Photo by A. Shay Hahn
Queen Street West lost a big part of its creative history this weekend when Cameron House co-owner and visionary arts patron Paul Sannella passed away.
He and his sister Anne-Marie Ferraro and friend Herb Tookey took over the dilapidated hotel in 1981 and re-imagined it as a live/work space for local artists and an intimate music venue for the emerging Queen West scene.
On an average night back in the day, you could catch acts like Blue Rodeo, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Jane Siberry, Molly Johnson, the Leslie Spit Trio, Gordie Johnson and Handsome Ned playing some of their earliest gigs in the cozy back room, and some even lived upstairs.
Many artists and musicians actually paid for their rooms with their creative work, which fostered an artistic community unique to the building. The sprawling musician collective concept may have been popularized in recent years by the likes of Broken Social Scene, but Cameron House veterans will tell you that it was taken for granted back in the early days of the Toronto indie scene.
Over the years the surrounding neighbourhood changed greatly, but the Cameron House has stuck to its guns and still embodies the innovative ideas originally championed by Sannella and his partners.
These days, his nephew Cosmo Ferraro runs the bar, but hasn't changed anything too dramatically about the institution. Despite fears and rumours that the building would be sold and inevitably turned into yet more condos, the Cameron resisted all such overtures, and remains a vibrant reminder of the days when the Queen West was still wild.
It's rare that the owner of a bar would leave such an important legacy behind, but then again, the Cameron House was never ordinary.