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.
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.
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.