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. Finally, the theatre was closed and the building was converted to other commercial purposes, including several shops and a bank. However, it has been said that the theatre auditorium 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)
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Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.
To place an order for this book: