The Royal Conservatory of Music (until 1947, known as Toronto Conservatory of Music) is the largest and oldest self-supporting institution of its kind in Canada, offering opportunities for learning and personal development through music in all Canadian provinces and territories, as well as a number of international settings.

The conservatory was founded by Edward Fisher in 1886, and in the following year opened with 200 students and 50 teachers. By 1892 it was organized into two departments: the academic department catered to young students and amateurs; the collegiate department offered professional training to teachers and performers. In this period, conservatories prepared students for examinations conducted by the universities. Originally associated with University of Trinity College, RCM affiliated with the University of Toronto in 1896.

Under the energetic leadership of Augustus Vogt (principal, 1913-26), the conservatory established a national network of examination centres. By 1921 U of T had assumed control of the conservatory and, after absorbing all rival schools (with the exception of the Hambourg Conservatory), enjoyed a position of pre-eminence by the late 1920s. Ernest MacMillan (principal, 1926-1942) added prestige through annual performances of the RCM choir and revised the examination curriculum by incorporating more rigorous requirements in aural skills and theory. In 1944 the Frederick Harris music publishing company was donated to the conservatory with profits to be used for conservatory purposes.

A new phase of professional training commenced when diploma programs were offered in a new Senior School (1946). Activities within its opera division eventually led to the formation of the Canadian Opera Company. Sir Ernest MacMillan, Ettore Mazzoleni, Arnold Arnold Walter, Nicholas Goldschmidt, and Ezra Schabas were prominent in a variety of postwar developments which produced a new generation of Canadian performers, composers and teachers, including Glenn Gould, Jon Vickers, Teresa Stratas, Mario Bernardi and Lois Marshall.

The modern era of the conservatory began in 1991, with the successful re-establishment of its independence from the University of Toronto through an act of the Ontario Legislature.

Under the direction of President Dr. Peter C. Simon, the RCM gained financial stability and refocused its activities on a model of interrelated business units. These include RCM Examinations, RCM Community and Professional Schools, the Centre for Music and Learning and RCM Affiliate Teacher Services.

By 1996, the RCM had served over 3 million Canadians, including administration of the annual examination to more than 97 000 candidates.