Located at the corner of Queen and Elgin streets in Ottawa, the Russell Theatre opened on 15 October 1897. Used for operas, recitals, orchestra concerts, plays and other shows, the theatre was frequented by the capital's elite. It was destroyed by fire on 8 April 1901 and rebuilt to the original plans by the architect J.M. Wood of Detroit. Under the management of Ambrose J. Small, the New Russell Opera House opened on 5 October 1901. The Federal District Commission (now the National Capital Commission) expropriated the land to make room for Confederation Square, and the Russell Theatre closed its doors 14 April 1928.
The building, which adjoined the prominent Russell House hotel, was designed by J.B. McElfatrick and Sons in an Italian renaissance style. It held 1,500 seats on the ground floor of the auditorium, in addition to two semi-circular balconies and 10 boxes. An immense curtain separated the hall from the stage, which had more than 50 adjustable scenic panels and a lighting system permitting various colour effects considered daring for the time.
The theatre was host to operas, vaudeville shows by touring companies and concerts by US symphony orchestras. The Ottawa Symphony Orchestra under Donald Heins, the Ottawa Choral Society and Annie Jenkins‘s Palestrina Choir performed there regularly. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir was a popular visiting attraction. The singers and instrumentalists who appeared there included Emma Albani, Geraldine Farrar, Amelita Galli-Curci, Edward Johnson, Fritz Kreisler, Nellie Melba, Clara Butt and Sergei Rachmaninoff.