After the Great Fire of 1897, which devastated the town of Windsor, efforts began to rebuild the town and its infrastructure. Many saw the fire as an opportunity to significantly improve the buildings of the town. This is how Windsor’s Opera House came to be.
Built in 1899, the tender for constructing the Civic Building, as it was formally known, was granted to E.F. Munro. It was located on the corner of Gerrish and Grey Streets where Tommy Gun’s pool room sits today. Generally described as a grand old building, the Civic Building was constructed in an impressive Tudor style with a sandstone pillar on the corner. After its completion, the building became the hub of town. The Town Manager’s office was in the corner with the Town Council Chambers and Police Chief’s office next door. The side facing Gerrish street was home to Windsor’s fire station. On the top floor was an auditorium, the Opera House – the name by which the building came to be known.
The Opera House was witness to many events over its 60 years in Windsor. It presented theatre and variety shows featuring the local talent. Christmas concerts and high school productions were commonly held in the auditorium. Travelling shows also debuted in town at the Opera House. Groups such as circuses, poets, singers, opera, orchestras, and drama clubs all regularly performed there. Perhaps one of the most famous visitors to the Opera House was the renowned Australian contralto, Miss Eva Mylott. She was known the world-over for her rich singing voice, and she stopped in Windsor for a performance in 1913.
In the 1920s, silent movies became a staple at the Opera House; the auditorium was the logical place to showcase this new technology in town. The films were accompanied by the musical prowess of Miss Belle Durphee from Saint John, New Brunswick, who moved to Windsor to be the Opera House’s pianist. The Windsor Citizens Band also provided musical accompaniment, their robust sound more appropriate for some films. In the early days of silent films at the Opera Cinema, the price of admission for a child was 12 cents and for an adult, 17 cents.
In the 1930s, the Windsor Glee Club, conducted by W. Allister Crandall, was a regular feature at the Opera House. They performed a series of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas such as the Mikado, the H.M.S. Pinafore, and The Pirates of Penzance, which were immensely popular with people from town and across the Annapolis Valley.
The Opera House began to fall out of fashion in the 1940s when the newer Imperial Theatre arrived in Windsor. The auditorium was then renovated for use by the Department of Health and Windsor Academy’s home economics class. At this time, the Opera House became much too expensive to heat. In the winter, 30 tons of coal was used each week to keep the building comfortable for those inside.
In 1961, 62 years after it was first built, the Opera House was demolished. It was replaced by a newer and more efficient civic building on King Street. The demolition of the Opera House made way for one of the first supermarkets in Windsor and brought with it a new era of shopping and commercialism. The Old Windsor Opera House is still known as one of the most beautiful buildings in Windsor during the twentieth century and its legacy can still be felt today.