Comradely Haven for Kindred Souls

1920

14 Elm St.

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The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto (which permitted men only until 1985) was evicted twice from other locations before finding a permanent home in St. George’s Hall at 14 Elm Street in 1920. It was established in 1908 under the encouragement of journalist, teacher, and critic, Augustus Bridle, to champion the arts in English Canada.

Thunder Cloud at the Arts and Letters Club, April 6, 1913 (courtesy Archives of Ontario/I0014540).

The Arts and Letters Club was founded to serve as a meeting place for people of diverse interests to engage in “mutual fellowship and artistic creativity,” as a kind of “comradely haven for kindred souls.” Over the past 100 years, its members, many of whom are among Canada's best known cultural figures, also knew how to have fun. According to Governor General Vincent Massey, who served as club president 1920-22, one of Bridle's "greatest contributions" was to lose the club's constitution, so that “we were not duly concerned with machinery.” Nonetheless, the constitution did survive in plainsong, a medieval form of ecclesiastical music, composed by Healey Willan.

Among the club’s members, perhaps none have become more famous than the members of the celebrated Group of Seven. According to A.J. Casson, a later addition to the Group, the artists met at the club daily “for company and a good meal.” Arthur Lismer drew caricatures of his fellow club members, while J.E.H. MacDonald designed the club crest. The building is a National Historic Site.

By Jamie Bradburn

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on Toronto.

Canadian authors’ dinner at the Arts and Letters Club, c. 1930s (courtesy Toronto Reference Library/971-3-4). View the image gallery