Theatre has a profound ability to transport the viewer into an alternate world. However, at one theatre in Toronto, the other world feels tangible and real; because it is. The Winter Garden Theatre features a ceiling shrouded in ash leaves and artificial flora to create an enchanting living ceiling.

The theatre began life in 1913, but oddly, the living ceiling was not the most pertinent feature of the Marcus Loew theatre. New York architect, Thomas W. Lamb designed the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres as one of the few “double-decker theatres” in the world, and the only one in Canada.

The Elgin theatre sits on the ground floor, with 1561 seats. Then, seven storeys above the Elgin Theatre, sits the smaller Winter Garden Theatre, with a capacity of 992. The effect is two distinct theatres, stacked neatly on top of each other. The Elgin boasts of classical architecture with regal gold and red designs, while upstairs, in the Winter Garden Theatre, plants, trellises and lampposts bring the beauty of nature into the theatre. The lanterns give the room a fantastic, ethereal quality.

Unfortunately, as the era of cinema put theatre performances into decline, the Elgin Theatre and Winter Garden Theatre closed their doors in 1928. The Elgin would reopen as a cinema, but the Winter Garden Theatre would remain shuttered for 53 years.

In 1981, the Ontario Heritage Trust purchased the premises and began an ambitious campaign of restoration. Paintwork was restored, original phones hang from the walls, hand-operated elevators were reopened, and work was carried out on the building’s original stain glass windows.

Winter Garden crowd

Today both the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre hold a variety of theatre performances, including concerts and comedy performances. But to fully comprehend the meticulous detail of these magnificent theatres, take a backstage tour, where visitors can view original theatre scenery used in the performances of 1913, and take in the dressing rooms.

For more information and a tour timetable visit the official website.


Featured image from Flickr by Canon in 2D

Image from Flickr by Eduardo Zárate

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