Meridian Hall – Toronto’s Sophisticated Venue, Once the O’Keefe Centre

2021 - Meridian Hall, the Dominion Public Building and the CN Tower from Front St E and Yonge St, looking west
2021 – Meridian Hall, the Dominion Public Building and the CN Tower from Front St E and Yonge St, looking west

Meridian Hall, once the O’Keefe Centre, is a performing art and entertainment venue located at ‪1 Front St E (at Yonge St) in the St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto.

Architecture of the O’Keefe Centre

Completed in 1960 and originally named after the O’Keefe Brewery, the venue’s sponsor, the performing art centre is built on land donated by the City of Toronto. Designed by architects Peter Dickenson when he worked for the architectural firm Page + Steele and also Earle C Morgan, the O’Keefe Centre was built in Mid-Century Modern style.

1972/87 - The O'Keefe Centre from Front St W, looking east
1972/87 – The O’Keefe Centre from Front St W, looking east (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 351, Item 16)

The interior, with its opulent ambience, was designed by Herbert Irvine. The north entrance and double-height lobby are clad with white Carrara marble. Along the curved upper north wall of the lobby is a magnificent 30 m or 100 ft mural by Toronto artist York Wilson titled The Seven Lively Arts. On the south wall are a pair of bronze and granite cantilevered staircases. With unobstructed views of the stage, the contemporary fan-shaped auditorium features a large balcony along with cherry wood acoustic panels and a suspended acoustic ceiling. It’s the largest soft-seat venue in Canada, and when built, the hall had a seating capacity of 3250.

The exterior is limestone and black granite with bronze doors and window frames. It’s made up of three distinct parts:

  • The entrance block with its iconic sloped canopy filled with rows of mirrored globe lights.
  • The auditorium with its slanted roof stands behind the entrance block.
  • The fly tower with its flat roof follows the auditorium.

A Variety of Entertainers

1960 - Guests arriving outside of the O'Keefe Centre on opening night
1960 – Guests arriving outside of the O’Keefe Centre on opening night (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 822)

The opening night gala was on October 1, 1960, and featured a musical production of Camelot with Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet.

This major performing arts venue has hosted legendary musicians, dance performances, comedy acts, international performers, award shows, and special events through the years. Performers include Louis Armstrong, David Bowie, Anne Murray, Harry Belafonte, Radiohead, Miriah Carey, Led Zeppelin, Don Rickles, Ina Garten, Martin Short, Steven Martin, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, the New York Philharmonic orchestra and many more.

The National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company have called the venue home for more than forty-five years. They moved to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in 2006.

The Hummingbird & Sony Centre

In 1996, it was renamed the Hummingbird Centre. In 2007, the venue closed to undergo major renovations. Exactly 50 years from the day it first opened, the arts and entertainment hub relaunched as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.

Meridian Hall

In 2019, TO Live began a partnership with Meridian Credit Union, and it was renamed Meridian Hall. Today, the venue has 3,191 seats. TO Live is a City of Toronto agency that also operates Meridian Arts Centre and St Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

Did You Know?

  • Before the O’Keefe Centre started the transformation of the neighbourhood, the area was home to 19th century warehouse buildings. Specifically where Meridian Hall is today, the Dominion Tires occupied the northern portion while the Great Western Railway Station (later the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market) occupied the southern portion of the site.
  • Along with designing the interior of the O’Keefe Centre, Herbert Irvine, was the Head Decorator for Eaton’s and also designed five Canadian embassies and assisted in the restoration of the Royal Alexandra Theatre.
  • In June 1974, the Russian/Bolshoi Ballet were performing at the O’Keefe Centre. It was on this stage that Mikhail Baryshnikov famously defected from the USSR.
  • The building received heritage status in 1990.
  • In 2016, Studio Libeskind completed the 58-storey L Tower. The residential condo tower is next to and south of Meridian Hall. It features a dramatic curve so not to cast a shadow onto Berczy Park which is northeast of the structure.

Meridian Hall Photos

1983/84 - A view of the O'Keefe Centre at Front & Yonge Sts, looking southeast
1983/84 – A view of the O’Keefe Centre at Front & Yonge Sts, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 427, Item 1)
1960 - Guests lined-up under the canopy of the O'Keefe Centre on opening night
1960 – Guests lined up under the canopy of the O’Keefe Centre on opening night (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 815)
2021 - Meridian Hall, the Dominion Public Building and the CN Tower from Front & Yonge Sts, looking west
2021 – Meridian Hall, the Dominion Public Building and the CN Tower from Front & Yonge Sts looking west
2020 - Meridian Hall at Front & Yonge Sts, looking southeast
2020 – Meridian Hall at Front & Yonge Sts, looking southeast
2021 - Meridian Hall and the CN Tower from Front & Yonge Sts, looking west
2021 – Meridian Hall and the CN Tower from Front & Yonge Sts, looking west
2021 - The iconic cantilevered canopy of Meridian Hall at Front & Yonge Sts, looking south
2021 – The iconic cantilevered canopy of Meridian Hall at Front & Yonge Sts, looking south
2019 - The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts at Yonge & Front Sts, looking southeast
2019 – The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts at Yonge & Front Sts, looking southeast
2010/19 - An evening view of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts with the CN Tower, taken from Front & Yonge Sts, looking west (TO Live)
2010/19 – An evening view of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts with the CN Tower, taken from Front & Yonge Sts, looking west (TO Live)
2010/19 - Auditorium of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts auditorium (TO Live)
2010/19 – Auditorium of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts auditorium (TO Live)
1996/98 - The Hummingbird Centre at Yonge & Front Sts, looking east
1996/98 – The Hummingbird Centre at Yonge & Front Sts, looking east (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 427, Item 15)
1990's - The Hummingbird Centre at Yonge & Front Sts, looking northeast
1990’s – The Hummingbird Centre at Yonge & Front Sts, looking northeast (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 568, Item 2)
1983/84 - Under the iconic canopy of the O'Keefe Centre with the Dominion Public Building and the CN Tower, from Front & Yonge Sts, looking west
1983/84 – Under the iconic canopy of the O’Keefe Centre with the Dominion Public Building and the CN Tower, from Front & Yonge Sts, looking west (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 427, Item 5)
1972/87 - The O'Keefe Centre from Front St W, looking east
1972/87 – The O’Keefe Centre from Front St W, looking east (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 351, Item 16)
1985/90 - Guests under the canopy of the O'Keefe Centre
1985/90 – Guests under the canopy of the O’Keefe Centre (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 686, Item 13)
1972 - O'Keefe Centre once at ‪1 Front St E at Yonge St, southeast corner - now Meridian Hall
1972 – O’Keefe Centre once at ‪1 Front St E at Yonge St, southeast corner – now Meridian Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 13, Item 18)
1960's - An aerial view of the O'Keefe Centre and area, looking southeast
1960’s – An aerial view of the O’Keefe Centre and area, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, ID 26)
1960 - Elegant guests in their gowns and tuxedos at the entrance of the O'Keefe Centre on opening night
1960 – Elegant guests in their gowns and tuxedos at the entrance of the O’Keefe Centre on opening night (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 803)
1960 - Guests at the entrance of the O'Keefe Centre on opening night
1960 – Guests at the entrance of the O’Keefe Centre on opening night (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 816)
1960 - Lobby of the O'Keefe Centre and The Seven Lively Arts mural on opening night
1960 – Lobby of the O’Keefe Centre and The Seven Lively Arts mural on opening night (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 779)
1960 - Guests arriving outside of the O'Keefe Centre on opening night
1960 – Guests arriving outside of the O’Keefe Centre on opening night (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 822)
1959 - Construction of the O'Keefe Centre at Front & Yonge Sts, looking southeast
1959 – Construction of the O’Keefe Centre at Front & Yonge Sts, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 1, ID 51)
1959 - Construction of the O'Keefe Centre at Front & Yonge Sts, looking southeast
1959 – Construction of the O’Keefe Centre at Front & Yonge Sts, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 1, ID 50)
2021 - O'Keefe Centre heritage plaque
2021 – O’Keefe Centre heritage plaque
2022 - Looking southeast towards Meridian Hall, formerly the O'Keefe Centre, at Front St E and Yonge St
2022 – Looking southeast towards Meridian Hall, formerly the O’Keefe Centre, at Front St E and Yonge St
1928 - Today's Meridian Hall resides on the land that Dominion Tires and the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market once occupied, looking northeast
1928 – Today’s Meridian Hall resides on the land that Dominion Tires and the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market once occupied, looking northeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 15167)
1867 - The Great Western Railway Station at Yonge St and The Esplanade, northeast corner
1867 – The Great Western Railway Station at Yonge St and The Esplanade, northeast corner once occupied the southern portion of Meridian Hall (Toronto Public Library R-4511)
SOURCE