Toronto’s old movie theatres—the Carlton on Parliament St.

Carlton AO 2033

The Carlton Theatre on Parliament Street is not to be confused with the Odeon Carlton, located on Carlton Street east of Yonge. The Carlton was at 509 Parliament Street, on the east side of the street, a short distance north of Carlton Street, near Aberdeen Street. The 700-seat Carlton opened in 1919, as a neighbourhood theatre, catering to the cinematic needs of the community that today is referred to as Cabbagetown. Originally, the area was named Don Vale, as it was on the west side of the Don Valley, close to the Winchester Street bridge, which spanned the Don River in the days prior to the construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct across the valley at Bloor Street. The Carlton Theatre possessed a red-brick facade, with few ornamentations, and a plain cornice.

When the Carlton Theatre opened, it drew many of its patrons from the residents who lived near Cabbagetown. In the 1940s, the Carlton Theatre became part of the B&F chain, a company formed in 1921, through a business partnership of Samuel Fine and Samuel Bloom. At its peak, it operated 21 theatres. In 1927, it became associated with Famous Players Corporation. B & F prospered until the 1950s, when the effects of television and the  demographic changes of the city diminished the appeal of the neighbourhood movie houses.

B&F operated such theatres as the Donlands, Century and the Vaughan. It was B&F that pioneered the concept of screening double-bill (two movies) programs for a single price. This idea allowed smaller theatres to compete with the larger downtown theatres that showed first-run films. The first time they attempted this idea was in 1923 at the Christie Theatre on St. Clair, near Wychwood Avenue. B&F were also the first to introduce midnight showings to attract the late-night crowds.

In November 1948, a candy bar was installed in the Carlton Theatre. In the 1950s, in the projection room, a 15-year old boy was hired to play 78 rpm records during intermissions. The songs were the latest titles from the hit parade. The idea proved highly popular with teenagers. In January 1952, the matron who patrolled the aisles during screenings, discovered children sitting on the floor near the stage, even though there were many empty seats. They were a group that all wanted to sit together. Fearing there would be trouble, they were all ejected from the theatre. In December 1952, the theatre advertised a “New Year’s Eve Midnight Show,” and titled it “The Frolics of 53—Girls, Gags, Comedy.”

The Carlton Theatre closed its doors on Saturday, September 25, 1954. The building became studio space for the CBC. After the CBC vacated the premises, it was occupied by the Children’s Dance Theatre.  They remain in the building today (2014).

Carlton  AO 2034, Series 1278, File 39

                            Interior of the Carlton Theatre

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 The auditorium of the Carlton, viewed from the stage area at the front. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 39

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The lobby of the theatre, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 39

Series 1278 File 39

             The Carlton when the CBC had their studios on the site.

800px-Dance_Theatre_509_Parliament_St[1  the Carlton]

             The site of the Carlton Theatre during the summer of 2013. 


                  The entrance to the building in 2013.

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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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