Red Mill Theatre, originally The Theatorium, was once located at 183 Yonge St (north of Queen St on the east side) in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto.
In March 1906, The Theatorium was opened by John C Griffin. It was Toronto’s first permanent moving pictures theatre. The building was just 5 m or 17 ft wide and 30.5 m or 100 ft long; however, it was in a high-traffic area, directly across the street from Eaton’s. The exterior was covered in movie posters. A “barker,” a person who uses their voice to advertise and attract patrons, was at the theatre’s entrance. Inside, there was bench-style seating for 150 people, and the screen was simply a plain painted wall. Admission was 5¢ and was known as “the nickel show.” The opening film at The Theatorium was The Train Wreckers, an 11-minute short released in 1905. Along with showing movies, Vaudeville acts were added to the lineup.
Red Mill Theatre
Around 1911, the Griffin Amusement Company sold The Theatorium and the Crystal Palace Theatre to LJ Applegath, a Yonge Street hatter. The Theatorium was renamed Red Mill Theatre. That same year, the theatre showed a war film that offended the public. The story made it to the newspapers, which in turn established censorship at the provincial level. From then on, movies shown in Ontario had to be screened and censored by the Ontario Board of Censors. In a vintage photo below, a sign at the entrance of the Red Mill Theatre says, “Children under 15 not admitted unless accompanied by adults.” Before the Board, censorship was looked after by the neighbourhood police stations.
When Lowes’s Theatre, today’s Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, opened in 1913 just a few doors north, there was concern that the Red Mill Theatre, which had increased its seating capacity to 227, would go under; however, the Red Mill remained open until the early 1930s.
After the Theatre
When the theatre closed, the building became home to Peoples Credit Jewelers (Peoples Jewellers) and later Canada’s Gold Supermarket. The former theatre building was demolished and replaced with the present-day mixed-use tower.
Griffin Amusement Company
From the early 1900s to the early 1930s, the Griffin Amusement Company operated a chain of vaudeville and moving picture theatres in the city, including the Auditorium, Lyric, Majestic and the Maple Leaf, as well as theatres throughout Ontario, including in Ottawa, Belleville, Stratford, Sudbury and more. When Toronto-native John C Griffin passed away in 1931, he was considered a pioneer in Canada’s moving pictures industry and one of the country’s best-known showpeople.
Red Mill Theatre Photos
The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Aug 23, 1910, pg 1
The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 29, 1913, pg 3
The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 20, 1913, pg 14
The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 14, 1931, pg 11
The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Feb 28, 1986, pg D5
Canadian Film Weekly: Dec 31, 1960s – Two Old-Timers