Welcome to the Spring 2022 edition of the Hart House Quarterly.Is it just me, or does it seem that spring has taken an awfully long time to get here – as in, a couple of years or more?

At Hart House, there is certainly a lot more optimism in the air than there was this time last year. There is a growing sense that the COVID pandemic may finally be waning and that we are about to emerge from a dark 24-month winter into a bright springtime full of new ways to explore and experience community together – as in, really together - through the arts, dialogue and wellness.

I am very proud of and grateful for the amazing students and colleagues I work with at Hart House whose innovative approach to everything they do led to the creation of the Virtual Hart House soon after the pandemic began back in March of 2020.  Particular thanks and kudos go to Michelle Brownrigg, our Chief Program Officer, and her amazing team of programming professionals.  The Virtual Hart House soon became a virtual lifeline and a source of community to thousands of students and others who craved connection during the darkest days of COVID-induced isolation.   Whether through group fitness classes, online crafting or cooking demonstrations, panel discussions and debates on almost every topic imaginable, musical rehearsals and performances, theatre workshops, art tours or a myriad of other ways, Hart House shrank the distances between people in ways that would have been imaginable just a few years ago.  I remember participating in a Hart House Global Commons event in 2020 where there were people participating online from 15 different countries outside Canada – and those were just the UofT students! 

Numbers do not tell the full story, but they do tell part of it.  Between May 2020 and the end of December 2021, there were more than 135,000 individual “engagements” in the Virtual Hart House, including almost 25,000 participants in “real time” programming and 110,000 more who enjoyed Hart House’s online programs on their own schedules.

Long before the pandemic began, we told anyone who would listen to us that “Hart House is much more than just its building.”  I have always held that conviction, though I understand why some people visiting the larger-than life, neo-Gothic beauty and majesty of 7 Hart House Circle for the first time tend to be sceptical.   But those students and community members who have frequented the Virtual Hart House in such astonishing numbers since April 2020 have shown it to be incontrovertibly true.

The good news is that we no longer have to choose one over the other.  Even as more and more opportunities present themselves for people to return to Hart House in person, we are committed to maintaining a vigorous online presence through the Virtual Hart House.  That means that distance from the St. George campus does not have to impede engagement in Hart House programs.  If there is any silver lining that has emerged from the very dark clouds of the past two years, that may be it.

But for those who are physically proximate to 7 Hart House Circle, I am pleased to advise the Hart House Fitness Centre is fully open, including our swimming pool.  The same is true for the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at Hart House, the newly-renovated Arbor Room, and all of our meetings and events spaces. The Gallery Grill restaurant will be reopening in April. Many activities that had become exclusively virtual during the pandemic are already back in person – rehearsals by our many musical ensembles are my personal favourite, because they make the House sound so darn good – and others are now being presented on a “hybrid” basis.

It is exciting to be at Hart House these days.  I am very proud of the tremendous amount of work that our Facilities and Capital Projects team has done throughout the pandemic to make the House more accessible and enjoyable for everyone, and I dare say that the House has not looked so beautiful in a long time.  But I am wholly sincere when I assure you that the true beauty of the House these days lies in the return of so many students, members and visitors to its rooms and hallways.

In This Issue

And now, it gives me great pleasure to present the Spring 2022 issue of the Hart House Quarterly. Highlights of this issue include:

  • Community, Personal Growth and Giving Back: Two Remarkable Alumni Share their Stories: Rob West and Sarah Harris, U of T graduates deeply involved in the Hart House Theatre, talk about their experiences both as students and as volunteers, and explain how those experiences have marked their lives for the better;
  • Hart House “Opened New Avenues of Thought” for Talented Student: U of T undergrad Emily Hurmizi is Co-Chair of the Hart House Student Literary and Library Committee. The graduate-to-be looks back on what she has learned about leadership from her time with the Committee, and how she has benefited, both personally and professionally, by her involvement;
  • Black Futures Launches Exceptional Programming for 2022: This year, the visionary Black Futures series outdoes itself with an amazing array of opportunities spanning the arts, dialogue and wellness; and
  • In Conversation with … Bongi Ngugama: I talk with Hart House’s Coordinator of Staff Relations and Professional Development about joining the team at Hart House in the middle of the pandemic, things that helped her cope through its darkest days, and what she has come to appreciate most about the House.  

I hope you enjoy the read, and I look forward to welcoming you back to Hart House in person if and when you are able.

Kind regards,

John MonahanWarden of Hart House