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Massey Hall will soon enough look a lot different

Massey Hall at Night

Although last weekend marked the closure of one of Canada’s most iconic music venues, Massey Hall, Massey Hall will reopen with a brand new look in 2020.

The almost 125-year-old concert venue is set to undergo extensive renovations that will see the space closed for at least two years.

The closure is part of a $135 million-dollar revitalization project announced in 2013 and ius just one phase of the ongoing restructuring that will see a new addition added, as well as an overhaul of both the interior and the exterior.

The renovations were originally announced in April 2013, and the first phase of renovations will add a loading dock, backstage, and technical facilities to the rear of the building using land made available by the developers of the Massey Toiwer, a 60-storey residential building currently under construction on Yonge Street.

Massey Hall was first built in 1894 with funds donated by Hart Massey, a Canadian businessman and philanthropist who was a member of the prominent Massey family. The building was a gift to the city in honour of his late son, Charles, who died of typhoid in 1884. Charles Massey, a partner in the family business, was a gifted organist and pianist and it was originally created to house “musical entertainments of a moral and religious character, evangelical, educational, temperance, and benevolent work" which would suit his son’s legacy.

Rob Bowman, an ethnomusicologist and professor at York University, told Humber News that Massey Hall has a vital place in Canadian music culture.

“For up-and-coming Canadian artists, the hall’s been incredibly important,” Bowman said. “It’s a sign of arrival. Every local artists I’ve known that finally gets to step on the stage at Massey Hall feels in some sense, at least in Canada that they’ve arrived.”

“It’s not just Toronto’s most important hall, it’s absolutely Canada’s most important hall and certainly one of the most important halls in North America,” he said.

In the 125 years Massey Hall has been opened, Massey Hall has hosted numerous important performances. In 1953, jazz legends Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Max roach, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillepsie performed there as a group for the first and only time. Bob Dylan went electric for the fifrst time in Canada with the Band in 1965 which was met by some “boos” at the time upon where he famously told the band to “play it f--king loud” when the sounds of members of the audience overwhelmed the performance that night. Neil Young recorded live at Massey Hall in 1971 and Rush taped All the World’s A Stage in 1976. 

Perhaps what is less known is hall was also home to non-music stuff. Winston Churchill gave speeches at Massey Hall in 1900 and 1901 while the future King George V and his wife Queen Mary visited with Wilfred Laurier in 1901. Women suffragettes were inspired by Nellie McClung at a rally in 1915. Adolf Hitler’s nephew, William Patrick speaks at Massey Hall about the German’s plans to take offensive strategies in the wake of World War II. The hall has also been home to boxing matches and wrestling matches where a ring was set-up right on the stage. 

The venue became a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981 and the $16 million of the renovation funding will come from the Government of Canada the Province of Ontario. Banks TD Bank Group and RBC are also donating money to the project, which is set to be completed officially by 2021.

Matthew Frank