Skip to content

Eli Kassner awarded the Order of Canada!

Eli truly is a Renaissance man in our modern world.
[David Russell]

Eli Kassner is for me the “patriarch” of the classical guitar in Canada. The Guitar Society of Toronto and the Toronto Guitar Festivals became the basis of the cultural history of the guitar, and inspired among my generation friendship, understanding, and a veritable “think tank” of knowledge and joy. Thanks Ann and Eli.
[Leo Brouwer]

Eli - Book Cover We are delighted to tell you that on June 30, the Government of Canada announced that our founder Eli Kassner has been named to the Order of Canada, our country’s highest civilian honour.

The Order of Canada “recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to
the community and service to the nation.
The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country.

Eli’s contributions to music in Canada have been immense. When he arrived in Canada in 1951, classical guitar had virtually no presence. Without Eli’s inspiration and energy, that still might be the case today. Thanks to Eli, the Guitar Society of Toronto is one of North America’s oldest and most active. Classical guitar studies are thriving at the University of Toronto – one of the first universities in North America to treat guitar as a “serious” classical instrument. Multiple generations of guitar students have been inspired to launch careers as artists, composers and teachers. Eli’s International Guitar Festivals and Competitions in the 1970s and 80s have laid the foundation for international guitar festivals worldwide. There is much more, but this gives you some idea of Eli’s extraordinary achievements.

As Eli is unable to travel to Ottawa for the investiture, the award ceremony will be held for Eli personally at the Baycrest Centre, where he is now residing.

If you would like to know more about Eli’s extraordinary life, be sure to read his autobiography: Allegro Vivace con Brio, the Life of Eli Kassner.


Eli Kassner has had an extraordinary life. Growing up in a religious Jewish family in Vienna, he pursued his love of art and music in the shadow of the growing Nazi menace. He immigrated to Palestine in December of 1939 under the auspices of a Zionist Kibbutz youth movement. He never saw his parents again.

At kibbutz Tel Yitzhak he was trained as a cobbler and later helped found Revivim south of Beersheba. Sent to Yagur to learn the art of textile weaving, he remained as its artistic director, teaching, producing and directing plays and musicals. Active in the Palmach, Eli was involved in many key operations before and during the War of Independence.

After the war, he became the musical and artistic director of a youth village in Ein Karem, where he continued to paint and make music. Reconnecting with his brother, Eli immigrated to Toronto in 1951 with his young family, to continue his artistic studies.

Instead he ended up on a completely different path. Working at Whaley-Royce music as a salesman, he taught himself the classical guitar, the rudiments of which he had learned as a boy. He gradually attracted a core of students, and in 1956 was the moving force behind the creation of the Guitar Society of Toronto.

Awarded a scholarship in 1959 by Andres Segovia to study at Santiago de Compostela, he returned to Canada to found the guitar programme at the University of Toronto and subsequently his Guitar Academy. Over the years, Eli taught generations of guitarists, many of whom became teachers and performers. He inspired the legendary international guitar festivals—the first of their kind– in Toronto between 1975 and 1987.

In the 1960s, his unquenchable curiosity led his becoming a pioneer in the field of “micro” film-making, creating many award-winning documentaries. In 2012, his life-long dedication to art culminated in his first ever gallery exhibition.

Truly, Eli Kassner has lived a life full of liveliness, spirit, and joy – allegro vivace con brio.

Guitar Society of Toronto