Cumberland Safe, For Now, Maybe
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Cumberland Safe, For Now, Maybe

Last week, Torontoist reported that the Alliance Atlantis–owned Cumberland Cinemas were going to be demolished to make room for a condo development, based on information from the Greater Yorkville Residents’ Association (GYRA).
In an effort to get some sort of initial confirmation before publishing last Tuesday’s article, we tried to call Alliance Atlantis, but had no luck and decided to run the piece with the one source we had. Doing so was an error in judgment that we regret and apologize for. Not long after we broke the news, the GYRA’s facts were called into question, and we’ve spent every day since trying to pin down the whole story behind the Cumberland’s fate—and have discovered that it’s neither safe nor doomed, but wholly uncertain.

Last Friday, NOW posted an article to their blog countering ours, saying that the Cumberland is “safe” and concluding that it’s “going to be with us for a while yet.” The article’s sole source was David Pontarini, cited by the GYRA as the architect behind the new development, who NOW had also interviewed for a piece in their print edition published the day before (above), which announced that the building was likely going to be demolished for condos.
We spoke with Pontarini, who told us that there is no official application for demolition (a fact confirmed by Toronto’s City Planning office), but that it is a little too early to say that the Cumberland is “safe.”
“[Alliance Atlantis] hired some people to look into some things,” said Pontarini—preliminary “exploratory options” for the location—but “it’s way too premature to say whether it is going to be closed down.”
(Pontarini also told us that he said the exact same thing to three different people at NOW, all of whom got completely different impressions of the building’s fate.)
Mark Slone, senior vice president at Alliance Films, refused to comment to Torontoist after we published Tuesday’s article, but told a National Post reporter investigating the story that “there’s no development, no news, no nothing. You never know what the future may hold, but there’s absolutely nothing new to date, nothing to report”—not, notably, an outright denial that something was underway or could happen soon.
Paul Bain, acting manger of the Midtown Section of Toronto and East York Community Planning, told us part of the story that could have led to the GYRA’s confusion. “People were looking at doing that about a year ago, but those [plans] were just dropped,” he said. “Nobody has been talking about this for a year.”
But if Pontarini is right, that’s just not true. The GYRA is still talking about it, too; every monthly report they have written since January includes the matter-of-fact statement that “the [Cumberland] theatre will be demolished to make way for a condominium. No details other than that architect is David Pontarini.”
So we tracked down the top four members of the GYRA’s executive board. Former secretary Pauline Sackin is certain that the Cumberland is indeed closing down; she told us that that information was from an unnamed, “fairly official” source. It is true, she said, that there was a proposal last September that was eventually dropped, but she assured us that a new application for demolition would be submitted within the next few months. Another executive member, treasurer Terence Coates, told us the exact opposite, that the GYRA is wrong, that “residents’ associations get a lot of news that isn’t necessarily accurate, and there have been a lot of flip-flops.” Judy Dunn, vice president, told us that “we don’t know any more at all. Every month since January, the president comes back and says that there is no further information….We’ve always heard, and we’ve always felt, that something is going to happen to this building.”
When we finally got a hold of Gee Chung, the GYRA’s president, she told us that the mysterious unnamed source who told her last July that the Cumberland was to be demolished was none other than Kyle Rae, councillor for Ward 27. “We meet with Kyle on a regular basis,” Chung said. “If an application goes ahead, then we talk about it.” Chung could neither confirm nor deny that plans were underway to demolish the Cumberland.
Problem is, Rae is incommunicado, out of the country until August 25. When we spoke to his office last week, we only got as far as an aide who persistently apologized for only having been there for four months and who couldn’t find any relevant documents, past or present. We’re still waiting to hear back, and have been since last week. Until we do, we can’t be sure whether or not the Cumberland is safe or on its way out.
Photos by David Topping.