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Extra Research for Season 4 – Episode 10 – Ghost Light

December 2nd, 1919. It’s been almost a century since Ambrose Small (1866-1919) disappeared from his theatre.


Ambrose Small learned the business from his father Daniel Small (1842-1933) and worked his way up from the bottom to become manager of the Toronto Opera House. By 1892 he held two mortgages on two Toronto theatres. Ambrose was a smart business man and built up a fortune gaining booking control from the New York syndicates giving him a circuit of 34 theatres. He also devoted a great deal of attention to the showgirls he employed as well as being reckless at the racetracks.


In 1902, Ambrose married Theresa Kormann (1870-1935) (the sister of his father’s second wife, Josephine Kormann, making him and his father brothers-in-law). Theresa, herself, came from a wealthy family. Her father owned a successful brewery and was part owner in the Grand Hotel with Ambrose’s father Daniel. A month before her marriage Theresa’s mother Mary passed away and left her daughter a sizeable inheritance. After marrying Theresa this allowed him to purchase the Grand Theatre in which he had constructed a secret love nest for the purpose of entertaining women.


In 1919, Ambrose decided to sell his chain of theatres. On 2 December 1919, as Theresa was depositing a cheque for $1 million, Ambrose disappeared into thin air. Theresa was characterized as the “buxom heiress” of the Kormann brewing fortune and it was suggested that she had a role in Ambrose’s disappearance because she hadn’t reported him missing for a whole month. Theresa attributed his disappearance to Ambrose’s wandering eye and that “he will come back”.


Over the years, and despite the best efforts of police, private detectives, and newspaper reporters, nothing has ever been found that would help them find out what happened to Ambrose. So, in 1923, Ambrose was declared dead for the purposes of probate and Theresa, with another sizeable inheritance, travelled and lived in luxury until 1935.


— Joanne Schiavoni


Photo credit: Ambrose Small, Toronto Now and Then 

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