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: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/
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