Ambrose Small, the first owner of the Grand Theatre, disappeared 100 years ago.
Ambrose Small: Grand Ghost Stories is a free event designed to shine a spotlight on the mystery. The event begins with a moderated talk at 6:30 p.m. Monday with artistic director Dennis Garnhum, playwright Trina Davies, and author Katie Daubs.
Daubs’ The Missing Millionaire: The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed with Finding Him tells the story of Small’s disappearance. The theatre mogul vanished on Dec. 2, 1919, exactly one day after selling his fortune to the Trans-Canada Theatre Ltd. for a record sum of $1-million — not adjusted for inflation —with another $750,000 to be paid out in annual installments of $37,500 over the span of 20 years.
“He was supposed to come home at 6:30 p.m. for dinner in Rosedale, this very tiny neighbourhood in Toronto. When he didn’t come home, Theresa started to worry, she later told police and she went around town trying to find out where he was but then in the aftermath of that, she didn’t do anything,” Daubs told 980 CFPL.
“She didn’t go to police at all. In fact, it was Ambrose’s friend who said something to the police maybe two weeks after he was missing.”
Small’s wife was a “really charitable Catholic woman,” said Daubs. Small also had a longtime mistress that Theresa knew about.
“He’s got a very messy, complicated life and he’s a guy that is known for not treating people very well. People say that if he had been nicer maybe they would’ve looked harder for him.”
It took just over one month before the public learned of the disappearance thanks to a delay due in part to his own history of “going off the radar” and Theresa asking police to “keep this quiet, he might come back any day now.”
“The papers finally just can’t put it off any more. They’ve known about it and they’ve been snooping around. Finally, January 3, 1920, that’s when the world finds out that Ambrose Small is missing and it goes across the world. There’s stories in the New York papers, London, England. He’s a very well known figure not just in Canada.”
While the case has never been solved, the Grand Theatre says speculation includes allegations that Theresa “and her lover killed Small and cremated his body” in the theatre’s own furnace and that over the years, “the Grand has played host to the Ghost of Ambrose Small with claims of sightings.”
On the 100th anniversary of Small’s disappearance, the Grand also announced the development of a new play: Grand Ghosts. Davies, one of the speakers at Ambrose Small: Grand Ghost Stories, has been commissioned through the COMPASS New Play Development Program and Tourism London to develop the play which is set to launch the 2021-22 season.
“ith Grand Ghosts,” a statement from Davies reads, “audiences will be invited on a ghost hunt to experience the Grand in a way they never have before. Areas of the theatre that have been previously unseen by the general public will be exposed, along with the stories that are held within the building’s 1901 bricks and mortar. This hunt may open up something that has long been hidden within the theatre: the story of Ambrose Small, his disappearance, and all those around him that felt entitled to a piece of the action.”
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