As I write this at the beginning of July, life at Hart House is beginning – just beginning, mind you – to feel like it is returning to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy. In late June, after more than two months when students were not permitted to enter the premises of 7 Hart House Circle or the Hart House Farm for any purpose, we were able to re-open the three Essential Student Spaces – the Hart House Library, Reading Room, and Map Room – so that a small number of pre-registered students could “attend” virtual classes or read quietly by themselves. Around that same time, the Hart House Fitness Centre reintroduced outdoor fitness classes for groups of up to 5 students at a time on the Hart House Quad.
Assuming Ontario continues to make good progress in keeping down COVID infections and vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible, we are really hopeful about our ability to re-open more and more of our traditional services over the course of the summer. In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to formulate detailed plans for every area of our operations so that we will be ready to turn our hopes into reality just as soon as provincial regulations allow.
To anyone who ever assumed that Hart House was synonymous with its address at 7 Hart House Circle, our students and team members have proven definitively from the very earliest days of the pandemic that the magic of Hart House was never just about the facility itself: it was always at least as much a function of the people who comprise the Hart House community. It is the students, staff and faculty of the University of Toronto, together with so many others from outside the University, who together have made Hart House into one of the most innovative and dynamic student centres in North America. I believe that is why Hart House has proven to be so creative and effective at designing and delivering all manner of “virtual” programs throughout the last year-and-a-half of near and total-shutdown: while we generally prefer to gather in the same physical spaces, our commitment to finding individual and collective delight in the arts, dialogue, wellness and community does not depend on it. That is a lesson we will carry with us long after the current pandemic is a distant memory.
In the month of May alone – typically one of our quieter months, when most students have left the campus and summer courses are just beginning – Hart House delivered almost 120 hours of original online programming to students. Some participated in group or individualized wellness sessions, others attended a series of theatre workshops, and still others participated in a special Hart House Global Commons event with students around the world on the state of global efforts to confront anti-Black racism. Our Hart House Hospitality team also hosted a number of “virtual” events for colleagues across the University, including a three-day Global Summit for student affairs professionals and a series of special events as part of U of T’s Spring Reunion.
Typically, the Spring is also when we celebrate a number of students for the amazing contributions they have made to Hart House and the University of Toronto during their years on campus, and this year was no exception. In addition to the multiple winners of the U of T Student Leadership Awards associated with Hart House, we also honoured this year’s recipients of the Audrey Hozack Award and the Judy Schwartz Scholarships, both of which recognize students for demonstrations of exceptional leadership at Hart House. You can read about this year’s recipients in this edition of the Newsletter.
But it is not only students who deserve to be celebrated. Everyone at Hart House was delighted this past Spring when Terry Gardiner, the current Chair of the Hart House Board of Stewards, was awarded one of the University of Toronto’s two Distinguished Leader Chancellor’s Awards. Terry is a champion of equity, inclusivity and community-building who is widely recognized for his work in multiple faculties and on a number of pan-University initiatives. Hart House is deeply fortunate to have Terry as the Chair of our Board of Stewards, and it was an honour to co-nominate him alongside my colleague Michelle Brownrigg, Hart House’s Chief Program Officer.
The achievements of Terry and our award-winning student leaders help to reinforce my point that Hart House is so much more than the building that houses it. Still, I can hardly wait to see you all in that fabled building again, in person, very soon. My fingers are tightly crossed that we won’t have much longer to wait. We will let you know more details just as soon as we have them to share.
In the meantime, I hope you stay safe and stay cool this summer.
John MonahanWarden of Hart House