The Royal Alexandra Theatre
260 King Street West
It’s thanks to “Honest Ed”!
There is no denying the vibrancy of King West Village. It’s hard to imagine it without the bustle of people rushing to and from the restaurants, pubs, and clubs, but without Edwin (Honest Ed) Mirvish, there likely wouldn’t be a Village. Much of King West history starts with the theatres.
Ed Mirvish’s vision for King West started in 1963. He purchased the Edwardian landmark Royal Alexandra Theatre, which had been scheduled for demolition. The area had declined, but Ed Mirvish knew this building was worth saving.
It was designated a National Historic Monument in 1987. Ed personally oversaw every aspect of its splendid renovations, and the running of the theatre, until 1982 when he turned it over his son David Mirvish. Father and son producers went on to finance, build, and create many other opportunities for live theatre through Mirvish Productions. Productions consistently draw huge crowds.
Dinner and theatre
The refurbishment of the “Royal Alex” as it’s affectionately called, was only the beginning of King West history. King West Village is a key part of Toronto’s Entertainment District. Wanting patrons to have somewhere to dine before or after their theatrical experience, Ed Mirvish opened several restaurants in the area, beginning with Ed’s Warehouse, famous for its roast beef dinners. Subsequently, Ed’s Seafood, Ed’s Folly, Ed’s Chinese, Ed’s Italian Restaurant, and Old Ed’s were opened, serving 6,000 meals a night, and attracting many local residents and visitors to this previously neglected area of King Street West. Those restaurants are gone now, with the first, and last, Ed’s Warehouse, closing its doors in 2000. But there is no shortage of great places to dine in the area.
Restaurants may add to the story, but it was the theatre that got it started. J. Randy Alldread, public relations manager for Mirvish Productions, says, “If it weren’t for the Royal Alex theatre, there would not be any history to speak of, and the Entertainment District would not have flourished as it has.” He is amazed, but not surprised, at the area’s growth, and its attraction. “People want to live, work, and play downtown,” he says.”It’s the happening spot.”
More than one theatre
The Royal Alex is not the only historic theatre, but it is the last one standing. The Princess Theatre, Toronto’s first electrically lit public building, was built circa 1890. According to Heritage Toronto it was “one of Toronto’s most popular theatres for more than 40 years and was almost destroyed by fire in 1915, but reopened in 1917.” It declined in use as road shows diminished, and the building had to be torn down in 1931 when University Avenue was being extended from King to Front Street.
While it may not have the same history, the Princess of Wales Theatre, opened in 1993, has its own cache and significance. It is the first privately owned and financed theatre built in Canada since 1907. This modern theatre offers state-of-the-art facilities and can accommodate truly spectacular performances because of the technical capabilites. The opening production was Miss Saigon, which featured a helicopter scene! Yet the 2,000-seat theatre, with its three levels of seating, is surprisingly intimate with none of the seats being more than 85 feet from the stage.
Perhaps no King West history
The theatres, restaurants and other venues along this stretch of King Street add so much to the arts and culture of King West Village, but without Ed Mirvish, perhaps none of it would be here.
So, thanks Ed.