Hamilton, Ontario, Canada | Address: 116 James Street North - MAP

TIVOLI THEATRE

The oldest theatre building is also the most haunted.

Unique history and ghosts, such as a disappeared man, crying kids, and messing with a guard dog.

In 2004, the front facade was reduced to a void within the modern architecture of artistic James Street North, Hamilton.

Today it remains a reminder of what was...

  • the oldest theatre structure in Hamilton
  • possibly the first theatre to play a "Talkie"
  • one of the most haunted buildings around!

Saying the building is the oldest is a trick. It is the oldest, but not as a theatre.

Oldest theatre building... sort of --
In 1875, a carriage factory occupied what would become the lobby. 6 years later it was closed. Not sure why. Maybe horse-related competition.

The building was abandoned for 26 years before Vaudeville took hold in Hamilton. The factory floor converted to a "store theatre" with 200 seats showing live vaudeville acts beheld by excited crowds.

It was called the Wonderland, Colonial, and then the Princess before the world exclaimed, "Vaudeville's dead! Long live the moving picture."

Andrew Ross took over in 1924. Converted the store theatre to an impressive lobby, and built a 2,000 seat auditorium behind it.

Fun note :: Ross owned a carriage factory on King St (near current day Dennigers). He was one of the savvy owners to make this building abandoned in 1881. A cool "ghost sign" for Mr Ross was temporary revealed a few years back, then covered by a condo building.

The "Talkie" --
It's possible the first "Talkie" (silent film with actors behind the screen reading lines) film played in Canada was at the Tivoli. This is not confirmed.

What the heck happened? --
The Tivoli was a movie theatre for 71 years.

In 1995, it was converted back to a live theatre. This kicked off a struggle for survival. Sam Sniderman (aka Sam the Record Man) would own it for a while. No money was spent on maintenance.

Decay is why, in 2004, a chunk of the wall collapsed behind the historic edifice. City contractors rushed to evaluate and decided it was a danger. 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

Mr Ambrose Small was a theatre owner in the early 1900's. Owned multiple buildings, including the Grand in Toronto, the Grand in London (Ontario), and what was then The Princess Theatre in Hamilton (now the Tivoli).

In 1919 Toronto, 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... and nobody saw him again.

This is an interesting piece of Canadian dark history well worth a read.


Ambrose, the Ghost

London's Grand Theatre --
Many theatres once owned by 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 dismanteling 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'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.

And of course... Ambrose in the Tivoli

"Victorian Homeless Dude" --

During the 1990's as a live theatre, staff members started seeing a homeless man inside the building. Always different locations, they randomly thought someone got in and was hiding.

The manager was told many times. He found nobody. A week later he would take the role of detective.

Sitting down with the witnesses, he asked, "what did the man look like". The answer was unique.

They said, "he wore an old fashion suit, a bowler hat and had an old style curled moustache". They started calling him the "Victorian homeless dude".

The manager knew the Tivoli's history.

He went across the street to Hamilton's Central Library and borrowed a book on Canadian theatre history. While running back he flipped to a large picture of a man.

Each witness was shown the picture. They all said, "That's the dude!", confirming the manager's suspicions.

The picture was Ambrose Small.

A skeleton --

During the 1995 renovations, a small storage room was revealed inside the original courtyard. A theatre nerd's paradise!

Dusty steamer trunks filled with posters, movie reels and props. And in the back was a different model of trunk and much dustier.

They dragged it out of the room and pried it open. Looking inside they would see a human skeleton looking back at them.

Nobody could tell if it was real or maybe a Vaudeville prop.

A Toronto forensics team was called, but couldn't get out for a couple days. The trunk was put aside.

When the team finally arrived, the trunk was missing. Contractors figured it was lost in the clutter and mistakenly trashed.

If true, then there's a dusty steamer trunk in a remote junkyard containing the remains of the once business mogal Ambrose Small.

Sooooo many ghosts

The boy under the statue --

2 statues stand guard over the stage slowly rotting behind those auditorium walls.

During its final run as a live theatre, staff heard noises from inside a large vent under Caesar located stage-left.

Staff heard sounds similar to a sobbing child. Curiousity caused some to pull off the vent cover. Seeing the dark, dusty tunnel stopped them from ever going in.

Then for one week straight the boy cried often.

The frustrated theatre manager personally crawled into the vent. He found something buried under the dust.

A report card, belonging to a Grade 4 boy who went to Hamilton's Ryerson School. We're told he had good marks.

In 2002, Daniel of the Ghost Walks was involved with an investigation of the Tivoli.

The two psychics (Kate & Michele) went in cold. This means without any prior information, history or stories.

They were drawn to this vent. Michele placed her hands on the wall and said, "there's an important document in here". She was right.

The noose in the catwalk (maybe not ghostly) --

The manager was exploring during the renovations of 1995. He got up to the catwalk. This dates back to the Vaudeville store theatre.

While crawling through a tight space, he noticed it hanging from above. An old piece of twine fashioned into a perfect noose.

Who put it there remains a mystery.

Norbert T. Rottweiler --

"Nobby" to his friends. He was the theatre manager's dog, who would moonlight as the Tivoli's guard.

The manager locked the front office every night, only giving Nobby access to the foyer and lobby.

One morning he came in to find Nobby was missing. He looked everywhere. Then walking back into the foyer he heard a dog whining from behind the locked office door.

He opened the door and Nobby trotted out.

The office was locked last night and the manager was sure Nobby was outside that door. But maybe he was mistaken... until the next night when it happened again.

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 two occurrences.

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The Tivoli Theatre, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada