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Elgin/Winter Garden Theatre(s)
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This grand theatre(s) was opened 1913 and originally named Loew's Yonge Street Theatre, after Marcus Loew, head of a chain of theatres known as "Loew's Vaudeville Theatre", this grand lady(s) on Yonge St. has had enough history and reported ghostly phenomena for a few theatres! The 992 seat Winter Garden (upper theatre) was closed in 1928 and for all intents and purposes, sealed off. The 1,561 seat Elgin (lower theatre), with its high, domed ceiling served as cinema for a time where anyone over the age of thirty may remember it's shows on occasional weekends for kids but other than this, the movies shown most of the time were... well... geared to a more 'adult' audience.
The theatre(s) were purchased by the Ontario Heritage Association in 1981 and designated a national historical site in 1982.
In 1987, when renovations were started, a plethora of things were discovered in the sealed portion of the theatre, including ephemera (playbills, ticket stubs) and costumes from 60 years before which the employees described a sensation of walking into a time machine.
The theatres, lovingly restored and with the 'black paint' and general scarring of the Elgin cleared away and restored to it's brilliant original design and the Winter Garden back it's unbelievable former glory (easily one of the most unique and beautiful theatres in the world) were officially reopened to the public in 1989.
The theatre stands as the last "double-decker" or stacked Edwardian theatre facility in the world.
There are two types of reports from this building... One set that is accepted and even volunteered by the theatres' staff when asked or doing their 'ghost tours' and our submissions so I've divided them up into "Official" (from Heritage Ontario) and "Reported" (sent to us by theatre goers and staff).
"Official" Reported Phenomenon
A workman in the theatres watched once as a group of theatre seats in the Winter Garden folded down as if an unseen audience had just sat down to watch a performance, and then, moments after, returned to their normal position. (Note: Look below for another "seating story" of historic if not ghostly interest about the Winter Garden.)
The hand operated elevators, which supposedly require an operator to move, will suddenly start up by themselves and go to various floors for no apparent reason. When we visited, this report was the one that seemed to be the most prevalent. All the staff we've spoken to have either experienced this themselves or know someone closely who has.
One thing that one staff member admitted to and was reported to us by a patron is an apparition of a woman in Edwardian clothing will appear in the lobby, and remain long enough to be witnessed by a few before disappearing. We don't know who this woman is or why she's still lingering but it's safe to say that enough reports have come in to grant the apparition some credence.
Some of the volunteers doing the renovation conducted a session with a Ouija Board. Almost as soon as they started, a ghost named "Samuel" identified himself. He had been a trombone player in 1918 who had passed away by falling into the orchestra pit of the Elgin. The volunteers asked if there were any other spirits there. He said yes, but when they asked to talk to them, he refused.
Not Ghostly but... The Seat of John Dillinger
When the theatre was being restored in the 1980s, the staff went to very meticulous extents to adhere to historical faithfulness. They contacted the Biograph Theatre in Chicago, which would have had theatre seats very similar to those originally used in the Elgin Wintergarden. The restorations staff purchased several and they were shipped to Toronto.
When they arrived, one chair seemed inexplicably to be upholstered in a different colour. So, the staff had it upholstered to blend in with the others. Shortly thereafter, they were in touch with the staff of the Biograph Theatre, and discovered the reason for the difference. They chair had been its unique colour to indicate that it was the last theatre chair occupied by the notorious American gangster John Dillinger. The infamous bank robber and murderer was gunned down outside the Biograph theatre on July 22nd, 1934, at about 10.30 pm.
So, lost somewhere in the expanses of seats is John Dillenger's last chair... A seat any theatre goer could very well be using at any show.
As a side note, Dillinger has yet to make an ethereal appearance on stage - or anywhere else within the theatre.
Please remember, the reports below are NOT AT ALL accepted as 'historical ghosts' by the folks at Ontario Heritage but are included here for your own enjoyment and interest.
The following was sent to us by a reader of our site...
I used to work at the Elgin/Wintergarden Theatre as an usher. Although the Winter Garden was as yet unopened when I was there, the Elgin was still running. The next one was also sent in by another one of our readers...
When I worked there, I heard stories from many of the staff about 4 particular ghosts.
One young lady, believed to have been an actress, has been seen leaving the 2nd floor coat check room (where the room, it has been said, had been used as a quick-change for the actors).
There's also a man that stays in and around the 2nd floor ladies washroom. Needless to say, I've never used that washroom. He's thought to have been a theatre technician.
There's also a little boy who was believed to have fallen from one of the boxes in the Elgin theatre. He's been seen in and around that box and running up and down the grand staircase from the balcony to the mezzanine level.
Then there's a female patron who was believed to have been stabbed in the Wintergarden washroom (that is now closed). She dragged herself to the elevator, where she waited for it, but no one came (it's run by ushers), there she died. A lot of ushers (including myself) have been taken up to the 5th (top) floor, where no one is around (sometimes there isn't even any show up there at the time).
Once, when no one was in the elevator, or on the 5th floor, when I was called up there, I went down to the 1st floor... to let her out. You know.... just in case.....
Seeing that I was a summer student employee (for a company that puts on productions at the theatre(s), I was given responsibilities that would normally not be bothered with. One of them included having to ensure that signage for our shows would be properly installed at the Elgin & Winter Garden.
While at the Theatre Centre, I had the opportunity to question the box office personnel about the paranormal activities there, and several of the more famous stories were confirmed by them.
The most famous ghost is of the Lavender Lady. Her ghost haunts the "Upstairs" theatre, the Winter Garden. The story goes that there was a young woman who was stabbed in the old Winter Garden Theatre washroom. Stumbling out of the washroom to look for help, she was able to make her way into the lobby and press the elevator button, but collapsed after doing so. When the elevator arrived at the Winter Garden Theatre level, the elevator attendant opened the door to discover the young woman, dead.
Today, her presence is made known more commonly through the aroma of lavender. A light breeze would cause the scent to waft into the room.
Or she is said to make herself known by an apparition. One of the box office staff apparently saw her - a woman in her mid-20s, blonde hair in a bun, but a bit dishevelled, appears to have been in a struggle.
Box office staff have strange instances with the elevator. Sometimes when there are no shows taking place at the upstairs Winter Garden, where it would be dark, the elevator button upstairs at the Winter Garden, would be pressed. The attendant would have to travel to the top, only to discover no one is there! The younger staff don't usually open the elevator door, but the older staff, as a courtesy to the Lavender Lady, open the door just to acknowledge her presence.
Another ghost is of a man in a brown suit who is sometimes seen sitting in the Elgin Theatre, usually during a rehearsal. When someone approached him or called out to him, he would disappear.
Another ghost in the Elgin is dubbed as Stan. He was a worker who helped to restore the Elgin Theatre during the 80s, but died when he fell off the Mezzanine of the theatre. He is not supposed to be a benevolent ghost. The box office staff member I was talking to said she had her own experience with "Stan." She was walking down the stairs to the lobby beneath the Elgin Theatre when she heard footsteps behind her. Looking back she didn't see anybody. She increased her speed and when the footsteps also began to increase in speed as well, until, finally she had to run down the stairs, outrunning the footsteps.
Back to the Winter Garden, there have been known instances of rows of seats slowly unfolding as if people were sitting in them. A musician's ghost haunts the theatre, as well as a young girl or boy who supposedly fell from one of the side opera boxes.
That's all I can remember of at this moment.
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