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December 13th, 2017
Beaches Living Guide Fall/Winter 2016

Massey Hall

178 Victoria Street
Opened June 1894
Architect: Sidney R. Badgley




Fun Fact:
In 1920, the most famous opera singer in the world, Enrico Caruso performed at Massey and set a box office record of $70,000. But so many people couldn’t get in that Caruso went outside onto one of the fire escapes and sang an aria to the crowd gathered below.

Massey Hall is an iconic music hall in downtown Toronto, where the Toronto Symphony Orchestra played its first concert in 1923. It is old, and always been a bit tired looking, but ask any performer which hall has the best acoustics in the city and without hesitation they reply “Massey Hall”.

The hall was literally a gift from a wealthy family, the Masseys, who made their fortune manufacturing farm equipment. Hart purchased land at Shuter and Victoria Streets and hired Toronto architect Sidney R. Badgley to design the Massey Musical Hall

A Hall for Everyone

From the beginning, Hart wanted an auditorium that would support the development of the arts as well as a place where public meetings, conventions, musical and other entertainment could happen. He also wanted admission to be affordable so he took deliberate steps to reduce the costs of construction. “Everything beyond that is to go to reduce the price of admission, so that the hall may be to benefit the poor rather than the rich,” the Globe reported.

The building’s cornerstone was laid in the fall of 1893 and the hall opened in June, 1894. The first concert was Handel’s Messiah, a composition still performed there to this day every year. The hall soon became Toronto’s most popular landmark for concert venues, entertainment and speakers such as Winston Churchill.

As Toronto’s only concert hall of the time, Massey Hall also became the home to two of the city’s most recognized classical performance groups:

  • • In January 1895, the newly formed (Toronto) Mendelssohn Choir performs its first concert
  • • In April, 1923, the 58-member New Symphony Orchestra, later renamed the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, debuts there. Venue to the Stars

Over the years, every music genre has been performed here because of the hall’s superb acoustics, such as Oscar Peterson, Glenn Gould, Luciano Pavarotti, Charlie Parker. Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Rush, Blue Rodeo and Justin Bieber.

Renovations and Fixing-Up Through the Years

Although known from the beginning for superb sound quality, there have been problems with the overall structure of the hall, cramped seating, lack of lobby space and even the beautiful stained glass windows were boarded up because they let in too much light and sound.

Extensive renovations in the 1940s reduced the number of seats to make the inside a bit more spacious and replace the flammable wooden staircases. Renovations also added some Art Deco touches at the entrance. There was another major interior refurbishment in 1989 when the hall was air-conditioned in preparation for the musical Cats.

Big Plans for Massey Hall Underway

On June 20, 1973 the City of Toronto named Massey Hall on its first-ever list of “heritage” sites. It was also classed as a National Historic Site in 1981. Several years ago, major renovations on Massey Hall began that would carefully restore its heritage elements. The renovations are happening in two phases over 7 years. The first involves digging down at the back of the building to build a tower for back-of-house space, including a two-level basement to house updated mechanical and electrical equipment. A second phase, beginning in 2019, will fix up the inside and outside of the hall.

One of the most anticipated restorations will be the uncovering of 58 Art Deco stained glass windows, some of them 16 feet tall that were covered up years ago to keep out the light and the street noise.

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