Toronto’s old movie theatre—the Donlands

01 Jan


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 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.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

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

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

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: .

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)


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One response to “Toronto’s old movie theatre—the Donlands

  1. Michael Sale

    July 20, 2014 at 8:22 am

    If I am not mistaken, John Candy fell in love with the movies at the Donlands Theatre.


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