In 2004, the front building was demolished. Just as the art community rose on Hamilton’s James Street North, Canada’s oldest (and most haunted) theatre ended.
Saying it’s the oldest is a trick. It is the oldest, but not as a theatre.
Oldest theatre building… sort of —
It was a carriage factory from the 1870’s. After 6 years it was closed.
The building was abandoned for 26 years before Vaudeville was declared “alive” in Hamilton. The factory floor converted to a store theatre with 200 seats showing live vaudeville acts to excited crowds.
Named the Wonderland, then the Colonial, then the Princess before the world declared “Vaudeville’s dead! Long live the motion picture.”
Andrew Ross took over in 1924 converting the store theatre into an impressive lobby and built a 2,000 seat auditorium behind it before renaming it The Tivoli.
Fun History :: Andrew Ross owned a carriage factory on King St (near current Dennigers). He was one of the competitors that made this building abandoned in 1881. A “ghost sign” for Mr Ross was temporary revealed on King Street near Jarvis a few years back, then covered by a condo building.
The “Talkie” —
It’s possible Canada’s first “Talkie” played inside the Tivoli. These were silent films featuring local actors reading lines while hiding behind the screen. This is not confirmed.
What the heck happened? —
The Tivoli was a movie theatre for 71 years. In 199, it was converted back to a live theatre before it struggle for survival. Sam Sniderman (aka Sam the Record Man) owned it and no money was spent on maintenance.
It decayed until 2004 when a chunk of the wall collapsed behind the historic edifice. Contractors working for Hamilton decided it was dangerous and the historic front building and former carriage factory was demolished.
Current state as of early-2017 —
The auditorium remains abandoned.
A banner has gone up promoting “Tivoli Condos”, and rumour says the auditorium will be saved and made part of the new building. This also, has not be confirmed.
Ambrose Small was a theatre owner in the early 1900’s. Owned multiple buildings, running them out of his office in Toronto’s Grand Opera House. Also owned the Grand in London (Ontario), and what was then The Princess Theatre (now Tivoli) in Hamilton.
In Toronto, the year 1919, Small signed away all his theatres for $1.7 million ($243 million in today’s money). He walked out of this meeting, went shopping, met with his lawyer… then nobody saw him again.
This is an interesting piece of Canadian dark history | Read more at Ambrose Small : A Curious Disappearance
Ambrose the Ghost
London’s Grand Theatre —
Many theatres once owned by Small claim his ghost, including London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre. And they have proof.
Years back, during renovations, some tasks required a bulldozer. Setup in the auditorium and faced to a front wall. Fired up, arm brought back ready to smash… then the bulldozer stalls.
The driver turned it back on, turned towards the wall and again it stalls. The workers gave up, switching to manual tools they tore down a large section of wall.
There it was on the other side, beautiful colourful designs painted over a priceless archway dating back to the original theatre. It was forgotten behind a new facade during the days of ugly architecture in the 1970’s.
If the bulldozer didn’t stall this priceless artifact would have fallen. Many thank the ghost of Ambrose Small.
Ambrose in the Tivoli
“Victorian Homeless Dude” —
During the renovations of the 1990’s, staff started seeing a homeless man inside the building. They thought a man got in and was hiding, telling the manager many times. He found nobody. A week later he had to become the detective.
Sitting down with the witnesses, he asked, “what’s the man look like?” The answer was strange…
They started calling him the “Victorian homeless dude”. The manager knew the Tivoli’s history, went across the street to Central Library and borrowed a book on the Canadian theatre.
Then showing each witness the picture of a man. They all said, “That’s the dude!” The picture was Ambrose Small.
A skeleton —
A small storage room was revealed inside the courtyard during renovations in 1995. It was a theatre nerd’s dream, dusty steamer trunks filled with posters, reels and vaudeville props, and in the back dustier more rusted out trunk.
Dragged out and pried open, inside they found what looked like a human skeleton. Nobody could tell if it was a Vaudeville prop or the real thing so they called in a forensics team from Toronto.
The trunk was put aside and the team finally arrived a few days later. It was gone!
Confusion during major renovations, it’s believed contractors tossed it into a dumpster. If true, then there’s a dusty steamer trunk in a junkyard somewhere that may contain the answer to, “What ever happen to Ambrose Small?”
Sooooo many ghosts
The boy under the statue —
2 statues stand slowly rotting inside that auditorium. Staff constantly heard noises from inside a large vent under Caesar.
They said it was a crying child. Curiosity caused some to pull off the vent cover, but stopped when seeing a dirty, dusty void. Then for one week straight the boy cried every day, causing a frustrated theatre manager to crawl in.
He didn’t find a ghost. Instead, under a pile of dirty was a piece of paper. Cleaned up to reveal a report card belonging to a boy in Grade 4 who attended Hamilton’s Ryerson School. We’re told he had good marks.
In 2002, Daniel Cumerlato (founder of The Ghost Walks) was involved in an investigation of the Tivoli. His two trusted psychics, Kate Kingston and Michele Hewer knew nothing about these ghostly experiences.
They were drawn to the vent under Caesar, Michele placing her hands on the wall. She said, “there was an important document in here”. She was right.
Norbert T. Rottweiler —
“Nobby” to his friends. The theatre manager’s pet that moonlighted as the Tivoli’s guard dog.
The manager locked the front office every night, only giving Nobby access to the foyer and lobby. One morning he came in to find his dog was missing. Frantically looking everywhere until hearing a whimpering the locked front office door. Opened it and Nobby ran out.
The office was locked and the manager sure Nobby was outside that door. But maybe he was mistaken… until the next night when it happened again.
The only explanation is something unlocked and opened the door, waited for Nobby to walk in, then closed and locked it behind him. Multiple staff members and even our former Ghost Guide James witnessed the occurrence.