FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre

“The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is unique both in design and in partnerships,” said “Diamond Schmitt’s multi-venue design allows for everything from symphonies and choirs, to theatre, film and music to take place simultaneously. The partnership with Brock means 500 students a day can utilize the teaching space, enhancing the synergy of entertainment, culture, outreach and education this facility is designed to do.”

Steve Solski, Former Executive Director, FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre

The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre plays a key role in the renaissance of downtown St. Catharines, rejuvenating the main street with a dynamic new performing arts complex and adjacent arts school in a repurposed heritage building. The extraordinary partnership between the city and Brock University allowed for a performing arts facility much larger than most facilities for a community this size with Brock committing to use two of the four stages as class, rehearsal, and performance space during the day.

The design of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre embraces these unique community and contextual requirements. Situated at a key downtown intersection and extending a full city block, the PAC activates the street with extensive glazing onto the lobbies to provide visual interest and connection. The scale is responsive to the 19th-century texture of St. Paul Street and uses a light-colored brick to complement the glazing. On the rear south side, the architecture gets bigger and bolder with framed cantilever projections that project a visible presence across the canal valley.

The main 780-seat Partridge Hall has variable acoustics to stage a wide variety of theatrical and musical performance; the 180-seat Film Theatre doubles as lecture hall; and the 304-seat Cairns Recital Hall serves the school by day and concerts at night. The 200-seat Robertson Theatre, a black box with a skyline picture window, has the additional benefit of retractable seating, which adds to its versatility. Audiences in all four rooms enjoy clear sightlines and sound from every seat in the house. Comfort extends to the public areas of this fully accessible facility where ample lobby space is supported by views to the street.

The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre fulfills the community-driven and supported endeavor to transform St. Catharines into an important regional destination for the arts.

Client City of St. Catharines
Completion 2015


Photography Tom Arban, Peter Legris


Awards See all project awards
2016 Niagara Community Design Award – Institutional Large Scale Project, Honourable Mention
2016 Ontario WoodWorks! – Interior Wood Design Award
2013 American Society of Architectural Illustrators – AIP 28
Team See full project team