A Grand Celebration

The Grand Theatre, Downtown Kingston, Kingston Arts CouncilThe Grand Theatre opened its doors in 1902 on the site of what was once Martin’s Opera House, which burnt down in 1898. The original structure, built in 1879 by local businessman William C. Martin, saw huge success as it presented over 1200 live performances of opera, band concerts and touring artists such as Oscar Wilde. Three years after the fire, local millionaires and theatre lovers Ambrose J. Small and E.J. Barker Pense stepped in to rebuild the theatre, naming it The Grand Opera House. Once again, playing to Kingston’s love of art and culture, the Grand was host to an impressive selection of performers including Sarah Bernhardt, Al Jolsen and Harry Houdini. Upon its reopening in 1902, it was rated one of the most modern theatres in Canada.

In 1919, Small sold The Grand and all his other theatres for $1.7 million and promptly disappeared the following day. Stories flew that Small had been murdered but the case was never solved. Some say his ghost haunts the Grand Theatre to this day. Rumours aside, the theatre sold once again in 1938 to Famous Players, who turned it into a cinema and saw great success until 1961 when they shut the theatre down indefinitely. A parking syndicate purchased the property with the intention of turning it into a lot. Naturally, this is when a concerned group of Kingstonians stepped in and rallied together, as we do, to see this plan put to a stop.

The City heard the outcry and purchased the theatre in 1962 and reopened it in 1966. This effort between the concerned citizens and the City of Kingston marked a major milestone in Kingston’s cultural life as it gave the Grand Theatre a third life and also led to the creation of Ontario’s oldest Arts Council, The Kingston Arts Council. The mandate of the Kingston Arts Council was to “sponsor, encourage and foster excellence in the arts” and this sentiment still holds true today. Acting as an organization that represents all of the artists in Kingston and the surrounding regions, the KAC has been devoted to nurturing regional artists of all disciplines and skill levels, and advocating on their behalf for half a century.

In their true fashion, the Kingston Arts Council has been hard at work planning the celebration of this historic partnership. On November 12, 2012 the City of Kingston will open the doors of The Grand Theatre for the 50th anniversary of this important moment in Kingston’s cultural history. Dubbed “the ultimate birthday party”, this event welcomes all Kingstonians to come and celebrate the arts and our fine theatre. This free event will feature a video documentary, an exhibition that traces the history of The Grand Theatre, and performances by The Limestone Trio, Emily Fennell, Spencer Evans, Jonathan Stewart, KinetiQ Crew Break Dancers and Blue Canoe Theatre. And, of course, there will be birthday cake. It all starts at 7:30PM on November 12, 2012, at The Grand Theatre and all are welcome to attend.

Thanks to Vintage Kingston for today’s pic.


  1. Harvey Kirkpatrick November 6, 2012
  2. Old Stone November 7, 2012
    • Danielle November 7, 2012
  3. ohhyaaa November 7, 2012
    • Danielle November 7, 2012
  4. TedSmitts November 7, 2012

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