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McPherson Playhouse

3 Centennial Square, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1995/10/25

Exterior view of McPherson Playhouse; City of Victoria, Berdine J. Jonker, 2005.
rear elevation, taken from Centennial Square
Exterior view of McPherson Playhouse; City of Victoria, Berdine J. Jonker, 2005.
south elevation
Exterior View of McPherson Playhouse; City of Victoria, Berdine J. Jonker, 2005.
1914 front facade

Other Name(s)

Pantages Theatre
York Theatre
McPherson Playhouse
Empire Theatre
McPherson Theatre
Totem Theatre

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2005/11/10

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The McPherson Playhouse is a brick theatre building located at the western perimeter of Centennial Square in Victoria. It has two distinct eras of construction evident in its architecture: a 1914 Italian Renaissance Style section which faces onto Government Street, and a 1965 Modern Style section including a brick and glass lobby.

Heritage Value

The McPherson Playhouse is important to the heritage of the City of Victoria because it is valued as a testament to the evolving role of art and architecture in the community since the early twentieth century.

The McPherson Playhouse possesses significant social value because it is a monument to the ever-changing continuum of performing arts since the days of vaudeville. Originally commissioned in 1914 by local businessmen McPherson, Fullerton and Elliot as an office building, its change of use to a state-of-the-art theatre before the completion of construction reflects the shift towards tourism based commerce and the diversification of development introduced by the booming local economy in the years leading up to the First World War. Originally Pantages Theatre, named after theatre promoter Alexander Pantages, this building remains as a monument to one of the most significant theatre chains operating in North America in the early twentieth century. Built for Vaudeville performances, the McPherson Playhouse is particularly important to Victoria's heritage because it retains the Baroque Revival interior elements that set it apart at the time of its construction. It is one of only two remaining original theatre interiors of this era in Victoria.

The bequeathal of the Pantages Theatre to the City of Victoria by then sole owner Thomas Shanks McPherson in the early 1960s is another key aspect of its evolving social value in the community. A portion of McPherson's estate was provided for the rehabilitation of the theatre, allowing for the 1965 renovation by architect Alan Hodgson, which added considerably to the architectural and social significance of this historic place in a modern context. As part of the Centennial Square development, the dramatic Modern Movement architecture is a reflection on the revitalization of the role of the performing arts and public space in the mid-1960s. The winner of an award for design excellence from the Architecture Institute of British Columbia in 1969, the McPherson Playhouse is one of the most important modern edifices in Victoria's historic downtown.

Despite difficult times which saw it change names and ownerships a number of times during the 1920s and 1930s, it is significant that the McPherson Playhouse continues to function, under the management of the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society, as a centre for arts and entertainment in the community.

Source: City of Victoria Planning and Development Dept.

Character-Defining Elements

The character defining elements of the McPherson Playhouse include:
- Its prominent location, enclosing the western end of Centennial Square, and creating a notable landmark on the corner of Government Street and Pandora Avenue.
- The multi-faced architectural composition, with clear distinction between the 1914 portion and the 1965 addition.
-Surviving materials, such as brick walls, and design elements, such as fenestration patterns and overhanging boxed eaves, which support the original appearance and character of the 1914 portion of the building.
- Evidence of the technologically advanced construction of the 1914 portion of the building, seen in such elements as steel and concrete components.
- Interior elements of the 1914 portion of the building which relate to its original function as a vaudeville theatre, including the spatial configuration of the performance hall and the size of the stage with its deep wings.
- Intact interior decorative elements of the 1914 section which support its original heritage character, including plaster ornamentation and fixtures and finishes.



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

Local Governments (BC)

Recognition Statute

Local Government Act, s.967

Recognition Type

Heritage Designation

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1965/01/01 to 1965/01/01
1969/01/01 to 1969/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Learning and the Arts
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Architecture and Design

Function - Category and Type


Auditorium, Cinema or Nightclub


Architect / Designer

Alan Hodgson



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Victoria Planning and Development Dept.

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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