Behind the Scenes at Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre

Toronto is a city with many historic sites. Not many people know, but you can find one right in the heart of downtown Toronto. Located just a few blocks away from Yonge-Dundas Square, the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre not only has been designated as a national historic site, but also is the last operating double-decker theatre in the world!

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

I was super excited when I found out that the theatre provides year-round guided tours to the public. The 90-min tour entails an exciting visit to the original and new lobbies, the grandiose Elgin Theatre, the unique and resplendent Winter Garden Theatre, the backstage exhibit and dressing room, and the world’s largest collection of vaudeville scenery. It is truly a wonderful opportunity for those with great interests in performing arts, architecture and photography to explore inside this state-of-the-art theatre facility!

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

Why is Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre so unique?

Constructed between 1912 and 1914, the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre is significant for its Edwardian double-decker or stacked design. Designed by prominent New York architect Thomas Lamb and built as the Canadian flagship for Marcus Loew’s vaudeville theatre chain, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre houses 2 large theatres, stacked one above the other. At that time, only fewer than a dozen of these double-decker theatres were built worldwide, and this theatre is the only one ever constructed in Canada. Today, the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre is the last of its kind in operation.

Behind the scenes at the last operating double-decker theatre in the world! #seetorontonow #toronto @ontariotravel Click To Tweet

Due to the decline of vaudeville’s popularity, patronage to both theatres began to drop through the 1920s, resulting in the closure of the Winter Garden Theatre in 1928. The Elgin was converted into a movie house and remained open until 1981. Immediately after, the Ontario Heritage Trust lobbied to save the building from demolition and began an extensive restoration and preservation process in 1986. After almost 3 years of restoration, the historic Elgin & Winter Garden Theatres reopened in 1989. 65,000 sq. feet of new ancillary space was added, including cascading balconies, lobbies, an 8-storey backstage and rehearsal space, and administration offices. The complex combines old-world elegance with modern amenities.

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

lobby

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

lobby

Elgin Theatre

The long, narrow, richly decorated lobby is lined with Corinthian columns with a crimson, brass, and gold colour palette. Gilt-trimmed mirrors and damask wall coverings give the space a special sense of glamor and elegance. The colour scheme carries into the Elgin Theatre, with crimson and gold seen in the seats, draperies and carpeting. The downstairs theatre seats 1561 and features a lavish domed ceiling that is swathed in gold and richly ornamented with garlands, ribbons and masks. Such a dazzling decor!

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

Winter Garden Theatre

The 992-seat Winter Garden Theatre sits 7 storeys above the Elgin Theatre and was designed in the tradition of an enclosed rooftop theatre. Inspired by the European rooftop theatre with its flowers, leaves, lanterns and garden murals, the Winter Garden theatre has a whimsical rooftop garden atmosphere. Featuring a proscenium arch stage in the front, the theatre has its walls decorated with garden murals, columns disguised as tree trunks, layers of real beech branches woven into the ceiling, and garden lanterns illuminated the whole space. It is as if the theatre has sprouted from a magical forest!

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

Other Highlights

Besides the 2 theatres, there is also a backstage exhibit showcasing the Winter Garden’s original Simplex Silent Film Projector and a dressing room displaying artifacts from the time period. Another highlight is that the Centre has the world’s largest collection of vaudeville scenery. They are hand-painted flats and drops from 1913-1918, several of which are now displayed in the cascading lobbies.

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

dressing room

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

simplex silent film projector

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

restored vaudeville scenery

Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre Toronto

restored vaudeville scenery

Conclusion

The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre is an awe-inspiring site. Since its reopening, it has continued to play an active and vital part in Toronto’s vibrant arts and cultural community. The facility hosts a variety of entertainment ranging from musicals, comedies, dramas, operas, concerts and screenings for the Toronto International Film Festival. I strongly recommend anyone who is visiting Toronto to check out the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre. Join the knowledgeable theatre staff on a guided tour to explore the grand architecture and learn about the interesting story behind it. I promise it won’t disappoint!

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About the Elgin & Winter Theatre Centre

Address: 189 Yonge St, Toronto, ON
Tours: 90 minutes on Thursdays 5 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m; no reservations required.
Cost: Adults $12; seniors and students $10; cash only.
Website: http://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/EWG/Home.aspx?lang=en-CA

 

Looking for off-the-beaten path attraction in Toronto? Then you must join the guided tour at the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatres. Designated as a national historic site, the Centre is the last operating double-decker theatre in the world!

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17 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. Don’t you love the granduer of old theatres?

  2. I’m thoroughly impressed with this theatre from the floor to the ceiling! Every detail, design element and decor was carefully thought about and developed. Great to learn about the character and history of this theatre from your experience!

    • No problem, Brooke! Both theatres are stunning. The city spent so much money renovating and preserving it. It was quite an interesting experience to go behind the scenes and learn about its history!

  3. I have no words.  That winter theater is gorgeous!  At some moments, I wasn’t sure if it was real.  Is this theater still in use? 

  4. What an amazing space full of history and decor. The rooftop garden almost doesn’t look real its so unusual. I’ve always wanted to go to Toronto, now I know a stop I’d have to make there! Pinned to my luxury travel board!

  5. I love the rooftop garden atmosphere of the Winter Garden Theatre you have shown us. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It is truly amazing.

  6. these are insane! i especially am obsessed with the winter garden theater – i didn’t even know something like that existed! thank you for sharing and found you through weekend wanderlust! xo

  7. Wow that looks wonderful! I never made to Toronto even tho I was super close! Hopefully I’ll visit this amazing city one day so then I’ll definetly would love to visit this theater! Wonderful hidden gem 🙂 

  8. Never seen a double decker theatre before! Very grand and elaborate – the Winter Gardens theatre in particular looks elegant and elaborate…almost ethereal with some of its exquisite decor. I love going to theatres as the history of them can be every bit as interesting as any play that you might be going to see, as this place certainly proves 🙂

  9. The atmosphere of that place. Such elegance and actually not too far of a flight away from me. Totally adding this to my bucket list, thanks for sharing!!

  10. The theater has over 100 years of history and I am happy they are still open. You have photographed the theater beautifully anyone involved in the restoration would be proud. I love to see a show there!

  11. What a beautiful place! I’ve been to Toronto on a couple of different occasions and – what a bummer – never heard of this theatre before. Great to hear that it didn’t get abandoned some 30 years ago and underwent a renovation instead. Those floral decorations are absolutely amazing. I will be sure to take a tour of the place if I happen to be in town again – thanks so much for sharing!

  12. I was growing up in Ukraine. At that time theaters were very popular. By the age of seven, I’ve seen all ballets like the Swan Lake, the Nutcracker etc and listened to most of the operas. So I am very connected to this post and I actually want to visit a theater some time soon.

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