys who then brought in rock bands on the weekends, and we continued to dance there during the week. What memories…great times!