The above photo of the Donlands Theatre, from the Ontario Archives (AO 1981), was taken in 1949. This suburban theatre was located at 397 Donlands Avenue, near Plains Road. Its architect was Herbert (Henry) Duerr who designed the Hollywood Theatre on Yonge Street, north of St. Clair Avenue West, and the Willow Theatre on north Yonge Street. He also designed the Village Apartments at 404 Spadina Avenue in the Forest Hill Village. He chose a modern style for the Donlands, with sleek lines and a wide entrance containing large glass doors. The auditorium possessed over 800 seats, including the loges, but no balcony. The B&F chain owned and operated the theatre, and its first manager was Martin Bloom. 

Excavations commenced on April 15, 1947, but the opening of the theatre was delayed due to a plasterers’ strike. It finally opened on November 20, 1948 and was immediately popular with the local residents. Torontonians were attending the movies in greater numbers, as the Second World War had ended three years before, the economy was booming, and people had more money to spend. TV had not yet entered the living rooms of the nation, and the local movie house was the centre of entertainment for communities across Toronto.  

Saturday afternoon matiness at the Donlands commenced at 1:30 p.m., and if a restricted movie were on the marquee, a substitute was shown at the matinees. The theatre was careful to always ensure that a matron was on duty, especially during children’s matinees. Matrons were women who patrolled the aisles to ensure that the kids behaved, and during adult screenings, that there was no smoking in inappropriate areas or any overly-romantic behaviour in the back rows of the theatre. The theatre was renovated in the years ahead by Kaplan and Sprachman, Canada’s most famous theatre architects. A confection bar was added, but it sold no popcorn. For a period in the 1970s, the theatre showed East Indian films.

According to Michael Sale, the Donlands Theatre was where Canada’s famous comedian John Candy fell in love with the movies. Candy was born in East York, and the Donlands was one of the theatres that was near his home.

I was unable to discover when the Donlands closed, but a reader recently informed me that a reliable source stated that the theatre’s screen went dark in 1969. However, after it ceased to operate as a theatre, it was rented as studio space. I believe the building still exists and is used for other commercial enterprises.

Donlands AO 1985

The auditorium of the Donlands Theatre, Photo from Ontario Archives, AO 1985


     Lobby of the Donlands, Photo from City of Toronto Archives, 1268-71 


The Donlands Theatre after it ceased screening films. The marquee is covered over by an advertisement and several of the glass doors, as well as the box office, have been removed. Glass blocks cover much of the entrance. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1268, File 71.

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Books by the Blog’s Author

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:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)


Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It explores 81 theatres and 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.

For a link to the article published by |Toronto Life Magazine: torontolife.com/…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

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Another publication, “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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2 thoughts on “Toronto’s old movie theatre—the Donlands

  1. i remember the opening night of the theatre i was a delivery boy for Ireland’s drug store & i saw the formal opening of the theater, the women in fancy dress & the men in formal suits.I have never forgotten that night

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