Premiered on WNED-TV on March 4
(Repeats on March 26 at 11:00 p.m.)
WNED-TV examines Toronto’s vibrant theatre community in the documentary, “Toronto’s First Family of Theatre.” The city is a world class theatre destination and much of its success over the last 50 years can be owed to the Mirvish family.
In the early 1960s successful Toronto business owner Ed Mirvish purchased the aging Royal Alexandra Theatre, one of the most revered theatre houses in North America. Few expected the theatre novice to make a success of the Royal Alex. Without the natural business instincts of Ed Mirvish, the theatre empire which resulted would not have been possible.
In 1948 Ed Mirvish opened Honest Ed’s, a retail store unlike anything that had been seen before. It quickly became a success with its no-frills style, bright lights, colorful signs, and a wide variety of clothes and household goods for sale at bargain prices.
Honest Ed’s grew to take over a full city block at Bloor and Bathurst in Toronto. It attracted waves of new arrivals to Canada and serviced the post war boom as the people of Toronto furnished their households. The success of Honest Ed’s provided the financial security to move into new business ventures. With his wife’s encouragement, Ed took a chance on the Royal Alex.
Ed was not prepared for the attention brought on by the purchase of the Royal Alexandra. “The North American media attention I got dwarfed any publicity I’d ever received as a storekeeper,” he wrote. “I knew nothing about theatre. But I thought it was a bargain, so I bought it. And suddenly I was a patron of the arts.”
As the Royal Alex prospered it became a family operation. Ed’s son, David, began working with his father to build the theatre business. David was an established art collector and ran the David Mirvish Gallery in Toronto. The father and son team worked quickly in making financial and artistic decisions. “We have our board meetings when we walk together,” David recalled.
In 1987, David created Mirvish Productions to accommodate more elaborate productions. Within a few years the Mirvish family built the state-of-the-art Princess of Wales Theatre, further elevating Toronto’s place in the theatre world. Its premiere production of Miss Saigon took theatre to a new level in the city.
When Ed passed away in 2007 at age 92, he was remembered as the man who helped create the most successful theatrical company in Canada as well as being a true man of the people. Theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh said of Ed, “He ran an extraordinary empire as if it was a corner store. He will be hugely missed and never forgotten.”
In 2012, David Mirvish announced plans to redefine the Toronto theatre district. Working with internationally known architect Frank Gehry, David is building a multi-use project to expand and revitalize the Toronto neighborhood that is home to the Mirvish theatre empire. The ambitious plan is emblematic of a family who continues to look to the future and how to take Toronto in new directions.
Toronto’s First Family of Theatre is made possible by
the Central Canadian Public Television Association and the members of WNED-TV. Thank you.