Time certainly flies at Hart House. Now that we are in the final month of 2021, I feel compelled to reflect on this past term in our unique co-curricular community, including the challenges we have faced and the opportunities we have embraced. I am both overcome with gratitude for all that has been accomplished and excited at the prospects of what is yet to come. And while the pandemic is still far from behind us, I sincerely believe that there is an ever-brightening light at the end of the tunnel if we know what to look for and how to seize the new opportunities it reveals to us.
First, though, I must say how honoured I am to be part of the Hart House community of students, staff, community members, faculty and friends. I am deeply touched to serve ongoing witness to the way all constituencies of the House are making best efforts to ensure that Hart House continues to offer all students exciting pathways to explore and discover new things about themselves and one another through the arts, dialogue and wellness. Together, we are all adjusting to the ongoing reality of the pandemic by following the supportive guidance provided to us by the team of experts at UofT’s Environmental Health & Safety office, and adhering to the health and safety measures they have recommended so that we can maximize in-person engagement in the many varied spaces and programs of Hart House. I know the entire staff team at Hart House is as delighted as I am to with the enormous progress that has been made since this time last year.
Here are just few of many programming highlights from the last quarter at Hart House:
- The Tree Protection Zone continues to invite students and community returning to campus to consider the campus’ relationship to the land and its original inhabitants through this uniquely immersive, arts-based experience on the Hart House Commons. This vibrant and reflective work was made possible through collaboration with the Office of the Vice-President, Operations and Real Estate Partnerships, University of Toronto; the Art Museum at the University of Toronto (AMUT); Indigenous Student Services; and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at U of T.
- We were thrilled this past September to reopen the Hart House Fitness Centre for fully-masked, in-person visits by those who are fully vaccinated Since then, we have extended our hours operation, increased capacity limits, and removed the requirement to pre-register to use our cardio and Nautilus weight machines, our free weights and the weight room. Personal Training and Pilates Reformer sessions are also available by prior appointment. Additionally, the Hart House fitness team continues to make an outsized contribution to the University of Toronto Virtual Fitness Studio that features on-line group fitness classes delivered by Hart House, U of T Sports & Rec, and the University of Toronto Mississauga. And last but not least, the beautiful Hart House pool will re-open for use by students and other members in January 2022. Check out the current offerings.
- All of Hart House’s musical clubs have returned to in-person practices in the House, adhering carefully to specially-tailored health and safety measures as they do. Hart House Orchestra members, for example, are no longer shoulder to shoulder; they’re now two metres apart. But sharing the space again is, in itself, a triumph. Three-quarters of the Hart House Jazz Choir graduated last spring – U of T students have an annoying habit of doing that - so the group has been going through an exciting time of re-building with 15 talented singers now in the roster. Meanwhile, the Hart House Chorus and Singers have begun hybrid rehearsals on Monday nights with 22 people in the Great Hall and many more following along from home via Zoom. These innovative set-ups are all producing exquisite musical sounds thanks to the superb leadership of our conductors, the commitment of our musicians, and the hard work and devotion of Hart House’s staging crews and our audiovisual and technical support teams.
- Now in its third year of activation, our Hip Hop Education Programming has continued its journey through the change-making power of music. The Hip Hop Café has been a particular highlight. Peer- and community-led conversations in this space provide a greater understanding of how Hip Hop culture influences our world. The 2021-2022 season kicked off on October 28. The team has planned an amazing year of programming.
- As it has now since the 1950s, the Hart House Farm has been helping students to re-connect to the land and to themselves during this stressful time. There have been a number of Farm-related highlights throughout the Fall. Among them, the Hart House Farm Committee houseplant sale, on September 14, was a tremendous success. We sold out! This Committee undertakes exceptional work encouraging students to reflect on their relationship with nature and delivering educational workshops on topics such as food justice and Indigenous relationships with the Land. The Committee and their amazing Staff Advisor Day Milman also organized a trip for U of T students to the Hart House Farm in Caledon on October 16. This day-long escape was filled with hands-on activities and a mindful nature walk.
- On September 26, to celebrate Queer Orientation Week, Hart House organized Indigiqueer, an evening of films in the Hart House Quad that showcased Indigenous queer filmmakers. Five extraordinary films were shown: Diane Obomsawin’s I Like Girls (2016); Shelley Niro’s Honey Moccasin (1998); and three films from Thirza Cuthand: 2 Spirit Introductory Special (2015), 2 Spirit Dreamcatcher Dot Com (2017) and Woman Dress (2019).
- On November 24, Hart House Conversations launched its groundbreaking Changemakers series. In a world where we see injustice and inequity, where many have given careful thought to what constructive change might look like, this series gives a platform to those inspiring folks whose discontent with the status quo propeled them to act. I am honoured to speak with these Changemakers and encourage all to join for theenxt instalment planned for January, 2022.
This is just a small sampling of what has been happening at Hart House this Fall in spite of the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. But to take a slightly deeper dive into the ongoing work of Hart House, I am pleased to welcome you to this latest edition of the Hart House Quarterly. Highlights of this early Winter edition include:
- An up-close-and-personal discussion with two work study students as they describe how the visionary Hip Hop Education program emboldened them to learn from others and reconnect with their own, unique voices.
- An update on the renovated Arbor Room. Students, members and friends visiting the newly-reopened restaurant/café are discovering a familiar-yet-innovative space where twin commitments to 21st-century accessibility and the restoration of stunning original features are brought together seamlessly.
- A glimpse, through the eyes of community and staff members, of how the Fitness Centre rose to the challenge of the pandemic and met the changing needs of those who used the facilities; and how, today, it continues to safely provide an exceptional fitness experience via a variety of services and à la carte programs.
- In this edition of “In Conversation with…” I talk with U of T alumnus Nigel Faulkner, Hart House’s Facilities and Caretaking Supervisor. Drawing on his two decades of experience at the House, Nigel describes what it was like keeping Hart House in good repair all through the pandemic, gives a well-deserved nod to his exceptional colleagues and lets loose about his life-long passion for the movies.
In closing, I look forward to a Winter of continued safe engagement with hybrid offerings. As the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter and the pandemic truly wanes, please remember Hart House is always here for you. I am confident that we will emerge as an even stronger community in the end.
I hope you enjoy this Winter 2021-2022 edition of the Hart House Quarterly. I wish you all a safe, enjoyable and well-deserved break over the holidays.
John MonahanWarden of Hart House