The HPO’s home Concert Hall has been through a few name changes. It was inaugurated as Hamilton Place, then in 1998 it became the Ronald V. Joyce Centre for the Performing Arts at Hamilton Place after a donation from Joyce’s foundation for capital improvements to the building. In 2016, the naming rights were sold and the beloved downtown theatre became FirstOntario Concert Hall. No matter what name you call it, the concert hall, opened in 1973, has become a cultural landmark in our community.
For many years, the HPO did not have a permanent home for performances or rehearsals. In the 1950s most performances were held at the Memorial School auditorium at Main and Ottawa before moving to the Westdale Secondary School auditorium. Concerts were held at the Mohawk College Theatre from 1971-1973 while an under-construction concert hall downtown experienced construction delays. The orchestra and community as a whole waited through many years of planning, fundraising and construction before Hamilton Place opened in 1973 with the HPO as its anchor tenant.
In 1963 a small group of individuals formed a committee to determine the feasibility of building a professional auditorium in Hamilton. From there the Hamilton Theatre-Auditorium Foundation was formed and raised over $3 million for the project contributed by more than 15,000 people. At the time, federal and provincial arts funding bodies were preoccupied with funding the National Arts Centre, so the committee looked locally for funds. Dofasco employees contributed $23,000 to the project through payroll deductions, which was the first time this was done in North America for an arts-related cause. The City of Hamilton was also a champion of the theatre, contributing $8 million in funding.
Designed by local architect Trevor Garwood-Jones, the Concert Hall has been a busy place since its opening. The Great Hall of Hamilton Place opened in September 1973 with a 30-night festival with an HPO performance that included the premieres of works by Louis Applebaum and Galt MacDermot under the conducting of then Music Director Boris Brott.
Since its opening, many have noted the exceptional acoustics of the Concert Hall which make it the perfect home for Hamilton’s professional orchestra. Some may remember the great debate in the years before the theatre was completed about whether Canadian-made bricks would be able to meet the same standards of acoustics found in notable theatres built with American bricks. In the end, Canadian bricks were used for the outside of the building and American bricks line the walls of Great Hall, providing the astounding acoustics the Concert Hall is known for.