Many details pertaining to the renovation of Massey Hall have been made public previously, but on Monday the first phase of the $30-million revitalization project will officially be launched at the theatre, where government, corporate and private donors are to be recognized and details of the grand building's refurbishment will be revealed formally.
But if it is Massey's future that now receives attention, the gloried past of the 120-year-old building should also be celebrated. Here's a look back at the history of Canada's oldest and most venerated performing arts theatre.
Massey Music Hall, as it was originally known, was industrialist Hart Massey’s gift to the city of Toronto (in memory of his son Charles Albert Massey) and an auditorium to foster “an interest in music, education, temperance, industry, good citizenship, patriotism, philanthropy, and religion.” On June 14, 1894, the venue was christened by a concert featuring a 500-member chorus singing Handel’s Messiah. Hallelujah, indeed
Although Massey Hall is famous as a music venue (and built as such), audiences there have witnessed such things as speeches (including Winston Churchill 1900 and 1901), weddings (Canadian Aboriginal athlete Tom Longboat in 1908), boxing and wrestling bouts (including an exhibition by Jack Dempsey in 1919) and all manner of rallies, contests and public meetings.
In 1933, the hall underwent renovations that reduced the seating capacity from 3,500 to 2,675, created a lounge behind the first gallery and generally gave the room an updated look.
Campaign rallies and political conventions were routinely held in the building. On June 9, 1959, C.C.F. supporters held signs, wore hats and did much hip-hip-hooraying.
Though the most legendary concert in the hall’s history was jazz (May 15, 1953, with immortals Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach), no musician has owned the room as Gordon Lightfoot has. The Sundown singer has given more than 150 shows at Massey.
On June 4, 1982, crowds pushed past the red doors on Shuter Street to witness the Toronto Symphony Orchestra end its 60-year residency at Massey. On April 23, 1923, the 58-member ensemble then known as the New Symphony Orchestra had debuted under the baton of Luigi von Kunitz, with a concert that cost between 25 and 75 cents to attend.
“Now I'm going back to Canada, on a journey through the past.” On Nov. 26, 2007, the enigmatic and iconic singer-songwriter Neil Young gave a solo homecoming concert that served to commemorate a similar performance 36 years earlier. That landmark show is captured on the album Live at Massey Hall 1971.