March 1964: The official opening of the Edward Johnson Building

Ernest MacMillan served as the Dean of the Faculty of Music from 1926 to 1952. During this time, enrollment fluctuated between about 50 and 60 students, though that number declined during World War II. During much of this period there were only three faculty members: Sir Ernest MacMillan as Dean (he was knighted in 1935 for his services to music in Canada), with professors Leo Smith (a cellist, composer, and historian) and the long-serving Healey Willan (an organist and composer). Meanwhile, the University of Toronto had also assumed responsibility for the Toronto Conservatory of Music in 1919. The TCM was renamed the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1947, and remained under the aegis of the University of Toronto until 1991.

Regular classes (as opposed to a limited set of lectures) were gradually introduced in the 1930s. With the appointments of Arnold Walter in 1945, Robert Rosevear in 1946, and Richard Johnston in 1947, the curriculum was Americanized in rapid measure. The year 1946 saw the creation of the Opera School, and the introduction of a degree in School Music (renamed Music Education in 1953) which proved to be vital for the postwar expansion of music education across Canada. Postwar growth saw a significant increase in holdings of the Music Library under Jean Lavender (from 1947) and Kathleen McMorrow (from 1967), the launch of graduate programs in composition, musicology, and music education in 1954, and the opening of the University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio (UTEMS), the second such facility in North America, in 1959. A corresponding growth in student numbers created an urgent need for a new building. Up to this point, the Faculty of Music had been located in two old houses beside the Royal Conservatory of Music at the southwest corner of University Avenue and College Street. The sale of that property to the Ontario Government for the new headquarters of Ontario Hydro raised $3 million, and the Canada Council provided a grant of close to $1 million. These funds enabled the construction of a new building for the Faculty of Music at 80 Queen’s Park, behind Falconer Hall; at the same time McMaster Hall on Bloor Street was renovated for the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The new Edward Johnson Building at the time of the official opening in 1964; photo by Gilbert A. Milne (1914-1991), Toronto, source: Note the lack of an access ramp, which was not added until the 1980s.

The famed Canadian tenor Edward Johnson, a member of the university’s board of governors, had helped to set the wheels in motion for a new music building before his death in 1959. The Music Library was supposed to be named in his honour, but in the event the entire building was named after him, perhaps due to the influence of his daughter Fiorenza, who was married to George Drew, a former premier of the province of Ontario. The 815-seat opera hall in the new building was named MacMillan Theatre to recognize Sir Ernest’s many years of dedicated service to the university. In 1974 the building’s 490-seat concert hall was named Walter Hall in honour of Arnold Walter (1902-1973), who was the director of the Faculty of Music from 1952 to 1968.

The Edward Johnson Building has a number of structural and architectural problems: poor sightlines in the balcony of MacMillan Theatre make those 172 seats all but unusable; the third floor is on a smaller footprint than the rest of the building; there is no cafeteria; and Taddle Creek, an underground stream which runs beneath Philosopher’s Walk on the west side of the building, creates damp conditions (mushrooms have been known to grow in some basement offices). Notwithstanding these problems, the new Edward Johnson Building was the finest university facility for music education in Canada. It opened for classes in the fall of 1962, but the final stages of construction continued on until early in 1964; as a result, the official opening of the building was delayed until March 1964.

Members of the cast of the 1964 production of Britten’s Albert Herring, performed March 4 and 6 as part of the opening ceremonies of the Edward Johnson Building.

The opening ceremonies of the Edward Johnson Building began on 2 March 1964 and continued with a week-long festival of music. The Overture and first two parts of MacMillan’s England: An Ode, which as noted above was completed in the same year that the Faculty was created, was performed on day one, conducted by the composer. Other concerts that week ranged from early music performances under the direction of Greta Kraus, to Benjamin Britten’s opera Albert Herring. Included were works by Faculty of Music composers (John Beckwith, Richard Johnston, Oskar Morawetz, Godfrey Ridout, Arnold Walter, Healey Willan, and Gerhard Wuensch), some of them in premiere performances.

The fine new music facilities continued to attract record numbers of students. The student body grew to 500 by 1972, and alumni soon spread to every part of Canada and many countries abroad. The influence that they have exercised on the musical life of Canada and the world has been enormous.

Professor Robin Elliott
Jean A. Chalmers Chair in Canadian Music
Director, Institute for Music in Canada