Massey Hall is located at 178 Victoria St (at Shuter St on the southwest corner) in the Downtown Yonge neighbourhood of Toronto.
Hart Massey’s Gift to Toronto
Built in 1894 by Hart Massey, industrialist and operator of a large farm equipment manufacturing company, the concert hall was designed by architect Sidney Badgley. Once called the Massey Music Hall, the historic gem was built to honour Massey’s late son, Charles Albert. The now National Historic Site of Canada was a gift to the people of Toronto to develop the arts. Did you know that the Massey family lived in a stately home at 515 Jarvis St? Today it’s a restaurant called the Keg Mansion.
The landmark music auditorium with its Moorish Revival interior originally had 3,500 seats consisting of orchestra seating, two balconies, stage and private boxes along with tiered onstage seating. The exterior was considered austere with its brick and stone façade.
The opening night on June 14, 1894, was a performance of Handel’s Messiah with a 500-member chorus and a 70-member orchestra.
Massey Hall’s Renovations & Heritage Status
Until the 1920s, it was the only hall in Canada specifically designed for music. In 1933 and after a major renovation, the seating was reduced to 2,675, a lounge was added, wooden stairs were replaced with steel and stone steps, Art Deco elements were added and the ground floor entrance was enlarged. Also, 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 the oak floor were replaced. In the 1950s, 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 inaugural list of heritage sites.
Legendary Entertainers at Canada’s Carnegie Hall
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 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 once home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.
Gordon Lightfoot has performed the most solo performances at Massey Hall – over 165 of them. His first performance was in March 1967 and, just before the hall closed for renovations in July 2018, Mr Lightfoot played 3 sold-out shows.
There have been reports of a male spirit who is wearing old-fashioned clothing haunting the backstage area of this historic hall. It’s thought to be that of the venue’s former custodian who once lived in an apartment behind the stage.
There are also rumours of a female opera singer making her presence known from a seat in the audience. Named “The Diva”, she makes loud noises when a soprano has taken the stage.
The Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street Today
Through the years, the “Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street,” named in 1953 by Vincent Massey (the grandson of Hart Massey), has undergone several updates. The $184+ million revitalizations began in 2013 and in mid-2018, the hall closed for extensive restoration. The building’s heritage will be protected 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, constructing a 7-storey addition, updating the entrance, a more accessible box office, restoration of the original signage and adding elevators along with additional bars and bathrooms on each floor.
The 2,550 seat venue will also have brand new red seating that is more comfortable (the seating on the second and third-floor balconies will remain the same).
Massey Hall is Reborn
On November 25, 2021, Gordon Lightfoot took the stage for the grand re-opening of the “House of Gord”. Mr Lightfoot performed for 3 nights in Toronto’s beloved music hall.
Massey Hall Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 178 Victoria St
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 178 Victoria St
- Massey Hall & Roy Thomson Hall: Historical Timeline
- Massey Hall & Roy Thomson Hall: Gordon Lightfoot
- Massey Hall & Roy Thomson Hall: Revitalization Update
- PSICAN: Toronto’s Musical Ghosts
- Haunted Toronto by John Robert Colombo
- Toronto Sun: STAGE IS SET…
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library, Archives of Ontario & Library and Archives Canada
- Interior Photos: The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall