The Roxy was built in 1913 as The Griffin Opera House/Griffin’s Theatre. Originally, the theatre could accommodate approximately 1200 people with ground level and balcony seating. The orientation of the original theatre was the opposite to its present layout. Back then, the stage and fly gallery were located where the present day control booth is at the rear of the theatre.
Griffin’s Theatre specialized in live theatre, vaudeville, and later, silent films. Toronto’s nickel cinema magnate John Griffin owned the theatre until the mid 1920’s, when it underwent another transformation to become the Grand Opera House. John Griffin owned a number of cinemas in south western Ontario, including the first permanent movie theatre in Toronto.
In 1948, The Odeon Cinema purchased the building and gutted the interior, moving the stage to the front of the building, removing the balconies, and renaming it The Roxy. The Roxy remained an Odeon Cinema until 1986, when it was purchased from the Ontario Cedars Group by Owen Sound Little Theatre. The last film to be shown at The Roxy as The Odeon Cinema was on October 25, 1986 when A Coalminer’s Daughter starring Sissy Spacek was screened.
The first phase of renovation designed by Paul Dawson of Flesherton, and with General Contractor Laurie McConnell was completed October 28, 1987 at a cost of $400,000. Velma Mitges and Georgia Bunston were the OSLT Presidents through these early years of The Roxy, and along with an enthusiasic membership, they saw the first phrase through to completion.
The second phase of renovations took place in 1994 at a cost of 1.5 million dollars , which saw major remodeling of the theatre, a new stage, sound and lighting system, new heating and air-conditioning system, workshop, make-up room, dressing rooms, control room, box-office and lobby along with storage area for costumes, props, paints, and an administrative office. All this took place in 1994 at a cost of $1.5 million dollars. A restaurant to the west of the theatre (called The Alps) was purchased by OSLT in 1994 to accommodate the box-office, a stairwell and part of the “green room”. The second phase, designed by the architects MacDonald and Zuberec of St. Catherines, and contracted by Dwight Burley. A gala opening of “The Man who Came to Dinner” marked the birth of the refurbished theatre, a permanent cultural institution and showpiece for the community, on October 28, 1994.
Many plaques reside in our Griffin Gallery today thanking our vital supporters and funders who helped make this dream a reality, including the provincial government, The Trillium Foundation and many community members. Please have a look at our wall of fame the next time you are in the theatre.
Edwardian brass lighting fixtures found during the renovations are displayed at our bar. Painted frescoes on the original theatre ceiling and balconies can still be seen in our attic and the building’s former Edwardian simplicity and elegance have been captured in archival photos in the J. James Collection at FotoArt and in the Grey Roots Archival Collection.
Against all odds, including two world wars, prolonged prohibition and a depression, The Roxy is a survivor, the community’s cultural hub and single performing arts centre with an unbroken performance history. While the building has changed, the spirit which has kept it alive has not.