The Victory Theatre, which closed in 1975, an undated photo from the Toronto Archives.
Few theatres in Toronto elicit as many stories and memories as Toronto’s Victory Theatre, located on the northeast corner of Dundas and Spadina Avenue. The theatre was at one time an important part of the city’s live theatrical scene. Built in 1921, it opened as the Standard Theatre to present Jewish dramatic productions. In 1935 it was renamed the Strand, and at the end of World War II in 1945, its name was changed to the Victory. It was under this name that the theatre became famous and notorious, as it began featuring burlesque. In the years ahead, it offered exotic dancers and strippers. By modern standards, it was quite tame, but the antics on its stage outraged some of the citizens of Toronto. The police morality quads were continually raiding the theatre and arresting the girls and staff.
In 1975, Hang Hing purchased the Victory, renovated it, and reopened it in 1976 as the Golden Harvest Cinema that screened Cantonese films. Recently, Anthony Lee informed me that when the theatre was renovated, some aspects of the old Victory Theatre were maintained and some new features were added. In 1994 it was closed permanently.
Many people today have fond memories of attending the theatre when it was the Victory, and if given the opportunity, enjoy relating them. It became a favourite hangout of students, who often lied about their ages to attend a performance. One of the show girls at the Victory caught the attention of the mayor of the city. His comments of condemnation created so much publicity for her that the students said that he was either her agent or the president of her fan club. The mayor was not amused.
M father often attended the Victory when he was in his 80s. My mother had long since passed away and having nothing to occupy his time in the evenings, he sometimes attended the theatre to watch the girls and listen to the MC’s raunchy jokes. He also liked Starvin’ Marvin’s at Yonge and Dundas, as it passed out free sandwiches to its patrons to enjoy as they observed the girls.
I recently discovered some photos taken by Roger Jowett of the interior of the theatre. They are all from the days when it was the Golden Harvest Cinema, screening Cantonese films. The photos are contained in Series 881, File 177, in the Toronto Archives. They reveal how elegant the theatre once was, with its classical pillars, high ceiling, and rich ornamentations. The pictures show that the auditorium had stadium seating, its floor slanting upward steeply from the stage area. This was considered better than creating a balcony.
In June 2015, I received confirmation from a reader that the auditorium of the theatre remains intact and is quite well preserved. He was inside the auditorium when it was being used as a distribution centre for a Christmas charity. He sent me a few photos, and the theatre looked much the same as in the 1970s pictures. .
A link to a more in depth post on this blog about the history of the Victory:
View of the auditorium of the theatre. Photo by Roger Jowett, Toronto Archives.
View from the stage
View of the ceiling with the large design inset into the ceiling.
Close-up view of the ceiling.
Stairway from the lobby that gave access to the seats in the upper section of the auditorium. The design in the ceiling is visible. To the left is the candy bar, where there is a poster in Cantonese.
Candy bar in the lobby.
View of the stage from the top half of the auditorium’s seating.
View of the stage of the Victory Theatre.
Location of the Victory Theatre.
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To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern
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 relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.
To place an order for this book:
Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791
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), the Photodrome, 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)