Volume 79 | Issue 2
March 2011

University of Toronto, Hart House

University of Toronto
Four-year, public, urban, commuter
Full-time enrollment: 67,983
Location: Toronto, Ontario    
Hart House
Director: Louise Cowin
Size: 240,000 sq. ft.
Floors: 5
Built: 1919
Annual budget: $13.3 million
Student staff: 200 (part-time)
Nonstudent staff: 92 (full-time); 50 (part-time)

Hart House at the University of Toronto was completed in 1919. The building was founded by and named for Hart Massey, “who was inspired by the social and recreational life that he observed as an student at Balliol College, Oxford,” said Jenifer Newcombe, assistant director of program administration.

In 1908, when Massey became a trustee of his family’s estate, he offered the University of Toronto the funds to establish “a structure devoted to extracurricular activities at the university—an idea that was readily embraced by the university’s governors,” Newcombe said.
Today, Hart House is open 365 days a year and offers more than 2,460 events. Thousands of people come through the Hart House doors daily, whether students passing through, community members taking a look at the art gallery, or someone visiting the farm.
When Hart House originally opened, a Prayer of the Founders was engraved on a wall. It “formed the vision for a space where students, faculty, staff, and alumni could gather, beyond the classroom walls, in an atmosphere of common fellowship,” Newcombe said. Recently, this prayer was updated to state the following:
“Hart House is a living laboratory of social, artistic, cultural, and recreational experiences where all voices, rhythms, and traditions converge. As the vibrant home for the education of the mind, body and spirit envisioned by its founders, Hart House encourages and supports activities that provide spaces for awakening the capacity for self-knowledge and self-expression.”

Unique features
Hart House offers thousands of programs to the campus community. And Newcombe believes that this is one of the building’s most distinguishing features.
“The best feature is, of course, the people who cross through our doors and the amazing programming that is offered inside,” she said.
Also, Newcombe considers the design of the building unique, perhaps Canada’s best “Gothic castle.”
“The building is splendid in construction and design, rife with symbolism that tells stories about the people who donated and built it and the times they were living through,” she said.
And many people walk through the doors of Hart House just to see the art gallery.
“We have a large and valuable art collection, one of the most important in Canada, which has been assembled by a committee of students over nine decades,” Newcombe said. “Our gallery, the Justina M. Barnicke gallery, led by renowned curator Barbara Fischer, offers ground-breaking programming and exhibitions with a focus on contemporary art, and innovative student leadership and engagement opportunities.”

Students’ role
Newcombe realizes the effect that students have on Hart House each day, especially its 200 student employees.
“Hart House contributes a great deal of cultural life on campus, by students for students,” she said. “Students are our directors, employees, interns, programmers, volunteers, participants, users, visitors.”
Students can constantly be found all around the building.
“Students gather and find space to connect, organize, think, and reflect throughout the building—over a coffee at Sammy’s, quietly in the library, at events that take place in the Great Hall, at a dance rehearsal in the activity room, or in small groups in any number of nooks and crannies throughout our space,” Newcombe said. “Students have the opportunity to find any number of entry points and pathways to explore at the House—and they do!“

Newcombe is proud of all the programming that Hart House is able to offer the campus community.
“Hart House is an incredibly dynamic place that offers exciting opportunities for students, staff, faculty, and community members to connect, learn, and explore their interests and themselves,” she said. “Last year, there were more than 1,000 free social and cultural events, many organized by students for students, including all forms of music, drama, debates, literary readings and workshops, photography and film production, and a dance festival.”
One annual event hosted by Hart House is the Annual Hart House Lecture, which featured Jordan Peterson in 2010. It was, according to Newcombe, “an intellectual exploration and a practical discussion that left audience members thinking about virtue in their own lives.”
Other past events include exploring issues of sustainability, family programming, massage Mondays, documentary film series, annual literary and poetry contest, and creative classes.
Additionally, each October, Hart House participates in Toronto’s annual sunset to sunrise celebration of contemporary art, called Nuit Blanche.