Toronto musicians are rallying to save beloved local music venue

Beloved Dundas West music venue Bar Orwell closed permanently in April after they were forced into eviction. Now the musicians that have shared its space are performing to raise money to keep the owners afloat and secure a new location. 

The bar announced the news on their Instagram, along with a GoFundMe — explaining that their forced departure was the result of a construction eviction, following a “hostile and tenuous relationship with [their] ‘property manager’ – [their] landlord’s son – who repeatedly breached the contract and made unreasonable demands.” 

“This culminated in an event where, during soundcheck, the landlord’s son cut power to our unit for a second time. With great indignation, we had to make the devastating decision to indefinitely postpone all scheduled events and cease operations at this location,” stated the caption. According to Practical Law Canada, constructive eviction occurs “when the tenant does not have full use and possession of its leased premises in accordance with the terms of its lease.” This could include “turning off the utilities serving the leased premises.”

 

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The comments were flooded with locals expressing their regret and grief over the loss of yet another Toronto music venue, especially one that is part of a shrinking group of venues in Toronto small enough to perform in for emerging and DIY artists.

“So sad to hear. You guys have made one of the best spots in the city for growing artists,” wrote one commenter. “Forever grateful to Bar Orwell for giving us all the space to express ourselves <3 you have so many people standing with you,” wrote another. 

While the bar itself is hosting a GoFundMe with a goal of $30,000 to pay final bills, interim maintenance costs, fund legal action and secure and furnish a new location, two groups are spearheading their own contributions through fundraising shows. 

 

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Post rock band Denise, which describes itself as “heavy music by peaceful people” on Instagram, is hosting a show at the Baby G on June 9 with accompanying bands, Sundower, Ancient Greece and Cute. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets are pay-what-you-can with a suggested cost of $15. 

“This is a city where landlords slowly, ‘constructively’ evict a tenant by removing all semblance of comfort, amenities and home from their dwelling. Losing Bar Orwell is just a symptom of a gnawing emptiness in the heart of Toronto, and it’s been there for well over a decade now,” wrote the members of Denise in a statement to Streets of Toronto.

“Two Fords and a Tory and a Chow and still we are losing. Is there to be no collective affordable space in Toronto? No smaller or medium venues, no bookstores, no community buildings? No Galleria mall, no Honest Ed’s, no Bar Orwell? Only condominiums. Only highways. Only underground parking lots. A city with millions of tiny, concrete and steel boxes and nowhere to escape them. Unless we stand up,” they wrote. “Landlords may own the walls, but we own everything that happens within them. Bar Orwell is home to bands and weirdos and people who love to live and make art here, and we have to fight to keep it alive.”

The members of Hardzone zine collective, The Hardchives, along with a group called Conzert Queerz, are also hosting a hardcore fundraising show, likely set for the end of June. Two of the organizers, Ryver and Viscera Winters, actually had their first date at the venue in July 2023, where they saw split-headliners Astral Tomb and Ethereal Tomb.

“The venue offers an inexpensive space that’s accessible to many in a scene where affordable venues are few and far between. We believe in third spaces as an important part of the social fabric of our society and a necessary part of community building. We’ve seen so many venues close their doors over the years, and we would hate to lose Bar Orwell as well. We need more spaces like these, including all ages venues, not fewer,” The Hardchives shared in a statement. 

“Our mission in creating Bar Orwell was to create a space to bolster community among disparate scenes, welcome new artists into that community, and foster the DIY spirit that inspires people to become community organizers/facilitators themselves – another thing this city desperately needs,” wrote owners Bronwen Ballantyne Heilig and Jesse Billings on the bar’s GoFundMe page. “Together we’re stronger, we get further.”

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