The former Berkeley Street Fire Hall No. 4, today’s Alumnae Theatre, is located at 70 Berkeley St (at Adelaide St E on the southwest corner) in the Old Town neighbourhood of Toronto.
The Berkeley Street Fire Hall
In 1859, the original Fire Hall No. 4 was constructed on the site at Berkeley St and Duke St (when Adelaide St E was known as Duke St). In 1871, the station was enlarged to house fire engines with designs by architects James Grand and William Irving.
The following year, City Council approved the immediate construction of a tower at the Berkeley St Fire Hall to hang and dry the hoses. The 24 m or 80 ft tower was to look similar to that on the former Yonge Street fire station (between Grenville St and Grosvenor St, or what is also known as the St Charles Tavern). Grand and Irving were once again commissioned for the tower’s design. When completed, both towers looked very similar, including the red brick cladding, slate roof, wood detailing, round openings below the roofline, the bell-cast mansard roof with round-arched window openings and classical keystones and a four-sided wooden top with cross-hatched details. See the photos of each below for a comparison.
In the early 1900s, the Medical Officer of Health deemed the station unsanitary, so in 1905, the previous structures were demolished; however, the tower was retained.
The new firehouse was designed by architect Alexander Frank Wickson in the Edwardian Classical style. The red brick and stone building has many beautiful details. Above the two former fire truck entrance doors, on the east-facing front, is a grand arched window that features stone and brick patterning. Other interesting elements include arched gables, a bay window, and flathead windows with stone sills and lintels.
In 1952, the wooden top portion of the tower was removed. Toronto’s Fire Hall No. 4 was decommissioned in 1970.
Saving the Neighbourhood Landmark
There were plans to tear down the former fire station and convert the land into a parkette. The building was in bad shape – its roof was leaking, wiring was exposed in some areas, and there were cracks in the exterior. The members of the University Alumnae Dramatic Club saw past the building’s repairs and battled to save the beautiful building from demolition.
The Alumnae Theatre Company
Today known as the Alumnae Theatre Company, the organization was founded in 1918 by a group of women graduates from the University of Toronto. The group performed on various stages in the city throughout the years, including the Hart House Theatre and in 1972, they found their permanent home at the old fire station.
After more than $100,000 in renovations and restorations, the 154-seat Firehall Theatre opened. The redesign was created by notable architect Ron Thom, whose wife Molly was a long-time member of The Alum.
The handsome building, which received heritage status in 1973 and was renamed the Alumnae Theatre in 1978, has two theatres – the fully-equipped Mainstage theatre and the more intimate, Studio theatre. There’s also rehearsal space, a large wardrobe department, a workshop, a lobby and a backstage area. And did we mention there’s a friendly ghost?!
“We seek to be reflective of the diversity of Toronto on our stage and in our organization”
With the exception of some male actors, the Alumnae Theatre Company is operated entirely by women – from the writing, acting and directing to the management, artistic programming and administration. Over a century old, it’s the longest-running theatre company in North America operated by women.