This Week in History
The Queen of Concert Halls
For the week of Monday June 9, 2003
On June 14, 1894, a 500-member choir and a 70-member orchestra sounded the first notes of Handel’s Messiah in celebration of the opening of Massey Music Hall in Toronto. A gift to the city from wealthy businessman Hart Almerrin Massey, this concert hall with its outstanding acoustics quickly acquired a vital place in Canada’s cultural life.
Massey chose a small lot at the corner of Shuter and Victoria streets for the imposing structure and hired architect Sidney Rose Badgley to design it. Known for his drawings of this type of building, Badgley created a three-level concert hall with an original capacity of 3700. Once built, Massey Hall was much criticized. The country’s main architectural review, Canadian Architect and Builder, described Massey Hall as "about as aesthetical as a grain elevator."
Well-known for its superb acoustics rather than for its architectural features, the concert hall quickly developed a national reputation, drawing the most important orchestras, musicians and singers. But it was not limited to musical events. Massey Hall, an increasing focal point in the community, was also the site of religious meetings, weddings, religious services and major political debates. Important figures including Lech Walesa and the Dalai Lama have also spoken there. Although Massey Hall has been renovated several times, it has retained its historical value and its original appearance.
An important cultural institution, Massey Hall was recognized as a site of national historic importance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1981.
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