To commemorate Toronto’s rich music history, Andrew Smith builds miniature versions of the city’s late, great sites

Carpenter Andrew Smith spent a career building big things, including sets for comedy series like “Royal Canadian Air Farce” and “Rick Mercer Report” and stages for the Genies, Geminis and Junos award shows. After he retired two years ago, his urge to build continued, although his workshop had shrunk considerably. “My basement isn’t very big,” he says, “so it was time to build things small.”

He started making Little Free Libraries. A neighbor asked him to make one modeled on her house, and while he was working on the reproduction, a thought occurred to him: he could build something like a small free library. “I could even build the Silver Dollar as one,” he says, recalling the popular music venue in Spadina and College, which closed in 2017. “So I did.”

But the construction of the Silver Dollar library was not long before he decided to just make a model of the club and the famous board. He wanted to continue building miniatures of iconic Toronto signage, so he next tackled the Matador Ballroom and posted a photo of his repro on the Historic Matador Ballroom Facebook Group. “The response I got was amazing: the I remembers and stories, this wave of good feeling,” says Smith. “I realized I had found this vein of nostalgia around early music venues, a vein that could be mined and nurtured.”

The Gasworks closed in 1993. Any fan of "Wayne's world" remembers the line, "This is The Gasworks, an excellent heavy metal bar.  And always a babe fest."

Smith, 73, was a lifelong music fan who spent many hours watching bands and had many venues to choose from. His only parameters: the club had to have live music and now it must be ‘closed and quiet’. In the past year, he’s created 20 miniatures as part of a series he calls “Toronto, Lost Music City,” which includes Parkdale’s Not My Dog and the Rondon Tavern at Roncesvalles. Smith recently put the finishing touches to his newest, the Renaissance Café, an East End club that closed its doors in 2009. “I like to celebrate the small halls,” he says. “They’re the bottom rung on the entertainment ladder.”

Renaissance Cafe was on the Danforth, just east of Woodbine.  Popular with folk lovers and multidisciplinary artists, it closed in 2009.

With this project he has gained a lot of his own fans. An artist friend, Lisa Herrera, asked to feature some of his models in the window of her newly opened Tangerine Dream Art Studio & Gallery — and a photo Smith posted on his Facebook page of the exhibit was shared many times. “My gallery friend and my media-conscious daughter convinced me to start using Instagram,” he says. “So, kicking and screaming, I stepped foot in the 2010s. Is this intentionally wrong date? and setting up a page to show off the models I build. To my surprise, the response was overwhelming.”

The Big Bop, which includes the three stages, Kathedral, the Reverb, and Holy Joe's, opened in 1986 and was one of the few clubs to hold more than 1,000 people at the time.

To create his models, each taking about 10 days to complete, Smith seeks out (preferably color) photographs of the facade and begins to dig into the history of the site: “Was it significant, and how?” He runs the image through Photoshop to get a sharp copy so he can get the details just right, then uses a building program to create a series of plans to scale. He uses materials from his scenic career as a carpenter to build the project, including plywood, masonite and plexiglass.

Chick' N' Deli was known for its billboard as well as for its chicken wings and live music.

Whether you sculpt a little chicken to the Chick ‘n’ Deli . to decorate or finally score enough footage to recreate the front of the BamBoo with cheetah print and beetle juice-like signage (including photos, an illustration by David Creighton, and stills from videos of Queen Street in the 1980s), Smith has fond memories of creating it. “That keeps it fun. I also constantly try to improve what I do,” he says. “Most of my models have masonry – it was Toronto’s favorite material. My early ones were flat slabs of brick pattern. The one I just completed had detailed and decorative masonry with several layers, so of course I want to try and replicate all of that – with extra layers of foam core and very careful and specific cuts.

Some can take a little longer than 10 days to build, but Smith doesn’t mind. “I don’t work on it full-time,” he says. “I’m old, I’m retired, I need my naps and I don’t mind seeing paint dry.” Next, he wants to tackle the Knob Hill and the Hard Rock Café, as his daughter’s band, RG5, was the last to play on stage. He’s also considering the Cadillac Lounge (“I need to find a 1:24 scale plastic model of a 1960 Cadillac sedan”), N’awlins (“once I figure out how to make metal grilles”) and Le Coq d’ Or (“all those lights scare me!”).

The Brown Derby Tavern was long before Dundas Square in Yonge and Dundas.  It was open from 1949 to 1974.

Smith hopes to one day organize a large-scale exhibition of his work. “I’d like to see it combine art and history: the models and stories of the locations,” he says. “There is such a rich musical cultural history in this city, it needs to be remembered and celebrated. It is part of what made Toronto the livable city it has become.”

The Edge was only open from 1978 to 1981, but is considered by some to be one of Toronto's premier locations.

How long will he do this? “Probably for the rest of my life,” Smith says. “I came to Toronto as a 19-year-old and in the intervening 53 years this city has been very, very good to me. It has given me a full, rich and creatively rewarding life, plus a few ex-wives and a few kids.

“This is my way of repaying this city that I love,” he adds, in the best way he can thank: “by building something.”

Dave's at St. Clair was a pub with a huge beer selection and had trivia and music nights.  It closed in 2020.

JOIN THE CALL

Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. De Ster does not endorse these opinions.

Leave a Comment