The Runnymede Theatre was located at 2223 Bloor St W (south side, west of Runnymede Rd), in the Bloor West Village neighbourhood of Toronto.
The Architecture of the Runnymede Theatre
Opening in 1927, the Runnymede Theatre was both a vaudeville theatre and a moving picture palace. Designed by the prominent Toronto architectural firm of Chapman & Oxley, the historic 1,550-seat theatre was built by Famous Players. Dubbed “Canada’s Theatre Beautiful”, it cost $250,000 to construct and was one of the first Atmospheric-style theatres in the country.
On the exterior of the 2½-storey building, there’s an impressive red brick facade. The taller centre section of the facade features a decorative front panel and is crowned with an elaborate cornice. Other exterior elements include a ticket booth, stone trim and fancy brickwork around the windows.
Inside, the magnificent Runnymede Theatre whisked flicker fans to far-off lands under a starry night sky. The auditorium walls featured beautiful large murals of building facades, garden foliage and trees. The treetops met the ceiling painted to look like an azure blue sky. Tiny lights in the ceiling made it appear as though guests were under a starry sky while cloud effects were projected across it. There is also ornate plasterwork throughout the auditorium including on the proscenium arch, the twisted columns, the clamshell wall sconces and the decorative ornamentation at the top of the pilasters.
The evening of June 2nd in 1927 brought an enthusiastic crowd of thousands to see the grand Moorish-style theatre. Bloor St West was decorated with banners and the Union Jack. Many of those who lined the streets were turned away due to the sell-out show. After a speech by the theatre’s manager, there was an on-screen presentation showing familiar faces of the business district. This was followed by the movies “Fire Brigade” and a side-splitting comedy called “Rookies”. There was also a stage performance by Harvey Doney called “On the Road to Mandalay”. At 9:30 pm on that premier evening, the Lieutenant-Governor, The Honorable William D Ross entered the theatre and the audience gasped with delight.
Through the Years
In the 1930s, as interest in vaudeville theatre began to dwindle, The Runnymede became a movie house only.
In 1972, the theatre was converted to a bingo hall. Eight years later, the landmark was converted back to a cozy nabe theatre and renovated to feature two screens.
In 1998, Alliance Cinemas took over the management of the Runnymede Theatre however just a year later, the neighbourhood theatre closed down as the rent was $35,000 per month.
Chapters & Shoppers Drug Mart
That same year, Chapters bookstore took over the building. The company spent over $3.5 million in both renovating the theatre for its own use as well as restoration work.
In 2014 when Chapters lease expired, the beloved landmark became home to Shoppers Drug Mart.
From the preserved walls and ceiling to the medallion and stage, it’s quite impressive. Red velvet curtains frame the theatre’s wooden stage while vintage images of the neighbourhood are shown on a large screen.
The building is rumoured to be haunted by a young female spirit who many years ago, died on stage when a sandbag fell on her. There have been reports from former theatre and bookstore employees as well as customers of uneasy feelings and odd occurrences.
Did You Know?
- Architects’ Chapman & Oxley designed many buildings and structures in Toronto including Danforth Theatre & the Princes’ Gates.
- The Runnymede Theatre was designated a heritage property by the City in 1990.
- When the theatre closed in February 1999, the last movie shown (by no coincidence) was You’ve Got Mail.
- How did Runnymede Rd get its name? In the early to mid 1800’s, a businessman named John Scarlett owned a large swath of land north of Bloor St W and west of Keele St. In 1838, he built a home on the land near Dundas St W and Keele St. He named the house Runnymede after the famous meadows on the River Thames, just southwest of London, England where in 1215, King John signed the Magna Carta.
Runnymede Theatre Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 2223 Bloor St W
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 2223 Bloor St W
- Toronto Street Names: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins by Leonard Wise & Allan Gould
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 3, 1927, page 12
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jun 3, 1927, page 2, 13
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Nov 22, 2013, page L2
- Heritage Toronto (plaque)
- Toronto Star: Indigo boss joins community mourning Chapters closure
- Toronto Star: Shoppers preserves and transforms historic Runnymede Theatre
- Toronto Ghosts: Runnymede Theatre
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Swansea Historical Society Archives