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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What university theatre was the centre of the cultural universe (okay, in Toronto)?

Answer The University of Toronto's Hart House Theatre set the stage for many actors, including Raymond Massey, Donald Sutherland and Charmion King.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

Hart House Theatre

Hart House Theatre contributed to the cultural life both of the
University and of the wider community.
In a production of three one-act plays in November 1921, both Vincent Massey and his later well known brother, the actor Raymond Massey, had leading roles, the sets were designed by three members of the Group of Seven (Harris, Lismer, and MacDonald), and the music for one of the plays was composed and played by Healey Willan. During the academic year 1925-6, seventeen plays were produced. The University of Toronto was becoming the centre of cultural life in Toronto.

The first Hart House debate was held in 1924. Instead of using the
American debating style of prepared speeches judged by a special panel, the House adopted a parliamentary style similar to that used at Oxford and Cambridge in which wit, repartee, and heckling were encouraged along with speeches from the floor.

At the end of the debate, the persons present divided into those who supported the proposition debated and those who opposed it. The topic of the first debate was "That this House views with confidence the formation of a Labour government in England and would welcome the development of a party of a similar character in Canada." At the end of the debate, 184 supported the motion and 88 opposed it.

The most important debate of the 1920s was undoubtedly in 1927, when Prime Minister MacKenzie King was the principal speaker.

The most important debate of the 1920s was undoubtedly in 1927, when Prime Minister MacKenzie King was the principal speaker. He had visited the House several years earlier after a number of invitations to do so by Warden Bickersteth. King had at first refused to come, according to Bickersteth, thinking he was unwelcome because of his role in the strike thirty years earlier. Bickersteth, however, reassured him that he would be warmly received.

The motion for the debate was that the House supported the recent Imperial Conference favouring greater independence for the Dominions. More than 500 people squeezed into the debates room, which normally accommodated 350. Three hundred more were turned away.

King's speech, wrote Bickersteth, "was delivered with such keenness,
vigour, charm, humour and real enjoyment that it was a huge success,
listened to breathlessly by the packed House, who realized they were
listening to the Prime Minister of Canada defend a proposed agreement
which he had not even debated as yet at Ottawa." The House divided 408 to 125 in favour of the prime minister.

Hart House
Hart House, completed in 1919, and Soldiers' Tower, completed in 1924.

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