Rialto Theatre, originally the Hippodrome & Casino Twin Theatres 

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1916 - Looking southeast towards the Rialto Theatre, once located at 219-221 Yonge St and Shuter St. On the sign, "The Eye of God," starring Tyrone Power Sr, Ethel Weber and Lois Weber, was playing and released in 1916. The building was once home to the Hippodrome and Casino theatres
1916 – Looking southeast towards the Rialto Theatre, once located at 219-221 Yonge St and Shuter St. The building was once home to the Hippodrome and Casino theatres (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 41, Item 48)

Rialto Theatre, originally the Hippodrome and Casino Theatres, was once located at 219-221 Yonge St (at Shuter St on the southeast corner) in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto.

Hippodrome & Casino Theatres

In 1907, John Griffin, operator of several early moving picture theatres in the city, opened the Hippodrome and Casino twin theatres on the main floor of a vacant storefront at 219 and 221 Yonge St. It was in a high-traffic area, just down the street from Massey Hall. Over the outside entrance of both theatres, the name “GRIFFIN’S” was displayed. A large illuminated “Griffin’s” sign was also attached to the front of the building, hanging over the sidewalk.

The Hippodrome was Griffin Amusement Company’s main house. Along with featuring motion pictures, vaudeville, and illustrated song (live or recorded music with projected images), the Hippodrome housed an extensive collection of oil paintings by Canadian artist William A Sherwood and a portrait of John Griffin. The Hippodrome and Casino Theatres remained open until 1915.

The Rialto Theatre

The following year, after renovations, it became the Rialto Theatre. Admission ranged from 10¢ to 15¢. The Rialto’s last newspaper ad appeared in late 1919.

2022 - Looking east towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres once occupied 219-221 Yonge St. Today, 11,513 sq ft former theatre building, officially known as the John E Thompson Block, is home to commercial space
2022 – Looking east towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres once occupied 219-221 Yonge St

The John E Thompson Block

The three-story building that housed the theatre was constructed in 1886 and is known as the John E Thompson Block. In the late 1890s, before the theatre, the building was home to the Yonge Street Mission until, in 1904, a men’s suit tailor and ladieswear shop called Crawford Bros Ltd moved into the space.

When the theatre left, the building reverted to retail and commercial space and was altered for various tenants throughout the years. It has been home to Cattos Dry Goods, a book store, Pier 1 Imports, a drug store, Tangerine Bank, and more since that time.

The building received heritage status from the City of Toronto in 1973.

1910 - Looking northeast along Yonge St towards Shuter St, from north of Queen St. In the distance, notice the sign for "Griffin's" Hippodrome and Casino Theatres, once located at 219-221 Yonge St. John Griffin, founder of Griffin Amusement Co, operated several theatres in Toronto and throughout Ontario
1910 – Looking northeast along Yonge St towards Shuter St, from north of Queen St. In the distance, notice the sign for “Griffin’s” Hippodrome and Casino Theatres, once located at 219-221 Yonge St (Toronto Public Library R-5744)

John Griffin, a Moving Pictures Pioneer

Born in Toronto in the mid-1850s, John Griffin got his start selling candy, cold drinks, and novelty items at the circus, known then as a “candy butcher.” Mr Griffin later owned about six circuses and founded the Griffin Amusements Co.

While travelling back to Toronto from the United States, he heard about “this new miracle, the motion pictures” in Chicago. Mr Griffin was very enthusiastic about it and purchased the machinery, hired a projectionist, and in 1906, opened the first permanent moving picture theatre, The Theatorium, which was also on Yonge St.

Other Griffin Amusement Co theatres in Toronto included the Auditorium, Lyric, Majestic, and the Maple Leaf, plus there were theatres in Belleville, Hamilton, Kingston, Ottawa, St Catharines, Stratford, Sudbury, Windsor, and more. By the late 1920s, the company had operated over 30 theatres.

When John C Griffin passed away in 1931 at the age of 76, he was considered a trailblazer in Canada’s moving pictures industry and one of the country’s best-known showpeople.

Rialto Theatre Photos

1908 - The Casino and Hippodrome twin theatres, operated by the Griffin Amusement Co, were once located at 219-221 Yonge St and Shuter St. It later became the Rialto Theatre
1908 – The Casino and Hippodrome twin theatres, operated by the Griffin Amusement Co, were once located at 219-221 Yonge St and Shuter St. It later became the Rialto Theatre (The Billboard)
1910 - Looking northeast along Yonge St towards Shuter St, from north of Queen St. In the distance, notice the sign for "Griffin's" Hippodrome and Casino Theatres, once located at 219-221 Yonge St. John Griffin, founder of Griffin Amusement Co, operated several theatres in Toronto and throughout Ontario
1910 – Looking northeast along Yonge St towards Shuter St, from north of Queen St. In the distance, notice the sign for “Griffin’s” Hippodrome and Casino Theatres, once located at 219-221 Yonge St. John Griffin, founder of Griffin Amusement Co, operated several theatres in Toronto and throughout Ontario (Toronto Public Library R-5744)
1910 - Looking northeast along Yonge St towards Shuter St, from north of Queen St. The building on the southeast corner of Yonge St and Shuter St was once home to Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres
1910 – Looking northeast along Yonge St towards Shuter St, from north of Queen St. The building on the southeast corner of Yonge St and Shuter St was once home to Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres
1916 - Looking southeast towards the Rialto Theatre, once located at 219-221 Yonge St and Shuter St. On the sign, "The Eye of God," starring Tyrone Power Sr, Ethel Weber and Lois Weber, was playing and released in 1916. The building was once home to the Hippodrome and Casino theatres
1916 – Looking southeast towards the Rialto Theatre, once located at 219-221 Yonge St and Shuter St. On the sign, “The Eye of God,” starring Tyrone Power Sr, Ethel Weber and Lois Weber, was playing and released in 1916. The building was once home to the Hippodrome and Casino theatres (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 41, Item 48)
1916 – Looking west towards Yonge St from Shuter St at the side of Rialto Theatre once located at 219-221 Yonge St. On the sign, "The Eye of God," starring Tyrone Power Sr, Ethel Weber and Lois Weber, was playing and released in 1916
1916 – Looking west towards Yonge St from Shuter St at the side of Rialto Theatre once located at 219-221 Yonge St. On the sign, “The Eye of God,” starring Tyrone Power Sr, Ethel Weber and Lois Weber, was playing and released in 1916 (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 41, Item 48)
1916 – Looking north up Yonge St towards the Rialto Theatre once located at 219-221 Yonge St and Shuter St on the southeast corner. The building was previously home to the Hippodrome and Casino theatres
1916 – Looking north up Yonge St towards the Rialto Theatre once located at 219-221 Yonge St and Shuter St on the southeast corner. The building was previously home to the Hippodrome and Casino theatres (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 41, Item 49)
1930s – Looking northeast towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto Theatre once occupied 219-221 Yonge St. The theatre left around 1920 and Cattos Dry Goods and Adams Furniture Co moved into the space. The former theatre's vertical overhang and sign over the entrance were repurposed by the new tenants
1930s – Looking northeast towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto Theatre once occupied 219-221 Yonge St. The theatre left around 1920 and Cattos Dry Goods and Adams Furniture Co moved into the space. The former theatre’s vertical overhang and sign over the entrance were repurposed by the new tenants (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 45)
2022 – Looking northeast towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St. The Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres were once located at 219-221 Yonge St, on the southeast corner. Today, the former theatre building is home to commercial space. The building on the northeast corner is the Ryrie Building at 229 Yonge St
2022 – Looking northeast towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St. The Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres were once located at 219-221 Yonge St, on the southeast corner. Today, the former theatre building is home to commercial space. The building on the northeast corner is the Ryrie Building at 229 Yonge St
Between 1978 and 1980 – Looking southeast towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres once occupied 219-221 Yonge St. Notice E & T Books and in the background, Massey Hall
Between 1978 and 1980 – Looking southeast towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres once occupied 219-221 Yonge St. Notice E & T Books and in the background, Massey Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 305, Item 6)
2021 – Looking northeast towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres once occupied 219-221 Yonge St. Today, the former theatre building is home to commercial space
2021 – Looking northeast towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres once occupied 219-221 Yonge St. Today, the former theatre building is home to commercial space
1986– Looking east from Yonge St and Shuter St, towards Pier 1 Imports on the right where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino  Theatres once occupied the building. Notice Massey Hall behind Pier 1 Imports, the Silver Rail on the left corner in the Ryrie Building and the spire of St Michael's Cathedral Basilica in the background
1986– Looking east from Yonge St and Shuter St, towards Pier 1 Imports on the right where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres once occupied the building. Notice Massey Hall behind Pier 1 Imports, the Silver Rail on the left corner in the Ryrie Building and the spire of St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 401, Item 17)
2022 - Looking east towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres once occupied 219-221 Yonge St. Today, 11,513 sq ft former theatre building, officially known as the John E Thompson Block, is home to commercial space
2022 – Looking east towards the corner of Yonge St and Shuter St, where the Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres once occupied 219-221 Yonge St. Today, 11,513 sq ft former theatre building, officially known as the John E Thompson Block, is home to commercial space
Mid-1980s - Looking southeast along Yonge St between Shuter St and Queen St. Super X Drugs and Pier 1 Imports occupy the space of the former Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres, once located at 219-221 Yonge St. Notice further down the street, the Colonial Tavern and Cats was playing at the Elgin Theatre
Mid-1980s – Looking southeast along Yonge St between Shuter St and Queen St. Super X Drugs and Pier 1 Imports occupy the space of the former Rialto, Hippodrome and Casino Theatres, once located at 219-221 Yonge St. Notice further down the street, the Colonial Tavern and Cats was playing at the Elgin Theatre (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 428, Item 16)
1908 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Hippodrome and Casino Theatres listed under the owner John Griffin. The theatre later became the Rialto
1908 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Hippodrome and Casino Theatres listed under the owner John Griffin. The theatre later became the Rialto (Toronto Public Library)
1919 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Rialto Theatre, once the Hippodrome and Casino Theatres under the owner John Griffin
1919 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Rialto Theatre, once the Hippodrome and Casino Theatres under the owner John Griffin (Toronto Public Library)
SOURCE
  • City of Toronto Heritage Register: 221 Yonge St
  • The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Aug 14, 1931, pg 3
  • The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jan 6, 1912, pg 2
  • The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Sep 22, 1916, pg 19
  • The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jul 25, 1917, pg 14
  • The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Nov 27, 1919, pg 29
  • The Billboard: May 9, 1908, Volume 20, Issue 19, pg 28
  • The Billboard: Jun 27, 1908, Volume 20, Issue 26, pg 7
  • The “Now Playing” Early Moviegoing and The Regulation Of Fun by Paul S Moore (2008), pgs 87-88
  • IMDb
  • Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
  • Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library
  • Toronto City Directory by Might Directories Ltd 1908 & 1919 courtesy of Toronto Public Library

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