This Week in History
"The Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street"
For the week of Monday September 17, 2007
On September 21, 1893, Hart Massey’s young grandson, Charles Vincent Massey, laid the cornerstone of Massey Hall. Built in memory of Hart’s son, Charles Albert (1849-84), the hall was intended to function as a prestigious community centre, fostering the cultural, political and religious life of Toronto.
Built at a cost of nearly $150,000, Massey Hall was a thoughtful gift to a city lacking large venues for public cultural events. Designed by the Cleveland architect, Sidney Badgley, the hall featured an austere exterior embellished with a classical frieze adorning the pediment and a spectacular Moorish-inspired interior. Though its aesthetics were rarely praised, Massey Hall quickly achieved a reputation for its remarkable acoustics. On opening night, June 14, 1894, Handel’s Messiah played to a full house. In time, groups such as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir made Massey Hall their home.
Until the 1960s, Massey Hall was Toronto’s premier venue for cultural events. Its dominance was challenged by the opening of the O’Keefe Centre (1960), the MacMillan Theatre (1964), and the renovation of the Royal Alexandra Theatre (1963). On June 4, 1982, the Toronto Symphony bid adieu to its former home by performing Farewell to the Old Lady of Shuter Street. Shortly thereafter, both the Toronto Symphony and the Mendelssohn Choir moved to the newly built Roy Thomson Hall.
Massey Hall stands as a notable National Historic Site for the prominent role it has played in Canada’s cultural life. For their dedication to public works and philanthropy, Hart Almerrin Massey and former Governor General Charles Vincent Massey became persons of national significance.
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