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What do a firehall, antique canoe club, century-old church, schoolhouse, opera house, town hall and toothbrush factory have in common? They're all unique venues for Ontario's summer theatres.

Founding of Orillia sign and flowers in front of opera house
Founding of Orillia sign and flowers in front of opera house
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Just 90 minutes north of Toronto, Orillia's 1895 opera house (home to the Sunshine Festival) resembles a castle, with its two round towers, topped with conical roofs. What makes this theatre so interesting is what you can't see.

Theatre Cambridge

According to hearsay, two ghosts inhabit the building. Frightened observers report a "show that never was," which occurs after midnight, complete with laughing, clapping, "bravos" and glowing gaslights. The second phantom is a pianist who plays melancholy melodies on the stage's grand piano after hours.

Music that patrons hear in the 1887-vintage Baptist church (now the Cambridge Arts Theatre) is no longer ecclesiastical. Just 50 minutes southwest of Toronto's Pearson International Airport, the former church is the summer home of Theatre Cambridge and the fall-to-winter home for the Galt Little Theatre.

The beige-and-crimson brick church became a theatre in 1983. It lacks a steeple, but its stained glass windows pay homage to its religious origins.

Niagara-on-the-Lake plays

The Cambridge Arts Theatre
The Cambridge Arts Theatre
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Nearby, St. Jacobs' Schoolhouse Theatre dates back to 1867. It was a school until 1929, then a storage building until the early 1900s, when a local arts and culture group bought and refurbished it. The original tin ceiling, wooden floor and large gothic windows remain untouched.

Our quest to discover more about the former lives of Ontario's summer theatres uncovered the Avon Theatre, a 1901 vaudeville house and 1950s movie theatre in Stratford, Brighton Barn Theatre, an 1850s barn, and the Court House Theatre, an 1840s court house in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Thousand Islands Playhouse

The Firehall Theatre, in Gananoque, was an historic armoury before it became a fire hall. Upper Canada Playhouse in Morrisburg was a toothbrush factory and Thousand Islands Playhouse (Springer Theatre), in Gananoque, was a 1909 canoe club.

We soon realized that it's impossible to visit all of Ontario's unique theatres in just one summer, especially if we combined them in packages with local inns, restaurants and attractions. But it's not a problem. We'll always have more new shows and theatrical reincarnations to enjoy.

More things to see and do in Ontario:

Briars Resort on Lake Simcoe

Meaford Hall Ontario Theatre

York Region - Attractions for Everyone North of Toronto

Ottawa - Things to Do in Canada's Capital City

Niagara Wine Festival Parade, Tastings, Touring Passport