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 the Keg Mansion restaurant.
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 its brick and stone façade.
On June 14, 1894, the opening night 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 significant 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 to protect the patrons.
In 1973, the hall, known for its warm, outstanding acoustics, was on the City’s inaugural list of heritage sites.
Legendary Entertainers at Canada’s Carnegie Hall
Some notable speakers 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 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.
There have been reports of a male spirit 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 takes the stage. Click for more haunted tales.
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).
The House of Gord
Gordon Lightfoot has performed the most solo performances at Massey Hall, over 170, with his first in March 1967. Just before the hall closed for renovations in July 2018, Mr Lightfoot played three sold-out shows, and when Toronto’s beloved music hall reopened on November 25, 2021, he took the stage for three more. On May 1, 2023, Canada’s legendary singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot passed away at the age of 84.