Toronto could get two new music venues this summer

Toronto could be getting a pair of new music venues this summer.

If you’ve been reading NOW over the last five years, it won’t be a surprise to hear that Toronto has a vanishing music venues problem. With rising rents, systemic barriers and vulture organizations encroaching – plus a pandemic that’s upended the whole live music industry – both performance and rehearsal spaces have been disappearing. 

For those paying attention, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the crisis became exacerbated right around the same time then-mayor Rob Ford declared Toronto a music city

The city and its Toronto Music Advisory Committee (TMAC) have been proposing various initiatives since then, but the most intriguing solutions have been the ones that avoid a top-down approach and instead work with the musicians, promoters and organizations who’ve been fighting to make their scenes happen, often at their own expense or risk. 

A temporary solution on Queen West

That’s the approach they seem to be taking with 464-468 Queen West, the former home of retail store SVP Sports and a Taco Bell/KFC that the city bought a couple of years ago with eventual plans to turn it into affordable housing and public parkland in 2024. In the meantime, starting this summer, they’re planning to turn it into a new DIY live music “hub” focused on Black, Indigenous and racialized artists. 

The venue will adopt the “ecosystem approach” that TMAC chair and city councillor Brad Bradford touted in response to the closing of Rehearsal Factory. That means it won’t just be a live venue, but also a space for rehearsal and talent development. 

To make that happen, they’re partnering with local non-profit grassroots music series It’s OK*, which is known for moving around between one-off venues. This would give the organization a semi-permanent home to operate from, which means they wouldn’t have to “start from ground zero every single time,” as co-founder Said Yassin told NOW in a 2019 DIY music panel.

The agreement would create a rent-free two-year lease for It’s Ok*, though they would have to pay utilities and property tax. Otherwise, the space would cost more than $126,000 per year. 

The proposal was discussed at a recent General Government and Licensing Committee meeting, which passed with amended recommendations that the city prioritize assisting It’s OK* on finding a new space once the lease ends (provided they remain in good standing).

Now it will head to a city council meeting this Wednesday, April 6, which will determine whether or not the venue will be approved. 

A new home for Hugh’s Room Live

The city’s proposal for 464-468 Queen West is a streamlined twist on a pilot project TMAC proposed before the pandemic to open city-owned spaces to DIY music promoters. That proposal also drew the eye of long-running folk venue/charitable organization Hugh’s Room Live at the time, which had then been pushed out of its Dundas West home due to rising rents. 

Since then, Hugh’s Room Live has been putting on concerts at existing venues 3030 Dundas West and the El Mocambo while searching for a permanent home. 

“When we closed our doors at our old Dundas Street West location, we knew that the only way music venues can survive in Toronto’s real estate market is to control our future by owning our own home,” said Brian Iler, chair of Hugh’s Room Live, in a release.

It looks like they’ve found it. The organization has zeroed in on a historic church at 296 Broadview and recently signed an agreement to purchase it. In order to do so, they appealed to the city of Toronto to do a loan guarantee and the city agreed, meaning the organization can borrow $2 million towards the purchase of the church. 

Like It’s OK*, Hugh’s Room Live is proposing this be more than a music venue. They’re calling it a “community music centre.” 

“The main floor will easily accommodate the listening room environment that people have come to expect from us,” said alternate chair Jim Thomas. “The downstairs will allow us to build classrooms, meeting rooms and a music studio as well as an ample kitchen and washrooms.”

The venue has raised $500,000 in donations and loans, but will need to raise another $2 million by June 30 to complete the purchase. Hugh’s Room Live is a registered charity and is asking for donations at its website,


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