There is a plan afoot to do an extreme make-over on tired old Ontario Place. I’ve hardly been there in recent years, but I used to go regularly back when the old Forum was there with the revolving stage. The last time I was there was for a Van Morrison concert at the Molson Amphitheatre. I saw a Bob Dylan show there as well a few years back.
My experience at the Van Morrison show was that I was sitting so far away from the stage that Mr. Morrison looked like an ant. Anticipating this problem, the good folks at the Amphitheatre had television monitors set up so we could watch the show on TV. So there we were, a mile from the stage watching a TV screen. That was the moment at which I realized that I would never again pay big dollars to go to a concert in a big venue like that. I can handle Massey Hall, in spite of the uncomfortable seats and the pillars, but I never went back to the Amphitheatre or to any of the other “big” venues. Fortunately most of the music I like isn’t so popular so I get to see those performers in more intimate settings. For instance, in August, Tuffy P and I have tickets to see Ramblin Jack Elliott at Hugh’s Room. We’ll have a reserved table waiting for us. We’ll enjoy dinner and a cold beer (for me…Tuffy doens’t like beer), and we’ll see this legendary performer in a great setting.
I do have great memories of the old Ontario Place Forum. I never really understood what the rest of it was all about. I saw Catch the Sun in the big dome IMax theatre like everyone else and that was fun, but it seemed anytime I was there, I spent too much time walking up and down ramps and stairs. What were those silo things all about? I don’t even remember.
In 1975, I was a teenaged blues fan. Imagine how excited I was when Muddy Waters came to the Forum. Also on the bill was the James Cotton Band, which at the time was quite a force of nature. At the end, Mr. Cotton came on stage and stepped back to an earlier time, playing harmonica for Muddy Waters. It was fantastic.
Then there was the day Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie came to the Forum. We went down early to grab excellent seats. Pete and Arlo were there early too, and they did a long rehearsal set. I remember Pete Seeger walking to the back, to the hill where the fans would be sitting on blankets on the grass, while Arlo played, and calling out to Arlo, saying the sound was fine. I also recall Arlo commenting that as a kid he used to like to go into echo-y hallways with his 12-string guitar and pretend he was the Byrds. I don’t remember which of the Byrds tunes he played then. It might have been Mr. Tambourine Man (really a Dylan tune of course) or perhaps Eight Mile High.
I even saw Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee play there. I had seen them a couple years earlier at the El Mocombo (they still seemed to like each other back then), but by the time they played the Forum it was more like The Sonny Terry Show and The Brownie McGhee show. They hardly interacted at all. Maybe that’s what happens when you play with the same musicians that long.
After the Forum disappeared, with the exception of a couple trips to the Molson Amphitheatre, the rest of Ontario Place’s history is a mystery to me. They had beer gardens there, I recall, and that admission was free with admission to the CNE (I just couldn’t figure out why I ought to go there. I know I have some Ontario readers. I’d be interested in hearing your memories of Ontario Place. I wonder how they’ll transform it?