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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.

Interior of the Massey Hall

Exterior of the Massey Hall
© Parks Canada / A3-22

Born in Upper Canada in 1823, Hart Massey was a prosperous farmer and businessman. He and his wife Lucina had one girl and five boys. Like many Canadian industrialists in the late 19th century, Massey considered it his duty to redistribute some of his wealth to improve the lives of his fellow countrymen. He directed his philanthropy to the Methodist Church and to the cultural development of Canada. In 1887, he remarked that Toronto needed a proper auditorium. Four years later, he met Frederick Herbert Torrington for the first time. Torrington was the conductor of the Toronto Philharmonic Society, and the organist and chorus master at Metropolitan Church. Impressed by his talent, Massey decided to build a concert hall, dedicating it to the memory of his eldest son, Charles Albert Massey, who died at the age of 36.

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."

L'intérieur du Massey Hall,<br>situé à l'angle des rues Shuter et Victoria

Interior of the Massey Hall,
at Victoria and Shuter streets

© Josiah Bruce / LAC / C-087228

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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