On September 9, 1901 the New Grand Opera House welcomed its first patrons. Men in elegant evening attire and women in rich gowns took their seats for the opening night performance of the popular melodrama Way Down East. As they applauded that night, the audience did not know they were establishing a century-long tradition.
It was Toronto entrepreneur Ambrose Small who built the theatre and operated it until his mysterious disappearance on December 2 1919. That day, Mr. Small deposited one million dollars in a Toronto bank account, lunched with his wife and was never seen again. Weeks after his disappearance, the night watchman swore he saw Mr. Small entering The Grand Theatre. Despite this lead, police were never able to close the file.
Many believe that Mr. Small’s ghost still keeps a benevolent eye on his beloved theatre.
In 1924, the theatre was purchased by Famous Players Inc. and became a movie house. Between 1945 and 1971, the building was owned and operated by the London Little Theatre. It was one of Canada’s most active and successful amateur theatre companies.
The theatre began a three-year process to become a fully professional regional theatre in 1971. The building itself was beginning to show signs of age and in 1977 it underwent a $5 million renovation. It reopened in 1978 to reclaim its status as one of the most beautiful theatres in Canada. The architectural firm that undertook the renovations was awarded a Governor-General’s award for their re-design of The Grand.
The Grand is an excellent example of the Proscenium Arch Theatre and is one of the more traditional forms of theatrical design. It was designed to send music and sound from the stage into the audience.
Among the great actors who have performed under the magnificent proscenium arch of The Grand are: W.C. Fields, Sarah Bernhardt, Michael Redgrave, Donald O’Connor, Sidney Poitier, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Maggie Smith, Michael Burgess, William Hutt, Martha Henry, Karen Kain, Victor Garber, Sandra Oh and Leonard Nimoy.