Ask Canadian artists what venue they most aspire to headline and the unanimous reply is Massey Hall. The question is why? From my first time entering those three red doors off Shuter Street in Toronto, the answer arrived. You feel the history seep from the walls. The ghosts whisper. The spirit of the hall’s patron saint (Hart Massey) looms large. For more than 125 years, this hallowed hall has hosted a who’s who of talent from every genre of music and so much more – from political rallies to boxing matches; typewriter contents to inspirational speeches by the likes of Winston Churchill and Helen Keller. Now, thanks to a multi-year, multi-million revitalization project, Hart’s house is sure to stand tall at the corner of Shuter and Victoria Streets for at least another century. And, that’s a gift Toronto, Canada, and the world are happy to receive.
So, you ask, why did I choose to write a book about Massey Hall? Just as this revitalization is sure to preserve the venue physically for future generations to enjoy, I did not want those same generations to forget the rich history of what has come before. In an age of instant gratification, and a culture of social media obsessions, it’s important sometimes to dig a little deeper. Lose oneself in the past to help us forge a better future. That’s what I hope I’ve done with this labor of love and tribute to this community hub for music, education, and the arts.
Speaking of music, I’ve witnessed my share of magical Massey moments over the past couple of decades. Starting with The Pretenders in 2000, I’ve seen more concerts at the venue than I can recount here. The highlight was definitely a pair of nights with my favorite performer and Toronto-born musician Neil Young, back in 2007. Those November evenings are ones I’ll never forget. Old man Neil left it all on his beloved hometown stage. One night I went with my father. The other I sat front row and went on my own— meeting up with fellow Rusties (Neil’s hardcore fans) at a restaurant pre-show. Strangers when the night began, we bonded by the end of the night over a communal love of Neil’s music. The first half of the show was Neil by his lonesome on acoustic guitar; he shared stories of his time honing his craft in the long-gone clubs of Toronto back in the 1960s. After an intermission, Neil plugged in, his band joined him, and it got loud.
Whether you like your music loud, or you prefer it soft, there are few places in Canada that offer such an intimate listening room to take musical communion with like-minded souls. Long live live music. Massey Hall forever.
David McPherson is the author of the acclaimed Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History and has written for Grammy.com, the Globe and Mail, SOCAN’s Words and Music, No Depression, American Songwriter, and Acoustic Guitar. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario. Learn more here.