Historic Sites of Manitoba: Orpheum Theatre (283 Fort Street, Winnipeg)
Located on the east side of Fort Street in Winnipeg, the Orpheum Theatre was based on architectural designs of John D. Atchison, in consultation with Pittsburgh-based, theatre design partnership of Kirchhoff & Rose. This followed several years of local speculation that the United States-based Orpheum Circuit theatre company was interested in acquiring a theatre site in Winnipeg. It was built in 1910-1911 by the general contracting firm of Hazelton & Wallin (of Chicago), with local work awarded to the Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works (steel and ironworks) and Dunn Brothers (brick facade, terra cotta, and ornamental metal work). Estimates of the construction costs varied between $150,000 and $250,000, with total project costs ranging from $225,000 to $450,000, depending on sources. The structural dimensions measured 120 feet along Fort Street to a depth of 92 feet. The stage, which featured a proscenium of 34 feet by 28 feet, measured 30 feet deep by 92 feet across. The theatre boasted a seating capacity of around 1900 split between the parquet (800), balcony (550), gallery (450), and boxes and loges (108). The interior was decorated in rose, cream, and gold colours, with seats and carpets of green velour, and box suites and drapery were lavender. The curtains bore emblems of thistles and shamrocks. Built on a fireproof design, the only wood in the interior was hardwood flooring laid over a brick base.
At the time of its opening, the Orpheum was the company’s nineteenth circuit site, and first in Canada, though another theatre at Vancouver was under construction. Initial plans called for a September 1910 opening, though delays eventually pushed that date back until the following spring. The grand opening took place on 13 March 1911, with opening vaudeville shows attended by local notables, including the former and then-present Lieutenant-Governors, Daniel H. McMillan and Douglas C. Cameron. Also on hand were company executives, including John W. Morrisey (San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre manager), Morris Meyerfeld (President), Herman Fehr (Milwaukee stockholder), and Charles E. Bray (Western Vaudeville Association, General Manager). The theatre was managed by Clarence L. Dean, who also oversaw the company’s St. Paul (Minnesota) theatre. Marquee shows included vocalists, comedians, entertainers, dancers, musicians, and more, with headliners such as Ed Wynn, W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Gus Edwards, Eddie Foy, Fannie Brice, Harry Houdini, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Sarah Bernhardt, Victor Moore, Alice Lloyd, and Marie Lloyd.
It operated under the Orpheum name until around 1937, after which management passed to the Winnipeg Orpheum Company Limited, a subsidiary of Radio-Keith-Orpheum, known as RKO. The theatre’s prominence and usage had faded by the late 1930s, though it did enjoy temporary resurgence during the Second World War as a venue for war services’ artists and entertainment under the banner of the Royal Canadian Legion. Famous Players Canadian Corporation sold the building to Omega Realty, a local ownership group, in January 1946 for $30,000. The final curtain call was on its 35th anniversary, 13 March 1946, with the show put on by the Winnipeg Coordinating Board.
After it closed, various plans called for the building to be converted into a garage, store, hotel, or warehouse. Salvage and demolition work began within a month, though by later that year, all designs for re-purposing the property had been scrapped. Instead, the building was demolished and the property was subsequently used as a surface parking lot.
Photos & Maps
“Still another new theatre,” Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 20 June 1905, page 9.
“New theatre for Winnipeg,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 April 1909, page 11.
“Will start work on new threatre,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 March 1910, page 9.
“$2,000,000 will be reached next week,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 March 1910, page 9.
“Start new theatre,” Manitoba Free Press, 28 March 1910, page 3.
“Orpheum Theatre,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 March 1910, page 4.
“Let contract for Orpheum Theatre,” Manitoba Free Press, 30 March 1910, page 8.
“A few of the larger contracts received during March 1910 [...],” Manitoba Free Press, 2 April 1910, page 3.
“Orpheum Theatre plans,” Winnipeg Tribune, 12 April 1910, page 5.
“Work on Orpheum Theatre,” Winnipeg Tribune, 10 June 1910, page 5.
“Orpheum Theatre to open March 6,” Winnipeg Tribune, 13 February 1911, page 4.
“Orpheum to open Mar. 1,” Winnipeg Tribune, 17 February 1911, page 1.
“Music and drama [With the opening of the Orpheum Theatre ...],” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 February 1911, page 5.
“Music and drama [Advance sales of seats ...],” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 March 1911, page 5.
“Musical and dramatic review of week,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 March 1911, page 17.
“Music and drama [Everything will be in readiness ...],” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 March 1911, page 5.
“Orpheum Theatre,” Winnipeg Tribune, 7 March 1911, page 3.
“Visitors for Orpheum opening,” Winnipeg Tribune, 7 March 1911, page 5.
“Brilliant opening of the Orpheum,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 March 1911, page 3.
“The Winnipeg Orpheum,” Manitoba Free Press, 10 March 1911, page 8.
“Orpheum opens Winnipeg house,” Manitoba Free Press, 14 March 1911, page 24.
“Warehouse, garage or hotel,” Winnipeg Tribune, 24 January 1946, page 1.
“Finale for Orpheum after 35 years,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 February 1946, page 21.
“Structural steel for sale,” Winnipeg Tribune, 4 April 1946, page 5.
“Orpheum interior crumbling under wreckers’ busy axes,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 April 1946, pages 1 & 4.
“Man breaks wrist in 5-storey fall of Orpheum roof,” Winnipeg Tribune, 1 October 1946, page 9.
“Jury says Orpheum death accidental,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 July 1946, page 4.
“The Orpheum passes,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 November 1946, page 24.
“Demarest remembers Vaudeville days here,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 June 1947, page 1.
“City to poll comfort station site approval,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 May 1948, page 9.
“Historical dairy,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 May 1949, page 79.
“Major-Minor notes [Rebirth of Vaudeville ...],” by S. Roy Maley, Winnipeg Tribune, 18 June 1949, page 9.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 24 August 2018
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