The Family Theatre was located at 2173-75 Queen Street East, the second building to the east of Lee Avenue. I never attended this theatre or knew it existed until I commenced researching the old movie theatres of the city. The above photo from the City of Toronto Archives (Series 1278, File 70), reveals that it was a modest two-storey building, with the theatre on the ground floor and residential apartments on the second storey. Apparently there was also a billiard room. There was an existing building on the site prior to the theatre being built, which was gutted and renovated to create the theatre. The blueprints for the theatre are dated February-March 1919, and reveal that it was built for W.F. Sexton, who resided at 122 Waverley Road. It is assumed that the theatre likely opened the following year—1920. I was unable to confirm this date.
There is an anecdote in the files in the Toronto Archives that tells about a projectionist who worked a the theatre in the 1920s. He often brought his young son to the theatre and seated the boy in the auditorium to watch the movies while he worked in the projection booth. When the man went home for dinner, he left the lad in the theatre. After the evening meal, he returned, completed his night’s work, and retrieved his son. Apparently, the boy was delighted with the arrangement.
The theatre contained a wooden floor with 546 seats, purchased from the Globe Furniture Company. The Family Theatre’s auditorium was intimate, with nine seats in the centre section and four on either side. At the front of the theatre, there were shops on both side of the entrance. In 1931, when the theatre was renovated by the architect Saxon H. Hunter, the owner remained W.F. Sexton. In 1935, the shops at the front of the theatre were eliminated to install washrooms on the ground-floor level and an office for the manager.
In 1937, the family Theatre was cited for having an untidy cellar. Where the furnace and the fuel room were located in the basement, cardboard signs, rags and wrapping paper were strewn over the floor. In December of 1948, two rows of seats at the rear of the auditorium were removed to install a candy bar. However, sales at the new confectionary stand did not last long, as the theatre a few weeks later. It seems strange that it met its demise at a time when the movie business was thriving. I have been unable to discover why it was shuttered.
Architects drawing for the family Theatre (City of Toronto Archives).
This undated photo from the City of Toronto Archives (Series 1278 Fl. 70) was likely taken after the renovations in 1931, as the seating capacity has been increased to ten seats in the centre section. The faux windows on the side walls of the auditorium create the appearance that patrons were sitting in a living room in a home.
This undated photo from the Toronto Archives depicts the site after the Family Theatre closed.
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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.
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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)