Built in 1894 by Hart Massey, founder of the successful farm equipment manufacturing company, the music hall was designed by architect Sidney Badgley. Once called the Massey Music Hall, the historic gem was built to honor Massey’s late son, Charles Albert. The now National Historic Site was a gift to the people of Toronto to develop the arts.
The landmark music auditorium with its Moorish Revival interior, originally had 3,500 seats consisting of orchestra seating, two balconies, stage and private boxes and tiered onstage seating. The exterior was considered austere with a brick and stone façade.
Opening night on June 14, 1894 was a performance of Handel’s Messiah with a 500-member chorus and a 70-member orchestra.
Until the 1920’s, it was the only hall in Canada specifically designed for music. In 1933 and after a major renovation which including reducing the seating to 2,675, adding a lounge, replacing wooden stairs with steel and stone steps, adding Art-Deco elements and enlarging the ground floor entrance, the name was changed to Massey Hall. In 1943, a flood destroyed photos, records, documents and playbills. In 1948 and due to fire concerns, the original wood seating and oak floor was replaced. In the 1950’s, plaster began falling off the ceiling so thick wire had to be added for the protection of the patrons. In 1973, the hall which is known for its warm, outstanding acoustics, was on the city’s first list of heritage sites.
Some of the notable people and performers who have appeared at Massey Hall include Gordon Lightfoot, Oscar Peterson, Nellie McClung, Winston Churchill, Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Dylan and his band (later known as The Band), Jack Dempsey (boxing match), Buffy Saint-Marie, Blue Rodeo and Russell Peters.
Rush, Neil Young and Burton Cummings are just a few of the artists who have recorded albums at the hall. There has also been a 7-month run of Cats, as well as ballet, opera and theatre performances. “Canada’s Carnegie Hall” was also once home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.
Gordon Lightfoot has the honour of the most solo performances at Massey Hall (over 160). His first performance was in March 1967 and, just before Massey Hall closed for renovations in July 2018, Mr Lightfoot played 3 sold-out shows.
Massey Hall Revitalization
Through the years, the “Grand Old Lady of Shuter St” named in 1953 by Vincent Massey (grandson of Hart Massey) has undergone several updates. The $135+ million revitalization began in 2015. The renovations will protect the building’s heritage while bringing it into the 21st century. Updates include opening the stained-glass windows, restoration of the plaster ceiling including repairs to the ornamental spike shapes along the ceiling arches, repairing/reinstating lighting, updated entrance, more accessible box office, restoration of the original signage, adding elevators along with additional bars and bathrooms, constructing a 7-storey addition and much more.
Massey Hall’s grand reopening is expected to take place in mid 2021.