Royal Lyceum – One of Toronto’s First Purpose-Built Theatres

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1913 – An illustration looking south towards the Royal Lyceum, which was once located at 99½ King St W, between Bay St and York St in downtown Toronto. From 1849 to 1874, the theatre stood behind the businesses along King St W. In today's terms, it was situated in the TD Centre block, about 55 m east of The Pasture statues
1913 – An illustration looking south towards the Royal Lyceum, which was once located at 99½ King St W, between Bay St and York St in downtown Toronto (Toronto Public Library R-6837)

Royal Lyceum was once located at 99½ King St W (between York St and Bay St) in downtown Toronto. The theatre stood behind the businesses along King St W, and in today’s terms, it was situated in the TD Centre block, about 55 m east of The Pasture statues.

The Royal Lyceum

When Toronto’s first building dedicated to professional theatre was destroyed by fire in 1847, builder John Ritchey saw the city’s need for a new one. So, in 1848/49, he constructed an impressive two-storey brick building and leased it to T.P. Besnard, the Royal Lyceum’s proprietor.

The theatre’s main facade had four pilasters supporting a pediment with an attic window. Two sets of wooden steps led to three entrance doorways, and over the centre doors was a sign: “Royal Lyceum.”

The day before opening, the theatre’s scene artist, F.H. Granger, drew sketches of the house’s interior, shown below. The auditorium had pit seating, and surrounding above was a horseshoe-shaped balcony and gallery supported by posts. On either side of the proscenium were box seats. The floor plan also shows the box office, orchestra area, the stage with footlight lanterns, the dimensions of the back of the house, the green room, the scene room and more.

Opening night was on September 25, 1849, and it was a packed house. Entertainment that evening included dramas, singing, comedy and operatic burlesque. The cost for seats ranged from 1 shilling and 3 pence (about $10 today) for gallery seating to 2 shillings and 6 pence (about $20 today) for box seats.

Advertising in a local newspaper mentioned that the pit at the spacious Royal Lyceum could be boarded over so the interior could be converted into an elegant room for balls, assemblies, musical societies, concerts and public meetings.

Over the years, several people tried operating the Royal Lyceum. During that time, the theatre also underwent alterations, and the interior was refreshed with new decor and paint, scenery and cushioned seats.

Burning of the Royal Lyceum

A fire broke out in the theatre after a performance on January 30, 1874. While there was time to remove the furniture and scenery, the building burned to the ground within one hour. It was insured for $12,000 and was said to have covered the cost of the structure. The Royal Lyceum’s former manager, Charlotte Morrison, went on to manage Adelaide St’s newly built Grand Opera House.

About seven months after the fire, the Royal Opera House opened on the site of the old Royal Lyceum. Coincidentally, it was also destroyed by fire in 1883.

Did You Know?

  • Before the Royal Lyceum Theatre, the city’s previous theatre was a wood frame structure that was located across the street, where BMO Tower stands today.
  • What is a lyceum? It’s a hall often used for public lectures, concerts, meetings, and similar programs. The word “lyceum” has its roots in ancient Greece. It was the name of a gymnasium or grove dedicated to Apollo Lyceus and where Aristotle taught.

Royal Lyceum Theatre Photos

1856 - This photo is part of a series of images that created a near 360-degree view of Toronto. They were taken from the top of Rossin House Hotel, which was once at the southeast corner of King St W and York St. This particular photo looks southwest and captures a good portion of the Royal Lyceum in the lower right corner. Notice Lake Ontario in the distance
1856 – This photo is part of a series of images that created a near 360-degree view of Toronto. They were taken from the top of Rossin House Hotel, which was once at the southeast corner of King St W and York St. This particular photo looks southwest and captures a good portion of the Royal Lyceum in the lower right corner. Notice Lake Ontario in the distance (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 21)
1849 – A sketch of the Royal Lyceum's layout by the theatre's scene artist, Francis Hincks Granger. It was sketched on September 24, 1849, the day before the theatre opened
1849 – A sketch of the Royal Lyceum’s layout by the theatre’s scene artist, Francis Hincks Granger. It was sketched on September 24, 1849, the day before the theatre opened (Toronto Public Library R-6511)
1849 – Sketch of the Royal Lyceum auditorium with a view from the stage by the theatre's scene artist Francis Hincks Granger. The sketch shows the stage's foot lanterns, the orchestra area, pit seating, the horseshoe-shaped balcony and gallery supported by posts, doorways and a chandelier
1849 – Sketch of the Royal Lyceum auditorium with a view from the stage by the theatre’s scene artist Francis Hincks Granger. The sketch shows the stage’s foot lanterns, the orchestra area, pit seating, the horseshoe-shaped balcony and gallery supported by posts, doorways and a chandelier (Toronto Public Library R-6509)
1913 – An illustration looking south towards the Royal Lyceum, which was once located at 99½ King St W, between Bay St and York St in downtown Toronto. From 1849 to 1874, the theatre stood behind the businesses along King St W. In today's terms, it was situated in the TD Centre block, about 55 m east of The Pasture statues
1913 – An illustration looking south towards the Royal Lyceum, which was once located at 99½ King St W, between Bay St and York St in downtown Toronto. From 1849 to 1874, the theatre stood behind the businesses along King St W. In today’s terms, it was situated in the TD Centre block, about 55 m east of The Pasture statues (Toronto Public Library R-6837)
1849 - Advertising opening night of the Royal Lyceum, September 25, 1849
1849 – Advertising opening night of the Royal Lyceum, September 25, 1849 (Toronto Public Library 1849-ROYAL-LYCEUM-SMALL)
1884 - Goads Map showing the location of the ruins of the Royal Opera House, destroyed by fire in 1883. Prior to that, it was the site of the Royal Lyceum, which had also burned to the ground in 1874
1884 – Goads Map showing the location of the ruins of the Royal Opera House, destroyed by fire in 1883. Prior to that, it was the site of the Royal Lyceum, which had also burned to the ground in 1874 (Toronto Public Library)
1872/73 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Royal Lyceum
1872/73 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Royal Lyceum (Toronto Public Library)
1850/51 - The Toronto City Directory showing the street and lessee of the Royal Lyceum
1850/51 – The Toronto City Directory showing the street and lessee of the Royal Lyceum (Toronto Public Library)
SOURCE
  • The British Colonist Newspaper Archives: Jan 19, 1849, pg 2
  • The Independent Newspaper Archives: Dec 26, 1849
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jan 8, 1850, pg 15
  • The Daily Telegraph Newspaper Archives: Oct 28, 1868, pg 2
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 25, 1873, pg 4
  • The Montreal Daily Witness Newspaper Archives: Jan 31, 1874, pg 2
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jan 31, 1874, pg 4
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 31, 1874, pg 2
  • The Globe Newspaper Archives: Feb 9, 1883, pg 8
  • Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson (1894), pgs 478-491
  • Oxford Reference: Lyceum
  • Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
  • Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library
  • Vintage Map: Atlas of the City of Toronto 1884 by Chas E Goad courtesy of Toronto Public Library
  • Toronto City Directory by Might Directories Ltd 1850/51 & 1872/73 courtesy of Toronto Public Library

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