The Story


When Richard Carson was forced to close the doors to his club in early January, it sent shock waves through the music community, in Toronto, across the country, and internationally.

Brian Iler, a regular patron of the club and friend to Richard, put out the call to a short list of community folks who were also regular patrons and fans of the club. A group of more than 15 people attended the first of what would become weekly meetings followed by endless email and phone discussions. There was some attrition of supporters as the scope of the problem and the required time and financial commitment made itself evident. But a dedicated core group of 7 volunteers stayed the course over the ensuing months. These folks are: Brian Iler, lawyer, Brian Litvin, accountant and musician, Howard Gladstone, businessman and musician, Judith Laskin, retired school principal, co-founder of the Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMA), Grit Laskin, guitarmaker, musician, co-founder of Borealis Records as well as the CFMAs, Rob Young, musician and businessman (media), Ross Robinson, blues concert promoter. (There were others—Frank Saunders, accountant, Mariposa Board member, who helped us for couple of months and Jeremy Darby, Canterbury music Studio, who was only able to participate via email given the regular evening sessions in the studio.)

Parallel to a major fundraising campaign, this core team, referring to themselves as the Working Group, began examining every aspect of the old Hugh’s Room club. First task was to take a hard look at the financial situation and determine if a viable business was indeed possible. The two accountants on the Working Group confirmed that it was!

The very next step was to follow through with the beginnings of our ultimate plan to make this venue a community hub. We formed a Not-For-Profit corporation, Hugh’s Room Performing Arts Inc., and amended the club’s name to be Hugh’s Room Live.

Next, in consultation with Richard, Jane Harbury and Colin Puffer the Working Group brought back the club’s original General manager, Anthony Ferrando, which enabled us to ramp up the revitalization relatively quickly. We then brought in Derek Andrews to be the Music Programmer. His extensive experience in many different music genres as well as history of booking, managing and promoting venues and artists, made him an enormously valuable member of the new team.

Working toward the ultimate opening of April 22, 2017, approximately three and half months after the doors had been shut, was not as straightforward as we all had hoped. At one point, while negotiating a lease with the owner, the building was sold and the doors locked on us, making it impossible to access crucial files and data. We discovered who the new buyers were and negotiated a separate lease with them. Kitchen equipment was brought up to code, faulty heating & air conditioning was repaired, painting was re-done, carpeting was replaced, liquor licensing was extended, all suppliers were contacted. Additionally, a new website was created, as well as a new Facebook page, myriad interviews were conducted with all the local print and broadcast media.

While all of the above was occurring, Derek Andrews was contacting all previous artists and agents, re-scheduling where possible, programming new shows, in general filling in the dates as much as was possible with short notice. At the same time, most of the original staff were contacted and offered their old jobs back. 90 percent of the original staff, much to our relief, were delighted to return and had held off seeking other employment in the previous months.

The fundraising continues. The full goal of $250,000. still needs to be raised. We need this funding to support the venue – rent, staff, ongoing operating costs – while we are still in this start-up phase. Once the Hugh’s Room Live’s calendar is fully booked, typically with at least 20 shows a month, then the venue will indeed support itself. But it may take 6-8 months before we are able to fill in all those dates.

Future plans:

The club will continue to showcase an eclectic mix of performers, Folk, Blues, Jazz, World, Classical. We have also begun reaching out to other groups, exploring bringing author readings, perhaps even comedy. As well, we intend to open the venue up to community groups, who could make use of the daytime space on dark days or even before any afternoon equipment load-in for an evening concert.

In September, once the operating Board is fully established, the Working Group disbanded, and the corporation’s governance structures are set and functioning, we will begin offering various levels of membership.

The working Group was determined to save what we all understood was a valued, unique and highly regarded club among Toronto’s many and varied music venues. We’re thrilled that we have got this far, and look forward to the years ahead of brilliant music performances in this most welcoming dinner-venue.