Women supporting, championing and providing inspiration in the arts
The Heliconian Club is a hub of arts-based activity and appreciation that reveres quality, respects tradition and welcomes innovation. It plays an active role in wider community initiatives and maintains an outreach program.
The Toronto Heliconian Club
The Toronto Heliconian Club is the oldest association of its kind in Canada. Founded in 1909 to give women in the arts and letters an opportunity to meet socially and intellectually, the Club holds to its original purpose while responding to the changes of contemporary life. The members range in age and experience from women who have earned great distinction to those in the early stages of their careers.
The Club offers many activities for its members, their guests and the public: art exhibitions, workshops, weekly sketch groups, literary lectures, concerts, luncheons celebrating the professional lives of members and dinners addressed by distinguished guests. Various outreach activities engage the broader Toronto community.
The Club’s founding was the inspiration of Mary Hewitt Smart, a teacher of singing at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. She invited to a meeting a number of women she thought would like to exchange ideas or simply enjoy social occasions together. It was recorded that she represented “music” and that other attendees represented “art” and “literary” foci. This established the club’s sectional structure to which dance, drama and humanities were later added. At the founding meeting, the members also decided on the name “Heliconian Club”, which derives from Mount Helicon, the mythical abode of the Muses. At a later date, “Toronto” was affixed to the name.
The Club meets in a charming historic building at 35 Hazelton Avenue in the Yorkville area of the city. It dates from 1875 when Yorkville was a rural village on the outskirts of Toronto. Originally a church and then the headquarters of a painters’ union, the land and building was bought by the club in 1923 for $8,000 and named Heliconian Hall. Its architecture is Carpenter’s Gothic with a simple board and batten exterior, and with the embellishment of a Victorian rose window and carved rafters in a high vaulted ceiling. Its good acoustical properties are a boon to this day to the Club’s musicians and other performers. Heliconian Hall, is one of the few church buildings of this style in southern Ontario. It was designated a Toronto historic site in 1990 and a National Historic Site in 2008; a plaque was erected outside the building in 2011.