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This Week in History – Parks Canada
For the Week of Monday, January 15, 2018

On January 15, 1895, Augustus Stephen Vogt led the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in its inaugural concert at the Massey Music Hall.

Augustus Stephen Vogt, circa 1920
Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

Vogt was born on August 14, 1861, to Marianna Zingg and John George Vogt. When he was just 12, the St. James Lutheran Church elders in his hometown of Elmira, Ontario, appointed him as organist. He played an instrument his father — a skilled artisan from Germany — had built. After studying at the New England Conservatory in Boston from 1881 to 1884, Augustus Vogt continued his education at the Leipzig Conservatory in Germany from 1885 to 1888.

He returned to Canada in 1889, becoming conductor of the Jarvis Street Baptist Church choir and leading its transformation into the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir over the next five years. Named after the famous Leipzig composer Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir had 167 members at its inaugural concert in 1895. Approximately 1,800 people attended, including the Lieutenant Governor and the Lord Mayor. The concert was one of the first to take place at Massey Music Hall, which had opened earlier in 1894.

Between 1897 and 1900, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir was inactive. Vogt temporarily disbanded the group to create new regulations that included the introduction of annual auditions for all members and a limit of three rehearsal absences per week. There was also a new membership fee: $1 for women and $2 for men. Shortly after its resumption, the choir began to incorporate orchestral accompaniments, and started touring in the United States. However, travel plans to Europe were derailed by the onset of the First World War.

Vogt retired from the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in 1917, when his work as conductor conflicted with his duties as the Musical Director of the Toronto Conservatory of Music, a position he had held since 1913. Since Vogt’s retirement, six conductors have led the choir, which continues to perform today.

This historical vignette appeared on the Parks Canada Archives.