The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, originally Loew’s Yonge Street and Winter Garden Theatre, later Elgin Theatre, is located at 189 Yonge St (north of Queen St on the east side) in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto. The theatre has a rear entrance address of 158 Victoria St.
Loew’s Yonge Street Theatre
Built in 1913/14, Marcus Loew hired architects Thomas W Lamb and Stanley Makepeace to design the Edwardian-style double-decker theatres. Mr Lamb was one of the world’s leading “picture palace” designers of the last century and was also the architect of the Uptown Theatre and Madison Square Garden.
In 1913, the lower theatre, now the Elgin, was originally known as Loew’s Yonge Street Theatre and was the Canadian chain’s flagship vaudeville location.
In 1914, Loew’s opened the Winter Garden, a roof garden theatre decorated to resemble a garden in full bloom. Columns were masqueraded as tree trunks while the ceilings were hung with real leaves, blossoms and lanterns.
When the popularity of vaudeville declined in the late 1920s, Loew’s closed the Winter Garden. They kept the lower theatre open and wired it for sound to show talking movies.
National Historic Site Designation
The building received heritage status from the City of Toronto in 1973 and Ontario Heritage Trust in 1978. That same year, the theatre was renamed the Elgin. In 1981, Ontario Heritage Trust purchased the historic theatres, which included the world’s most extensive collection of vaudeville scenery. The following year, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres, the last of their architectural style in the world, were designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
Restoration of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres
In 1985, “Cats” began its two-year run, and once the production ended, the theatres 3-year restoration process began. It included removing 25 layers of paint in the lobby, using over 300,000 sheets of aluminum leaf to re-gild plaster details, re-creating opera boxes, and much more. Hundreds of pounds of raw bread dough were used to clean hand-painted walls in the Winter Garden theatre. The dough gently picks up dirt without wetting or removing any paint.
The theatre reopened on December 15, 1989, which was 76 years from the day it originally opened.
The historic venue is not only home to two theatres but also a few spirits. Its most famous ghost is The Lavender Lady. While no one knows who she is, there is speculation she could perhaps be a rival actress of a jealous castmate or a jilted wife whose husband fell in love with a Vaudeville showgirl. When she does make an appearance, those who have felt her presence notice a temperature drop and the fragrance of lavender flowers. The Lavender Lady is so famous that she was commemorated in 2016 on a Canada Post stamp.
Other haunted happenings include manually operated cage elevators operating on their own, hearing voices, theatre seats flipping down then back up and hearing a trombone or trumpet being played.
In 1984 during a rehearsal for Cats, some of the dancers noticed a man sitting in the second row. He was wearing old-fashioned attire – a brown suit and a brown bowler hat. They thought it could be a friend of the director or producer. After rehearsal, they asked the assistant manager who the man was but were told no one was there. You see, it was a closed rehearsal, and only the assistant and stage managers were allowed to watch. Click for more haunted tales.