By 1880, Ambrose's father was running the Grand Hotel, on Adelaide Street West, which stood next door to the Grand Opera House. Within four years, in 1884, Ambrose was working at the Grand Opera House, running the bar, working as an usher, and also making money on the side by taking bets on horse races. In 1889, at the age of twenty-six, Ambrose Small was the treasurer for the Grand Opera House theatre, but a quarrel with the manager saw him move to another theatre just down the street ~ the Toronto Opera House, which specialized in the popular form of entertainment known as vaudeville. Small soon became manager of the Toronto Opera House, and taught himself all about worldwide business syndicates, the booking of various theatre acts, and, most importantly, learning what the public wanted in order to satisfy their tastes in entertainment. He gambled without abandon but also had a good head for business. By 1892, he had the mortgages for both the Toronto Opera House and the Regent Theatre, also located in Toronto. By the time he turned 30 in 1893, Ambrose Small was building up alliances ~ not to mention a theatre empire.
Ambrose Small kept pitching himself towards the forefront of theatre promotion and management throughout Ontario. In the late 1890s, before the debut of movies, Small took advantage of popular live acts, securing contracts with the great stage stars of England and America who wanted to become celebrities in Canada, too. Around 1900, though, tastes in entertainment started to change, and Ambrose Small changed with them. The great touring shows were on their way out, but vaudeville, and later, moving pictures or silent movies, were on their way in. Ambrose Small changed the emphasis of his business and began offering this type of entertainment, much to the delight of a wide audience. By 1902, Small was buying up theatres throughout Ontario, in major cities like Toronto, Kingston and Hamilton, but also in smaller cities like Peterborough and St. Thomas. In 1906, Ambrose Small was elected as president of the Canadian Theatrical Managers' Association, and was able to take over the control of theatre booking that had formerly been centred in New York. The combination of owning a number of theatres outright and controlling the booking or leasing of others, he built up a chain of 34 theatres, half of which were outside Ontario. He had built his empire, and had earned a fortune.
Ambrose Small married Theresa Kormann in 1902. She was a younger daughter of Ignatius Kormann, a brewer, who had business dealings with the Grand Hotel during the period when it was owned by Ambrose's father Daniel. Ambrose Small's biological mother died around 1888, and three years later, in 1891, Ambrose's father had married an older daughter of Ignatius Kormann. So, with Ambrose's marriage to Theresa in 1902, he was in fact marrying his stepmother's younger sister. The new couple, Ambrose and Theresa, moved into Toronto's wealthy Rosedale neighbourhood. The couple seemed to have wildly opposite personalities. He could be wildly unethical, where she was philanthropic, charitable and devoted to her Roman Catholic faith. She was interested in the study of languages, and also had an appreciation for art and music. The only interest that Ambrose took in music seemed to be in finding a way to sell it at a profit as entertainment. Ambrose took Theresa on as a business partner, though, and she helped him advance his fortunes. In 1903, she used money from an inheritance to help Ambrose buy outright the Grand Opera House on Adelaide Street. This had been a career ambition of his for several years.
The energies of Ambrose Small were not entirely devoted to home and business. Once he owned the Grand Opera House, he took advantage of his wife's absence, and while she was away in Europe, he had a "private office" constructed in the theatre. Ambrose Small's intimate chamber contained a bar, a rather opulent bed and a large painting of nude woman. Here he met with the young women with whom he conducted affairs. Many of them were young chorus girls, whom he reward with favours if he liked them enough. It seems evident that Theresa knew of his infidelities, but just took it in stride. They remained happily married, at least on the surface ~ he was often buying her expensive gifts to show his affection ~ and his adulterous lifestyle continued, too. Ambrose Small was also a gambler, and in addition to his various mistresses, he used the chamber within the Grand Opera House to meet with his contacts in the gambling world, some of whom were less than reputable.
By 1919, the live entertainment industry was changing again. It cost more to put on a show, live theatrical touring was decreasing in popularity, silent movies were the big new thing and in less than ten years, "talkies" ~ movies with sound ~ would hit Toronto. Ambrose and his wife Theresa decided that it was time to sell their theatre chain and retire for a while, to rest on their laurels. There was talk of Ambrose Small eventually getting into another line of business, but for a while, at least, the couple would relax and enjoy life. Talks to negotiate the sale of Ambrose Small's theatre chains came to fruition at the end of November, 1919. They were bought up a company called Trans-Canada Theatres Limited, who agreed to pay $1.7-million dollars for what Ambrose Small had to offer. Ambrose Small received the first payment of $1-million on December 1, 1919. On the following morning, December 2, Theresa went to the bank to deposit the million dollar cheque, and Ambrose went out shopping for Theresa. His list of purchases included a new Cadillac, as well as a fur coat and some jewellery for his wife. Later in the day, Ambrose met with his lawyer at Ambrose's office in the Grand Opera House. Small's lawyer, a man named Flock, had left Ambrose's office by 5:30 p.m., and sometime later, Ambrose disappeared off the face of the earth. No one is known to have ever seen him alive or dead after 5:30 p.m. on December 2, 1919. For ninety-one years, Ambrose Small has provided Toronto ~ and Canada ~ with one of its highest profile missing persons cases, and an intriguing mystery that still captivates us today.
The last place that Ambrose Small was seen was inside his office, and the last person who saw him was his lawyer. No one who came before the police claimed to have seen him leaving the building or in the neighbourhood of Yonge and Adelaide streets, around the Grand Opera House. For many years, a legend has persisted that Ralph Savein, who owned a newspaper stand near the theatre, was actually the last to see Small alive. According to Savein, Small came to his newsstand to buy a copy of the "New York Times". When Savein told him that the day's edition hadn't arrived, Small walked off in a huff and disappeared. However, police later disproved Savein's story as a fictional attempt to get notoriety from the disappearance of Ambrose Small. Although gossip, legend and allegation over the case would eventually come to light, and in some cases persist for years, on the night Ambrose Small disappeared, there was no one who ever saw him leave his office. There was no motivation for his disappearance. Despite his adultery, Small seemed relatively happy in his marriage. With the sale of his theatre chain, he had just secured prosperity for the rest of his life. There was no attempt made to withdraw money out of Small's bank account. No ransom demands were ever made. Police searched Ambrose Small's office, but there was no sign of a struggle, no note to be found, and no evidence of violence, a kidnapping, or a murder. He was a self made millionaire at the pinnacle of success, and he vanished without a trace.
|THEN : An article from the Toronto Daily Star, on January 3, 1920, concerning the disappearance of Ambrose Small. The case would continue to illicit interest for years. The case was finally closed without having been solved in 1960.|
It took a while for the manhunt to get started. Theresa Small was reluctant to start an investigation. She knew of her husband's adulterous lifestyle, and feared that reporting him missing would cause a scandal. She thought that his safe return was only an inevitable matter of time, and apparently did not suspect foul play at all. She was quoted as having said "I believe my Amby is in the hands of a designing woman, somewhere, and will come back." There was a preliminary investigation, eventually, and police launched a manhunt that would soon spread around the globe. Ambrose Small's description was circulated : he stood five feet, nine inches tall, and weighed somewhere between 150 and 160 pounds. He had blue eyes, brown hair and a moustache streaked with grey. He was described as being "very quick in his movements".
There were two main investigators in the case of the disappearance of Ambrose Small. One was a Toronto Detective named Austin Mitchell. Nicknamed the "great investigator", he was known for unconventional methods and thinking outside the box. Mitchell was approached by Thomas Flynn, who led the official horse racing commission in Ontario, and who was a personal friend of Ambrose Small. Some of Detective Austin Mitchell's unorthodox methods led to controversy, as he went so far as to rely on psychics. Anyone professing clairvoyant ability the time was thought to be suspect, and not particularly credible, to say the least. Psychics and spiritualists would continue to offer leads to police officials for years after Ambrose Small disappeared, and although they made claims to have information of Small's whereabouts throughout Canada and around the world, none of their leads gave any concrete results.
|THEN : Toronto Detective Austin Mitchell was assigned to investigate the disappearance of Ambrose Small. Nicknamed the "great investigator", he employed unusual methods, including the consultation of psychics and mediums.|
After an initial investigation led by Austin Mitchell resulted in nothing, there was pressure from the public to come up with the results. An Ontario Provincial Police Inspector by the name of Edward L. Hammond was appointed to the case. Unlike Mitchell, Hammond was a conventional, by-the-book type of investigator. He was interested in only concrete clues, and followed traditional practices of law enforcement. Because of their contrasting methods, Detective Austin Mitchell and O.P.P, Inspector Edward Hammond would eventually clash over the case, with Hammond eventually accusing Mitchell of botching the case and covering up or ignoring vital information.
Although the marital infidelities of Ambrose Small may not have been known to the everyday public, they were no doubt the cause for gossip amongst the wealthy class in Toronto at the start of the twentieth century. Perhaps, then, it was no surprise that his wife, Theresa Small, fell under suspicion.
She seemed almost indifferent to his disappearance, and she was aware of his various affairs. Also, she was his sole heir, and presumably with Ambrose out of the way, his fortunes would be left entirely to her. However, Theresa had money of her own, and she'd inherited a substantial amount of money from her mother, the same year that Ambrose and her were married. She'd been the closest thing to a full business partner that Ambrose had, and he had been extremely generous in bestowing gifts on her. The very morning of the day that he had vanished, he was out buying her gifts. There is every evidence that she could have enjoyed financial prosperity without murdering her husband.
But what about a crime of passion? Had she arranged to have Ambrose murdered in a fit of jealousy? There were at least a few anonymous informants who suggested that she had arranged to have Ambrose murdered, and some even speculated that she was there in person to watch him die. The Ontario Provincial Police Inspector, Hammond, persisted in his belief that Ambrose was in fact murdered and that Theresa was involved, had arranged it, and was perhaps even present at his murder. However, Ambrose had been involved with other women for at least 15 years before his disappearance. Could she have burned with jealousy for so long before carrying out his murder? Also, there were no signs of violence or a bloody struggle in Ambrose's office, the last place in which he was seen alive. Certainly, if Theresa had arranged to have him abducted of a busy Toronto street, there would have been witnesses. Further, she made no immediate attempt to get at his money. It wouldn't be until 1924, five years after the disappearance of Ambrose Small, that his estate was finally settled, and she got full claim to his wealth. If she had been capable of orchestrating the disappearance and murder of one of the wealthiest men in Toronto in 1919, certainly she would have been able to find a way to secure his wealth for herself prior to 1924. The accusations that Theresa had taken a lover of her own, and together the two had murdered Ambrose for both money and revenge for his infidelity, are completely out of keeping with her personality and actions. She lived a life of public virtue, of charitable disposition, and she was an active and faithful member of the Roman Catholic Church. Once she did inherit Ambrose's fortunes, she gave most of it away to the church. These actions seem out of place for a woman who would murder her husband in cold blood.
Many of those who made allegations against Theresa Small held her in suspicion simply because she was a Roman Catholic. Toronto of the early twentieth century was a militantly Protestant city. Roman Catholics were still shunned, and there were many biases against having them active in the professional and social life of the city. There was a definite stigma against Theresa simply because she was a Roman Catholic who had risen to financial and social prominence.
Eventually, the authorities ruled out Theresa Small's culpability in her husband's disappearance. Her reputation was considered beyond question, she inherited her husband's money, and eventually willed her estate to the Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, when she died in 1935. After her death, the Attorney General of Ontario held a Special Inquiry into Ambrose's disappearance and presumed death. When the Inquiry ended, it concluded that Theresa Small was not linked in any way to her husband's disappearance and presumed death. With the exception of the aforementioned suspicions of Inspector Hammond, the main investigators in both the Toronto Police and the Ontario Provincial Police seemed entirely convinced that Theresa Small had nothing to do with whatever fate had befallen her husband Ambrose.
If Ambrose Small's sisters, Mary Florence Maude and Gertrude Mercedes, were never suspects in his murder, they were certainly never reliable witnesses, either. From the moment that Ambrose disappeared, they were determined to see the downfall of his wife, Theresa. Mary and Gertrude brought tabloid journalism into the case, and hired a private detective named Patrick Sullivan to validate their allegations of what had happened. It's thought that the two sisters were behind the theory of Theresa's taking a lover, and conspiring with him to dispose of Ambrose. A rumour began that Theresa and her unidentified paramour had somehow captured Ambrose, and swept him away from downtown Toronto to London. There, they had supposedly held him in the furnace room of the Grand Theatre, one of Ambrose's favourite holdings, and incinerated his body. This theatre was supposedly supported by a caretaker who claimed to have smelled fumes coming from the furnace room of the theatre. There was enough curiosity behind this legend to warrant police digging up the floor of the furnace room, and exhuming it for evidence. No evidence was ever found.
The two sisters contested Theresa's inheritance of her husband's fortunes. This was partly due to her faith in the Roman Catholic Church, but greed may have played a large part as well. Their contesting of the will was met with failure. Finally, in 1923, Small was pronounced dead, and his estate was wrapped up in 1924, with everything going to his widow, Theresa. His estate, valued at $1,087,831.70, went entirely to Theresa. Upon her death in 1935, it went entirely to the Roman Catholic Church.
Perhaps the most likely witness to have committed an act of violence against Ambrose Small was his long time assistant, John Doughty. Doughty went missing the same day that Ambrose Small did, but unlike Small, Doughty would be seen again. A sighting of John Doughty was reported in Montreal on December 3, 1919, the day after Small vanished.
The detectives involved in the case began questioning John Doughty's friends and family, and discovered that he had loathed and hated Ambrose Small. John Doughty felt that he had a direct hand in ensuring Ambrose Small's success, and yet had never been properly rewarded. He complained that Ambrose Small was cheap and greedy, and had even reportedly told a friend that he had thought of murdering Small. Combined with Doughty's running off to Montreal at the same time that Ambrose Small disappeared, it seemed that Doughty could be considered a prime suspect. The manhunt was on, but Doughty managed to elude captivity for quite some time.
It would be almost a year before Doughty was captured and brought to justice. Near the end of 1920, he was found living under a new identity in Oregon. He was turned in by an associate who recognized him from a "Wanted" poster that had been circulated across North America by Toronto police, who offered a reward of $15,000 for information leading up to the capture of John Doughty. Toronto Police Detective Austin Mitchell went down to Oregon to bring Doughty back to Toronto, where he would stand trial. The courtroom proceedings against Doughty were a highly anticipated event. Thousands gathered in and around what is now the Old City Hall building on Queen Street West to get a glimpse of John Doughty, and to see if the jury would decide whether he was the man who was responsible for whatever had happened to Ambrose Small.
Unfortunately, there was no evidence that John Doughty played a direct hand in the disappearance of Ambrose Small. It seems that Doughty only took advantage of Small's disappearance to make off with $104,000 in bonds that had belonged to Small. Doughty openly confessed to hating Small, to feeling little remorse that he was gone, and even to stealing over $100,000, but he claimed innocence in anything connected to Small's actual disappearance. Try as they might, investigators could find no evidence that he was lying. No doubt they were under pressure to find an explanation for Small's vanishing act, but they were unable to pin it on John Doughty. There was simply no evidence to support that Doughty had a hand in making Small go missing. At the conclusion of the trial in the spring of 1921, John Doughty was sentenced to five years in prison for his theft of the $104,000 in bonds that had belonged to Ambrose Small.
|THEN : A newspaper clipping from the Globe newspaper on November 24, 1920, reporting on the return of Ambrose Small's assistant, John Doughty.|
The disappearance of Ambrose Small became a sensational case in Toronto, throughout Canada and around the world. Toronto in 1919 was a city of reserved and nearly frigid morality, and the scent of scandal that attached itself to the case tantalized Torontonians. There was also the fact that Ambrose Small was wealthy, and the case offered Toronto's more repressed citizens of ninety years ago with everything ~ sex, money, gambling, illicit alcohol and possible murder. The authorities offered a reward of $50,000 to anyone who could point the police to a living Ambrose Small, and $15,000 if they could turn in his remains. Since no one could find him alive, just about every cadaver that was found for the next several years was said to be that of Ambrose Small. One by one, the bodies were proven not to have been that of Ambrose Small.
Similarly, people came forward claiming to be Ambrose Small himself, in the hopes of either getting the $50,000 reward or perhaps even with the hopes of claiming Small's vast fortune. Ambrose Small was not a large man. He stood only 5'9" tall and weighed between 150 and 160 pounds. Some of the people who claimed to in fact be Ambrose Small held no resemblance to him whatsoever. They were too tall, or too short, too young or too old, and were clearly not Ambrose Small. Some made wild claims, saying that they had been in an accident or been abducted and tortured, and thus did not come close to fitting the description of Ambrose Small.
Sightings of Ambrose Small had taken place even as soon as he disappeared. A report by a man named George Soucy, who worked for a publishing house, indicated that he had seen Ambrose Small being forced into a car on December 2, 1919, the night that he vanished. A caretaker named Albert Elson reported that he'd seen a group of men burying something that he thought may have been a body, in a ravine near Ambrose Small's house. These reports, and others like them, were made before the public even knew that Ambrose Small had disappeared. After the story was released, hundreds of similar reports were made to the authorities.
Reports and sightings regarding Ambrose Small continued to come in for years after his disappearance. The famous American magician, Harry Blackstone, Sr., signed an affidavit claiming that he'd seen Ambrose Small playing roulette at a casino in Mexico, on April 8, 1920. Another claim said that Ambrose Small had been seen alive and was being held prisoner in a kiln near Brampton, Ontario. A man from Wisconsin telephoned the police, claiming to be Ambrose Small, but further investigation revealed that he was actually an escaped psychiatric patient. A psychic named Max Langsner reported that "thought waves" had told him that Ambrose Small's body was burnt up in a fire, in a house in Montreal. That report was given to authorities in 1928, a whole nine years after Small vanished. The list goes on and on, with sightings reported as far away as South America and the resorts of Europe. At one point, Toronto investigators contacted authorities in other international capitals as far away as Paris, asking them to examine any unidentified remains in their morgues, to determine if they may be Ambrose Small.
Many armchair detectives had their own opinions of what had happened to Ambrose Small. In addition to the theories that he had been killed by either his wife Theresa, or his assistant, John Doughty, there were numerous other unsubstantiated theories. Some thought that he'd succumbed to amnesia, or some other physical malady. However, you don't "catch" amnesia overnight, and Small had been in good health up until the day he died. While it's at least theoretically possible Ambrose Small could have developed some illness rather quickly, there aren't many illnesses which make a man vanish off the face of the earth. Others suspected that he was murdered by gangsters, or fell prey to some other plot to get his money. But again, there was a total lack of any violent confrontation in his office, and no ransom demands were ever made. Some claimed that Ambrose Small simply decided to vanish, to leave his old life behind and start off somewhere far away from his wife and home here in Toronto. It would be unusual for a man to disappear without taking any of the great wealth that he had acquired with him, although it's possible that he'd either put aside a secret cache of money, or felt confident enough that he could make a great fortune for himself again, at the age of fifty-six years old.
|NOW : Ambrose and Theresa Small's home on Glen Road in Toronto, as it appears today. As recently as 1965, authorities dug up a suspected shallow grave near the house, even though the case had been officially closed five years earlier.|
For more information on the history and legends of Hamilton's Tivoli theatre, and other similar phenomenon around Hamilton, be sure to visit the official "Haunted Hamilton" website. Not only do they offer frequent walks around Hamilton, the founders, Stephanie Lechniak-Cumerlato and Daniel Cumerlato, are frequent guests on local television and radio, and in other media. Thanks to Stephanie and Daniel, and all the rest, for over ten years of helping to keep Hamilton's stories alive!
Visit the Haunted Hamilton website here :
Haunted Hamilton Official Website
|THEN : The marquee of the Tivoli theatre in Hamilton, in 1947.|
|THEN : The lobby of the Tivoli theatre in Hamilton, in 1944.|
|THEN : The auditorium of the Tivoli theatre in Hamilton, in 1944.|
|THEN : The auditorium of the Tivoli theatre in Hamilton, in 1947.|
|NOW : The marquee and front of the Tivoli theatre in Hamilton came crashing down in 2004. The front lobby of the auditorium was demolished, and today, what remains of the old theatre is in a sort of limbo between preservation and demolition.|
|NOW : Hamilton's Tivoli theatre today.|
|NOW : Hamilton's Tivoli theatre today.|
|NOW : Hamilton's Tivoli theatre today.|
|NOW : The beautifully restored Grand Theatre in London, Ontario.|
|NOW : The Grand Theatre in London, Ontario is said to have been a favourite of Ambrose Small.|
|THEN : Toronto's Grand Opera House in 1885.|
|THEN : The Grand Opera House about 1920.|
|THEN : The view of the Grand Opera House from the lane way adjacent to it in 1913.|
|THEN : The view of the Grand Opera House from the lane way adjacent to it in 1913. The lane way is now known as "Grand Opera Lane", and is the only reminder of the former glories of the old Toronto theatre.|
|NOW : "Grand Opera Lane", the only reminder of the Grand Opera House on Adelaide Street West, and the starting point for one of Toronto's greatest mysteries, the disappearance of Ambrose Small.|