The Empire Theatre
Address: 408 Queen Street East, Toronto ON
Also Known As: The Imperial, the Palton, the RIalto.
The Theatre that many people remember as the Empire, was originally named the Imperial. It opened in 1915 in a newly completed building named the Shepherd Refuge Building. When it opened it featured vaudeville and silent “moving pictures.” Located at 408 Queen Street East, it was on the north side of the street, between Parliament and Sackville. It contained 762 wooden seats and no balcony or air conditioning.
In 1922 its name was changed from the Imperial to the Palton, and in 1925, was renamed the Rialto. In February 1936, a report stated that there was no urinal in the men’s washroom, but only a toilet. The washroom was located at the bottom of the stairs, with only a flimsy wooden frame partition around it. The floor in it was wet and there was a bad smell. To make matters worse, the basement was often dark as teenage boys were constantly turning off the light switch as a prank. This made descending the wooden old stairs difficult. The inspector insisted that the light switch be protected so it would be accessible only to employees.
In 1942, the theatre was renovated and in that year its name remained the Rialto. A report in the Toronto Archives states that someone remembered that during the war years, “God Save the King” was played on a scratchy recording. In 1953, a candy bar was added to the theatre by removing seven seats in the back row of the auditorium, and in that year, the theatre’s name was the Empire. I was unable to discover the exact year that it became the Empire.
Taylor, Doug. "Toronto's Empire (Rialto, Palton) Theatre - Queen St. East." Historic Toronto: Information on Toronto's History.