The Royal Alexandra Theatre, or simply The Royal Alex, is located at 260 King St W in the Entertainment District of Toronto.
The Design of the Royal Alexandra Theatre
The Beaux-Arts style gem was built in 1907 and designed by architect John McIntosh Lyle. Funding for the theatre came from a group led by Cawthra Mulock, who was called “Toronto’s youngest millionaire.” The “Edwardian jewel box” interior features rich walnut and cherry woods, marble, crystal chandeliers, gilded and elaborate plasterwork, and fine silks and velvet.
The theatre was Toronto’s first steel-framed structure, allowing for no internal columns and a cantilevered balcony and gallery. The Royal Alexandra Theatre was the first “air-conditioned” playhouse in Canada. When first built, ice was kept in a huge pit below the auditorium to cool the building. The Royal Alex was one of North America’s original “fireproof” theatres.
The exterior of this treasure is clad with brick and stone detailing. The front facade features Ionic pilasters along with elaborately decorated windows. The centre, two-and-a-half-storey entrance block is topped with a decorative cornice that supports a parapet, cartouche and the inscription “ROYAL ALEXANDRA,” and a mansard roof with arched dormers. On either side of the entrance block are recessed single-storey wings that feature cornices, brick quoins and keystones, while behind the block are the auditorium and fly tower.
Its Royal Title Honours Queen Alexandra
King Edward VII granted the theatre a royal title to honour his consort, Queen Alexandra (great grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II). Sophisticated international theatre and musical productions from London and New York played at the theatre, as well as famous performers like Mary Pickford, Humphrey Bogart and more. In its early days, the Royal Alex competed with other live theatres, including the Princess and the Grand Opera House.
Ed Mirvish & the Beginning of the Entertainment District
In the ’50s, the theatre and area were in decline. Visionary Ed Mirvish saved the theatre from demolition in the early 1960s. His complete restoration of this beautiful building started the rejuvenation of what we know today as the Entertainment District. There were no restaurants in the area, so to help attract patrons, Ed purchased a few old warehouses located directly to the west of the theatre. One of those was the Reid Building which was right next door. Ed converted it into a restaurant; for decades, it was one of Toronto’s most famous called Ed’s Warehouse. Mr Mirvish also owned and operated the landmark discount store Honest Ed’s.
The theatre is rumoured to be haunted by a few ghosts. In a 1997 Jolson: The Musical production, the cast mentioned seeing an apparition of Al Jolson seated in the audience. When Mr Jolson was alive, he played the Royal Alex ten times.
In Dressing Room 14, some have heard screaming and strange sounds coming from behind its door. There have also been messages scribed across its mirror.
Years ago, a stagehand was working high above the theatre in the fly room. It’s said that he fell to his death after stumbling on a chain. Since then, some have heard the sounds of chains dragging near the area.
One of the theatre’s legendary ghosts is the beautiful lady wearing a long white gown. Several actors have reportedly seen her in the house left upper box while trodding the boards.
The Historic Royal Alex
The building became a National Historic Site of Canada in 1987, on its 80th birthday. To maintain the style and appearance of a 19th-century theatre, it cannot have an elevator.
Throughout the years, the Royal Alex has and over 4,000 shows performed on its stage, featuring tens of thousands of actors, musicians and dancers. All this in front of more than 60 million audience members.
For a video tour and more details on North America’s oldest continuously operating live theatre, visit the Royal Alexandra Theatre website.
Royal Alexandra Theatre Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 260 King St W
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 260 King St W
- Heritage Toronto
- Canada’s Historic Places: Royal Alexandra Theatre
- Mirvish: Royal Alexandra Theatre
- Mirvish Productions YouTube Channel: The Royal Alexandra Theatre Ghost Tour
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library