Do you ever walk down the streets of your city and think about its history? About when that building to your right was constructed? Or what it originally was before it became a supermarket?
Do you ever think about the people that took the same steps as you years ago? Or how they may be walking with you now, seen or unseen?
I often walk down King Street West thinking about the history behind the old theatres, wondering what ghostly figures wander about, trapped between their past and our present.
Toronto’s Entertainment District, including King Street West, is home to a number of old, well-established theatres. The oldest of them all is The Royal Alexandra Theatre, which opened in 1907. Not only is it the oldest theatre in the city, but it is the oldest continuously-operating, legitimate theatre in North America. It is also the first theatre on the continent to become “royal” thanks to King Edward VII. In 1962, Ed Mirvish purchased the theatre and saved it from demolition.
With its alluring history, I thought it would be interesting to research some of the myths and ghost stories that linger around the theatre. Two ghosts are rumoured to be haunting The Royal Alex. One apparition, known as the “flyman” is said to control the theatre’s fly/rigging system for productions. One time a stage technician was working on his computer up on the fourth fly rail. He was looking at the computer screen when he noticed the figure of a man pass right in front of him. When he glanced up, no one was there and the door to enter the rail was moving, as if someone had just come in.
The second rumoured ghost can be found on the second balcony level. A research group on a tour of the theatre once picked up a putrid odour, like that of rotten eggs. The theatre employee they were touring with informed them that the odour appears on a regular basis, but that they have yet to find the source of it.Another theatre employee who often ushered for the second balcony has recalled the uncomfortable cold air felt on that level. These odd occurrences are likely connected to the myth that a phantom audience member likes to watch shows on the balcony level.
Now imagine being a present day audience member and taking your seat next to somebody in the theatre. The lights go down as the show is about to start. You place your left elbow on the arm rest at the same moment the person next to you places their right arm on that same armrest. Their cold body touches yours. You turn to apologize— but no one’s there.
The most fascinating thing about the hauntings of The Royal Alexandra Theatre is that these ghosts represent what used to be. They are confined in a building full of rich history, trying to grab our attention. I have yet to see a ghost there myself, but when and if I do, I will embrace its appearance as a symbol of the past peaking its head into the present.
-contributed by Chelsea Reyes-Morgan