If walls could talk, the Victorian-era bricks and plaster that give The Great Hall its historic flare would have countless stories to tell about one of Toronto’s most talked-about neighbourhoods.
Built in 1889, The Great Hall has lived many lives, starting as a YMCA and a social and recreational hub for the working-class community that called the surrounding streets home—names that included world-famous long-distance runner Tom Longboat. Over the years, the space would serve as a base for the prohibition-advocating Royal Templars of Temperance, who would no doubt be nonplussed by the serving of alcohol at the weddings and concerts currently held in the space. By the early 1940s it would become the headquarters of the Polish National Union, and soon a meeting point for the local Polish community through the 1970s.
In the decades that followed, The Great Hall became a hub for artists, musicians and other creative types, welcoming performances by top acts such as Sonic Youth, City & Colour, Feist, Metric, and Sloan. From hosting political debates prior to the recent federal election, to arts events such as the Toronto Jazz Festival and Nuit Blanche, The Great Hall has been the epicenter of Queen West culture for the past 125 years.
In 2016, after an extensive renovation that restored the building’s many heritage elements and updated everything from HVAC systems to accessibility features, The Great Hall cemented its status as one of the city’s top event venues. It also found its way onto Kiss the Cook Catering’s list of recommended event spaces.
“It’s really a one of a kind venue,” says Mark Foster, The Great Hall’s director of production. “You won’t see many venues in town that can do what we do. It comes down to the mix of different aspects that we add to our productions that makes us unique.”
That’s part of what we love about this venue. The Great Hall’s management isn’t just interested in renting space and throwing parties. They’re dedicated to creating unique productions. Whether hosting a birthday or presenting a high-end fashion show, in their view, success is in the details—and they take great care to get them right.
“There’s always that initial ‘wow’ factor when you first walk in,” Foster says of The Great Hall’s distinctive ambience. “For us, it’s about providing the whole package—finishes, design, décor—and each room is designed with different tastes in mind, a different aesthetic character.”
Indeed, the heritage building features four main event spaces—the Main Hall, Conversation Room, Drawing Room and Longboat Hall—each offering a unique setting for everything from weddings and social gatherings, to corporate events and arts extravaganzas. One of the main draws is the The Great Hall’s flexibility to accommodate groups ranging from two to 1,200 people.
Take the 10,000-sq. ft. Main Hall, the building’s showpiece. Divided into two levels, the space can hold 480 guests and features an original cast iron balcony with a performance stage and restored gilded scrollwork that provides the perfect backdrop for anyone searching for an exclusive room to host their event. It also has a full-service bar, reception area, coat check and green room.
Built as the building’s gymnasium when it was the West End YMCA, Longboat Hall, with its exposed sandstone brick walls and cast-iron balcony that originally served as an indoor running track, is more than 5,000 sq. ft. and can hold 400 people. It’s a great space for couples looking for an edgier wedding space, or for events such as concerts.
In the brightly-lit Conversation and Drawing Rooms—each a cozy 1,200 sq. ft.—guests have the opportunity to stage decidedly more intimate gatherings, think a post-wedding ceremony cocktail reception or a trunk show. The rooms can hold up to117 and 97 guests, respectively. The elegantly-adorned spaces are also perfect for photo shoots. Case in point: actress Nicole Kidman and actors Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan recently posed in one of the rooms for the People/EW/InStyle Studio at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo credit: Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton)
For management, the key to The Great Hall’s success comes down to providing industry-leading service. Whether working with one of Toronto’s top catering companies or bringing events to life with their team of dependable event staff, they’re on a mission to create customized experiences that leave guests wanting more.
“Clients really enjoy how flexible we can be in terms of tailoring our packages,” Foster says. “Ultimately, the management team has a broad knowledge base from all aspects of the industry. Being able to work across that huge breadth of knowledge is always really positive for our clients.
“Everything we do is built around the client experience. From the moment they come in, we’re focused on how we can help them create unforgettable memories.”