Collecting Massey Hall stories

Every seat in Massey Hall has been filled, for more than 120 years, by someone who has a memory of the venue.

David Binks wants to hear yours.

Binks is part of the team behind “That Night At Massey Hall,” a project to collect stories, mementos, photos and memorabilia from the 125-year-old concert hall and put them together in a book.

“I love concert halls,” he said. “When I was a teenager, going to a show was just the highlight of everything… I have this love for a set of venues that really do something for me, that make the event memorable as well. And then I went to Massey Hall.”

As someone who’s lived in Toronto on and off for nearly 20 years, Binks has his own favourite memories of the theatre. It’s a place he and his wife have gone so frequently, she’s bought tickets for them as he’s returned home from a trip to Europe, just because she knew he’d want to go out that night. Many times, they don’t even know who will be filling the stage that evening.

One night, Binks’ wife was double booked, so he went to see a performance by himself.

As he was wandering around Massey, he got to thinking about his grandfather.

“My grandfather immigrated to Canada back at the start of the last century and then he left to fight the war. He didn’t come back,” Binks said. “He’d spent some time in Toronto. I can’t find anything else about his time in Toronto because it was brief and he didn’t come back. I was reading old posters and that was the one thing I knew about him. I have no proof about it at all but I know he went to that hall.”

He started thinking about telling his grandfather’s story and then started thinking about how many people probably also have stories about nights at Massey.

There’s at least another year of work to be done as Massey Hall is restored to its original glory, including the renovation of some until-recently covered stained glass windows. That makes it a perfect time to collect memories, Binks said.

“Tell us the story of Massey Hall,” he said. “I think we all say it often to friends when we’re reminiscing – do you remember that night? Do you remember that night at the football game? Do you remember that night at Massey Hall? For me, it’s about gathering people’s stories, but it doesn’t have to be the story of the show. I expect we’ll get plenty of those, but as we’ve used in some of our promotional materials, it could be the story of the kiss, or the first date, or the last day, or it could be you were working at the hall and something happened when you were there.”

The book will be a love letter to the hall itself, written by people who’ve been there, loved it and want to share their memories.

There’s no timeline for when the book will be published, or when he’ll stop collecting items, so people are encouraged to collect their stories and send them in for the foreseeable future.

All stories can be submitted via the project’s website. They’re also teasing out snippets on the project’s Facebook page and Twitter account.

“We’ll do an outstanding job of capturing those stories and isolating the right images to make it something special,” Binks said.

As for the performer to take the stage when the hall is ready to reopen? Binks has some ideas on who it might – and should—be.
“I’m sure it will be somebody Canadian,” he said. “I think it would be somebody with a lot of history with Massey Hall. I think there are a couple of good contenders for that. Or maybe they’ll spread it around. I think it might be a Canadian folksinger. My money’s there.”

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Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 523 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

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