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Black and white photo of front exterior of Hart House and Soldiers' Tower from the 1920s
Courtesy of U of T Archives

Hart House Turns 100

U of T’s beloved student centre once had a flying trapeze. A century later, that spirit lives on

Charles Vincent Massey (BA 1910 UC) was chairing two student clubs and working for three U of T newspapers in 1910 when he saw an opportunity to forge links across faculty and college rivalries. He imagined a U of T community unified through what he called “high endeavour” – learning plus enthusiastic embrace of the arts, public debate and fitness.

An heir of businessman Hart Massey, he initiated a generous gift from his grandfather’s estate and drew up plans for a student centre featuring a diverse range of amenities. Rooms for chess and fencing. A medical clinic. A swimming pool featuring a flying trapeze for the popular sport of “fancy diving.” Shovels hit the ground, and Hart House officially opened on November 11, 1919. But rooms were the least of what Hart House became. “The bricks and mortar are but the bones; the community must provide the spirit,” said Massey.

When Hart House opened, however, it was almost completely off-limits to women; Massey believed in the segregation of sexes. The doors didn’t swing fully open to women until 1972 – but now, Hart House is devoted to an open-door policy and diversity of voices. Says Hart House Warden John F. Monahan: “The students who are most engaged here should be representative of all the students of the university, and helping them to embrace and navigate differences is our highest calling.”

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