The Disappearance of Ambrose Small | Toronto

Ambrose Small related Addresses – – Canada | Addresses – Tivoli, Hamilton: 116 James St N // Grand Opera, Toronto: 40 King St W (now Scotia Plaza) // Grand, London: 471 Richmond St

Ambrose Small Disappeared

Ambrose Small disappeared from this earth on a sunny afternoon on Tuesday December 2nd, 1919.

Almost 100 years in the future, and even with all the amazing technology, Small remains one of the most mysterious events in Canadian history.

Ambrose Small, the regal and flawed theatre owner who disappeared from Toronto in 1919
Ambrose Small, the regal and flawed theatre owner who disappeared from Toronto in 1919

1 day before he vanished, Ambrose signed a deal to sell all of his theatre interests. The next day he visited with his lawyer. Met in the small office inside Toronto’s Grand Opera House and finalized the deal.

The terms must have been right, or maybe he was tired of the business. By the end, Ambrose was $1 million richer, the rest to be paid in installments.

This deal would sell off all of Ambrose Small’s holdings, including…

  • Toronto’s Grand Opera House
  • London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre
  • Hamilton’s Princess Theatre (later called The Tivoli)
  • Many other holdings in several Ontario cities

The 56-year-old millionaire walked out of the meeting a free and retired man.

Theatres once owned by Ambrose Small before selling in 1919 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Theatres once owned by Ambrose Small before selling in 1919 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

His wife, Theresa, would be tasked to take the cheque into Dominion Bank at King & Yonge Sts while Ambrose was spending money on luxuries, including a new Cadillac.

Later in the afternoon he again sat with the lawyer to celebrate. The lawyer left and would become the last man to see Ambrose.

Ambrose is Gone!

Ambrose Small didn’t come home for dinner that night. His wife was worried, but also knew the type of man he was. She was well aware of the many affairs he had with young starlets from the play’s.

Last thing Theresa Small wanted was a scandal, so she let it be.  Four months later, she finally talked to the police.

The public, the media, everyone was watching the Toronto police. So when the first detective gained no answers, scrutiny led to the knowledge the officer had a personal connection to a top suspect.

Evidence was drying up quick and answers were needed.  Enter the straight-laced Detective Austin Mitchell.

Mitchell was a great investigator. The goal was to find Ambrose Small dead or alive and put an end to this great mystery. But nothing was happening.

It’s said Mitchell even employed the help of local psychics.

Later Detective Hammond was brought in.  Hammond was straight-laced as well, a professional who’s style match well with Mitchell.  Together they found the best clues.

The Case Evidence

Ambrose’s secret life —

Theresa Small was aware of her husband’s adultery but might not have known the extent. Hammond found the secret room, setup inside the Grand Opera House. The decor, carpeting, soundproofing drapery and bar filled with whisky and wine. And in the corner was a bed covered in expensive satin.

Some mistresses were found and questioned by the police. None were considered for the crime.

Bodies everywhere —

As part of the efforts to find him, Theresa facilitated a reward. $50,000 to find him alive, or $15,000 for his corpse. Magically bodies began turning up everywhere.

The finders would claim each and everyone to be Ambrose. Examiners were busy looking over random dead bodies, finding each not to be Ambrose.

Small had hammertoes, a fact not given to the public.

Did the wife do it? —

Theresa Small was a socialite who probably despised her cheating husband. When sure of his disappearance, she reacted with a cold gaze and no emotion.

Ambrose Small's wife, Theresa Small in Toronto during the media circus of her husband's disappearance
Ambrose Small’s wife, Theresa Small in Toronto during the media circus of her husband’s disappearance

Of course, she would be the recipient of the $1.7 million from the theatre deal.

All this motive, and that it’s usually the wife, but the police didn’t believe it. They interviewed her many times, each concluded that it’s true she hated her husband, but that she was not capable of murder.

What about the assistant? —

John Doughty was Ambrose Small’s assistant inside the Toronto Grand.

Employees were not even considered as it was thought Ambrose treated them like gold. Even after selling the theatres, he made sure the staff would keep their jobs.

John wouldn’t have been a suspect if not for his personal disappearance act. At the same time, $105,000 in bonds owned by Ambrose went missing.

Doughty hated Ambrose. Thought him to be greedy and cheap. He credited himself as a reason why Small was so rich, yet still received a pittance of a salary, and didn’t even get him a gift at Christmas.

It was rumoured John even told a friend, “One day I’ll kill Ambrose Small”.

The police put out a nationwide notice which made its way in the United States. A wanted poster found its way to a small milling town in Oregon. A man known as “Three Fingers” saw it and called the police. Reported his manager Charlie Cooper who matched the description.

This was John under a fake name.

Ambrose Small's assistant and possible murderer, John Doughty - dragged back to Toronto
Ambrose Small’s assistant and possible murderer, John Doughty – dragged back to Toronto

He was returned to Toronto for trial on theft only.  No body, no murder weapon, no crime to charge.  Much disappointment was felt at Old City Hall (now a courthouse) when the verdict came down.

The Disappearance Mystery Remains

Despite all efforts to put closure on this case, nothing concrete was ever found. Many thought John killed him and buried the body in a city landfill.

Some believe that John Doughty and Theasa Small were lovers. Conspired to kill him. That they burned up his body in the furnace of London’s Grand Theatre.

We will never know. This remains the most mysterious disappearance in Canadian history.

London’s Grand Theatre —

Many theatres once owned by Ambrose Small claim his love. This includes the Grand in London, Ontario.

And they have ghostly proof.

Serious renovations were being done years back. Some tasks required a bulldozer. The machine was set up, in the auditorium, for dismantling of a front wall.

Fired up, turned towards the wall, arm brought back ready to smash… and the bulldozer stalls. The operator tried and tried. It fired up, arm towards the wall, and stalls again.

Switching to manual tools, the workers tore down a large section of wall.  They saw it right away.

An archway dating back to the original theatre from Ambrose Small’s time as owner. It hid, forgotten behind the new facade with a beautiful mural still careful painted on the stone.

Many believe Small stopped the bulldozer and personally saved this piece of history.

Read about Ambrose Small inside Hamilton’s Tivoli Theatre

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