Viewing the movie “White Xmas” in Toronto in 1954

10 Dec

Xmas light, Yonge St. 1959

This photograph of the Christmas lights on Yonge Street was taken in 1958, with a Kodak Pony 35mm camera. It looks north on Yonge from Dundas Street, toward College Street. The strings of lights across the street helped dispel the cold of a dark December night. The purpose of my trip downtown was to attend one of the theatres on Yonge Street, which every Christmas featured special movies to attract crowds during the holiday season. I carried my camera with me as it was my latest toy, purchased the year before.


This photo was taken in December 2012.  A digital camera and more attractive strings of lights over the street create a much improved image of Christmas in Toronto. Today, the lights on Yonge Street remain an essential part of the city’s yuletide celebration. There are other aspects of the holiday season that are a tradition—the Santa Claus Parade, the decorations in the Eaton Centre, the lights of the local plaza, and the Christmas windows on Queen Street in the Bay department store. Others cherish the special Christmas music, including the Messiah at the Roy Thomson Hall or the choral concert  of the St. Michael’s Boys’ Choir at Massey Hall.  The gigantic Christmas tree at Nathan Phillip’s Square at City Hall is another favourite sight of the season.

As a teenager in the 1950s, one of the most anticipated events of the Christmas season was checking the theatre ads in the newspapers to discover what special movies were being offered by the downtown theatres. The Imperial, Loew’s Downtown, Lowe’s Uptown, the Downtown, Shea’s Hippodrome and the University were our theatres of choice. These were the “movie palaces” that created the feeling that you were attending a grand event from the minutes you stepped inside the doors. Sadly, all these theatres have either been demolished or are now venues for live theatre only.

Looking back over the years, the movie “White Christmas “ stands out the most in my mind of all those I saw during the Christmas holidays of my youth. Perhaps it is because of the song associated with the film, or the fact that it remains today as a classic film of the season.

The song “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin. Its first public performance was on Christmas Day in 1941, sung by Bing Crosby on his NBC radio show—Kraft Music Hall. The song captured the sentimentality and deep feelings of nostalgia during the war years, as people yearned for peace and the return of their loved ones from the front lines overseas. The song subsequently was included in the film, “Holiday Inn,” released in 1942. The song won the Academy Award in 1943 as best original song. I saw this film in the 1940s at our neighbourhood theatre, the Grant Theatre, at Oakwood Avenue and Vaughan Road, as I was too young to travel downtown.

However, when the film “White Christmas” was released in 1954, my friends and I felt very grown-up as we were of an age to journey downtown. We travelled to the Imperial Theatre on the new Yonge subway, which had opened the previous spring. The film, starring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Danny Kaye had already been playing for several weeks before we saw it, as we attended a screening of it during our Christmas holidays. It was the first movie presented in Vista Vision, the very latest wide-screen process. It was an occasion that I would always remember. Today, the Cineplex chain of theatres and TIFF offers special screenings of this film as it considered one of the holiday classics.

The attraction for special films during the Christmas season has never died away in Toronto. Although people now search for the titles of the movies on computers and other electronic device, many still consider a visit to the theatre at least once over the holiday season, an essential part of Christmas. Each year, there are films that open in December explicitly to capture the holiday crowds. As well, there are usually a few movies that open on Christmas Day.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

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

To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its heritage buildings:

To view posts about Christmas in Toronto throughout the years.

Christmas at the historic St. Lawrence Market in 1921 and in 2012

The Christmas windows at the Bay Store on Queen Street, 2012

The amazing gingerbread houses on the underground Pathway in Toronto

The gigantic metallic reindeer in the Eaton Centre

Christmas cards mailed in Toronto during the years 1924-1926

The Christmas buffet lunch at the Arcadian Court at the Simpson’s Queen Street Store in Toronto (the Bay)

Christmas at Mackenzie House on Bond Street.

Christmas at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market

The Christmas Market at the Distillery District

Memories of the Christmas windows of the Simpson’s store on Queen Street

Christmas at the Kensington Market

Memories of Toyland on the fifth floor of the old Eaton’s Store at Queen and Yonge Street

The Christmas lights on Yonge Street in the 1950s

The history of Toronto’s Santa Claus Parade

The 1940s Christmas radio broadcasts featuring Santa Claus

Christmas at Toronto’s historic St. Andrew’s Market

Christmas trees and seasonal decorations in Toronto

Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas in old Newfoundland


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

The Town Cinema, on Bloor Street East, near Yonge Street

The Alhambra Theatre on Bloor Street, west of Bathurst Street

The Palace Theatre on the Danforth near Pape Avenue

The Odeon Danforth Theatre on the Danforth, near Pape Avenue

The Bay Theatre at Queen and Bay streets. It was formerly the Colonial and the ACE.

The Paramount Theatre on St. Clair West, between Oakwood and Dufferin streets.

The Uptown 5 Multiplex Theatre on Yonge south of Bloor

The Odeon Carlton Theatre

The infamous Casino Burlesque Theatre on Queen Street 

The Garden Theatre at 290 College Street.

The Grant Theatre on Oakwood Avenue near Vaughan Road

The Odeon Hyland Theatre at Yonge and St. Clair

Loew’s Uptown Theatre (the Uptown)

The Elgin Theatre (Loew’s Downtown)

The Hollywood Theatre on the east side of Yonge Street, north of St. Clair Avenue.

The St. Clair Major Theatre on St. Clair Avenue, east of Old Weston Road.

The St. Clair Theatre, west of Dufferin Street

The Odeon Humber theatre at Bloor and Jane Streets (now Humber Cinemas)

The Oakwood Theatre on Oakwood Avenue, near St. Clair Avenue West

The Biltmore Theatre on Yonge, north of Dundas St.

The Coronet Theatre on Yonge St. at Gerrard

The Nortown Theatre on Eglinton, west of Bathurst St.

The Radio City Theatre on Bathurst, south of St. Clair.

The Mount Dennis Theatre on Weston Rd, north of Eglinton

The Royal George Theatre on St. Clair W., west of Dufferin Street.

The Colony Theatre at Vaughan Rd. and Eglinton Ave. West

The Radio City Theatre on Bathurst Street, a short distance south of St. Clair

The Runnymede Theatre in the Bloor West Village (now a Chapters/Indigo Book Store)

The Eglinton Theatre

The magnificent Odeon Carlton at Yonge and Carlton Streets

The Revue Theatre at 400 Roncesvalles Avenue

The Cineplex Odeon Varsity Theatre at Bloor and Bay

The “Bloor Hot Docs Cinema” on Bloor Street West

The Vaughan Theatre on St. Clair Avenue

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 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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Posted by on December 10, 2013 in Toronto


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