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Ontario Place extreme make-over

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?


  1. I hate stadium shows for similar reasons that you do, crappy visuals and acoustics, and the fact that I don’t care about most of the bands that will play there.

    Give me a small club or someone’s living room any day.

  2. and if Candy thought things were getting bad security wise back in the day she’d lose her skull at how G20 oppressive it is now. So bad I just don’t bother anymore

  3. Saw Fats Domino, Tom Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis and a pre-Killer, pre-caucasian Michael Jackson there.

    Smokey Robinson had the most gorgeous audience on earth.

  4. We saw you at the Bob Dylan show…we were on the grass, and the ridiculous part of it was that the directors of the tv screens were set up near us…so the view they projected of the band was exactly the same view we could see. I almost marched over to them to say….why don’t you film the band actually playing up close…i was so pissed. it was quite ridiculous. That might have been the last time I was there too..I thought it was a fantastic performance though. i loved the band playing with Dylan I saw a fantastic show maybe just after that or around the same time…Aerosmith, Run DMC and Kid Rock. they had set up a secret surprise stage on the hill right beside me…and Aerosmith performed and I was basically in front row. what a treat!

    i saw James Brown there and Aretha Franklin…all back when it was the smaller stage too. we started dancing to Jim Brown and everyone started yelling at us to sit down…ugh! Squares! Then James Brown said “come one everyone dance” so then we didn’t get beat up but it was close.

    i just don’t liek being in a restricted setting for seeing music. i don’t want to sit still…music is for dancing and moving around and I prefer the venues that are open to music being the social fun creature it is. One of my favourite places is the masonic Temple…one of the best venues for music!

    Ontario Place in general sucks. They should take down all the buildings…and open up all the roads down there so it’s easy to walk and stroll and get storefronts or kiosks all the way around and havew a place that grows organically…if people set up a shop or kiosk…let the best one survive that people want. Let cars drive there easily as well as pedestrians…so just the lakeshore and lots of bike paths and walkways. Let restaurants compete with each other…let the place become a huge extension of a park and have lots of beach access and parkway and dog runs.

    the thing is…administrators and committees want to make some kind of plan or program. it would be much more vital if they let people in the city figure out the area for themselves…just make it people friendly and a park and see what happens. Kiosks of merchandise and coffee kiosks or such. set upa huge patio bar with view of the beach and lake…so people could sit outside and have service and drinks and food and share a huge patio with music playing …maybe a variety of genres of dj music. A dance floor on the patio so children and grandparents could all visit. Have live bands play down there for free a few nights of the week for more dancing. Have dance lessons available…suiting the music…say salsa, or square dancing lessons…ballroom lessons. hip hop lessons. then djs or bands play the music later for everyone who has taken the lessons.

    Let the citizens experiment with activities and see what happens…

    • Many years ago, Stagg sent me a video tape of James Brown at the Forum. I don’t know if he realized where it was or not, not knowing how distinctive the venue was.

    • Sash

      I saw James Brown and Aretha Franklin there, too, and dozens more including the Toronto Symphony’s 1812 Overture performances. There were some great shows, just loved them all. James was very loud from what I recall and Aretha was not what I expected, she seemed distant and quiet. I haven’t been to the replacement venue since the old Forum was knocked down.

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