Toronto’s lost treasures—the Vaughan Theatre on St. Clair Ave.


The Vaughan Theatre on St. Clair Avenue, near Vaughan Road. The picture was taken in 1950 when the film “Francis the Talking Mule” with Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie and Donald O’Connor was playing. The automobile in the foreground is a 1949-torpedo-back Chevrolet. The photo is from the collection of John Chuckman.

The Vaughan Theatre disappeared from the Toronto scene many decades ago, but it remains vivid in my memory as it was one of the first theatres that my parents allowed me to attend that was not within walking distance of our house. I especially recall that on hot summer days, when the streets of Toronto sizzled with heat, my friends and I boarded a Vaughan Bus at Oakwood Avenue and Vaughan Road to travel to the theatre. Because the Vaughan Theatre was only three years old in 1950, the air-conditioning system was new. It was “goose-bump” cold. I also remember seeing the film “Francis the Talking Mule” at the Vaughan. As we were pre-teens at that time, my friends and I thought it immensely funny. I remember the line in the movie when Francis the Mule said that he received his information from the FBI—”Feed Bag Information.” 

The doors of the Vaughan Theatre facing St. Clair Avenue were large sheets of glass, with no metal frames around them. We considered this to be ultra-modern. The appeal of the theatre continued in the lobby area, where a sleek candy bar of metal and glass wrapped round the north side of the lobby. On either side of the candy bar were sloped ramps that led up to the auditorium. The seats were extra plush and the stage curtains were rich in appearance and velvety. I believe that they were royal red. When they majestically parted to allow the featured films to begin, it was as if a window on the world had opened. I remember viewing the film, “Son of Ali Baba,” starring a very young Tony Cutis and the beautiful Piper Laurie at the Vaughan in  1952. In the movie, when the magic carpet flew over the city of Bagdad, I felt as if I were floating away to realms beyond my wildest dreams. The magic of the movies never departed from my heart.

The Vaughan was built in 1947, two years after the Second World War. During the war years, because the news from the battlefront in Europe had been depressing, with casualties reported daily, the movies allowed an avenue of escape for Torontonians. Following the war, movies remained highly popular and new theatres continued to be opened throughout the city. The Vaughan was one of these, and for “B and F” Theatres, it was considered one of their finest venues. It seated 1000 move-goers, which was more than the companies’ other two large theatres—the Donlands in East York and the Century on the Danforth. Because theatres competed for audiences, they offered special promotions to attract people on Monday and Tuesday evenings, when audiences were more sparse. Free chinaware and autographed pictures of movie stars were among the items offered.

The architectural firm that designed the Vaughan was  Kaplan and Sprachman. Harold Solomon Kaplan (1895-1973) and Mandel Sprachman created the designs for many of the city’s finest theatres—the Casino, Eglinton, Downtown, Bellevue, Colony, and the Town Cinema. Those who remember Toronto’s golden age of movie houses, will recognize these names.

The Earlscourt History Club, on a post published in November of 2009, stated that there is a story about a man who hanged himself in the Vaughan Theatre, on its opening night. Lore has it that the building became haunted. As a pre-teen, I never heard this rumour, but if I had, it would have added to the appeal of this grand theatre. Unfortunately, the only goose-bumps I experienced in the theatre were from the air-conditioning, rather than from a ghost. 

The Vaughan Theatre was demolished in the 1980s, and several commercial buildings now occupy the site.


The 1950s photo looks east along St. Clair Avenue towards Vaughan Road. The Vaughan Theatre is on the north side of the street. In the photo, on the right-hand side, there is a partial view of the east corner of a F. W. Woolworth Store. The chain of department stores became Woolco in 1962. Photo is from the collection of John Chuckman.

Vaughan Mandel S.

            Interior of the Vaughan (Photo, City of Toronto Archives)

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                Interior of the Vaughan (City of Toronto Archives)

                         OA 2194

The magnificent marquee of the Vaughan in 1948 (Photo City of Toronto Archives)

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This photo is also about 1948, as the film “Framed” with Glenn Ford was released in 1947. Photo from City of Toronto Archives

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous blogs about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new

Toronto’s first movie screening and its first movie theatre

The ultra-modern Scotiabank Theatre at Richmond and John Streets

Cineplex Theatre at Yonge and Dundas Streets

The Ed Mirvish Theatre (the Pantages, Imperial and Cannon)

The Downtown Theatre (now demolished) at Yonge and Dundas

The Orpheum Theatre on Queen St., west of Bathurst

The Bellevue Theatre on College Street that became the Lux Burlesque Theatre

Old movie houses of Toronto

The Odeon Carlton theatre on Carlton St., east of Yonge St.


The Victory burlesque and movie theatre on Spadina at Dundas:

The Shea’s Hippodrome Theatre on Bay St. near Queen

Attending a matinee in the old movie houses of Toronto during the “golden age of cinema”

The University Theatre on Bloor St., west of Bay Street.

Archival photos of the Imperial and Downtown Theatres on Yonge Street

The Elgin/Winter/Garden Theatres on Yonge Street

The now vanished Avon Theatre at 1092 Queen Street West

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2 thoughts on “Toronto’s lost treasures—the Vaughan Theatre on St. Clair Ave.

  1. Hi. For a short while, The Vaughn was called The Ritz and it was part of Toronto’s “Festival” chain of repertory theatres.
    I remember it because that’s where I watched “Bladerunner” for the very first time (1984).
    At the top of The Ritz marquee there was a big star which could be seen all the way from Oakwood at St.Clair West.
    According to the movie listings in the NOW magazine archives, by 1985 Festival stopped using The Ritz for showing movies.
    It was a wonderful theatre with a cafe down below, behind the candy+popcorn counter.

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