Sitting in the dark, the hall is quiet but you could hear a pin drop if you really wanted to. In those few seconds, it’s like you can feel the ghosts of musicians gone past, back for another night of live musical performance. Your hair stands up straight and shivers go down your spine as the first chord rings out into the air. Crisp. Clean.
…at least that’s what my first time at Massey Hall felt like. Ever since seeing Neil Young perform here on his Honour the Treaties tour in 2014, I’ve fallen in love with Massey Hall. This iconic Canadian music venue has stood the test of time over and over. Its history is rich and musical.
Between 1892 and 1894, Hart Massey started and watched over a building project designed by Sidney Bagdley to build Massey Hall- a concert venue in honour of Massey’s son who had recently passed away of typhoid. It would be his gift to Torontonians and has remained so to present day.
Photo from http://www.urbantoronto.ca
On June 14 1984, a festival featuring five live concerts marked the official opening of Massey Hall. The building would remain Canada’s only venue built specifically for music until the 1920s.
Although the venue was never meant to be a money-making profit machine, it has attracted some fantastic and iconic life acts in addition to being the home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendellson Choir until 1982. It is now protected as a Canadian National Heritage Site and also under the Ontario Heritage Act (rightfully so). Both the federal and provincial government have recently committed eight million dollars each to its revitalization project- what will be the biggest in the building’s history.
As a historian, I’ve seen too many historic buildings destroyed, tarnished or changed completely. Knowing that Canadians have chosen to protect what I would consider Canada’s best music venue is amazing and something we should be proud of. Massey Hall has been home to so many amazing musicians and I could never touch on them all but to name a few highlights (all found on http://www.roythomson.com):
1953: Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach perform in what has since been called the ‘Greatest Jazz Concert Ever’
1965: Bob Dylan plays with The Band (YES THAT THE BAND) and goes electric
1967: Gordon Lightfoot performs for the first time in what will become the first of many (he now holds the record for the most solo performances at Massy Hall and that number is over 150)
1971: Neil Young records a live performance that later becomes the iconic Live a Massey Hall album
1976: Rush records their first live episode
Photo from http://www.toronto-theatre.com
Those are just a few of my favourite highlights but there is SO much more. I highly encourage you to check out a concert here as soon as you can.