To commemorate Toronto’s rich musical history, Andrew Smith builds miniature versions of the city’s last and great venues

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Carpenter Andrew Smith has spent a career building big stuff, including sets for comedy series such as “Royal Canadian Air Farce” and “Rick Mercer Report” and stages for Genies, Geminis and Junos awards shows. After retiring two years ago, his urge to build remained, although his studio has shrunk considerably. “My basement isn’t very big,” he says, “so it was time to build some small things.”

He started by creating small free libraries. A neighbor asked him to create one based on the model of her house, and while he was working on the reproduction, a thought occurred to him: he could build anything like a little free library. “I might even build the Silver Dollar as a single,” he says, recalling the popular concert hall at Spadina and College, which closed in 2017. “So, I did.”

But soon after the Silver Dollar Library was built, he decided to simply create a model of the club and its famous sign. He wanted to continue building miniatures of Toronto’s iconic signage, so next he tackled the Matador Ballroom and posted a photo of his reproduction to the Historic Matador Ballroom’s Facebook group. “The response I received was incredible: the I remembers and stories, that wave of good feelings,” Smith says. “I realized that I had found this vein of nostalgia around old concert halls, a vein that could be tapped and nurtured.”

The gasworks closed in 1993. Any fan of

A lifelong music fan who has spent many hours watching bands, Smith, 73, had many venues to choose from. Its only parameters: the club had to have presented live music and must now be “closed and silent”. Over the past year, he’s created 20 miniatures in a series he calls “Toronto, Lost Music City,” including Parkdale’s Not My Dog and the Rondon Tavern in Roncesvalles. Smith recently put the finishing touches on his latest, the Renaissance Café, an East End club that closed in 2009. “I like to celebrate small venues,” he says. “They are the bottom rung of the entertainment ladder.”

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

He gained a lot of his own fans through this project. Artist friend Lisa Herrera asked to showcase some of her models in the window of her newly opened Tangerine Dream Art Studio & Gallery – and a photo Smith posted on her Facebook page of the exhibition has been shared repeatedly . “My gallery friend and my media-savvy daughter convinced me that I had to start using Instagram,” he says. “So, kicking and screaming, I set foot in the 2010s. Is this dating error intentional? and created a page to show the models I’m building. To my surprise, the response was overwhelming.

The Big Bop, including its three stages, Kathedral, the Reverb and Holy Joe's, opened in 1986 and was one of the few clubs at the time that could hold over 1,000 people.

To create his models, each of which takes about 10 days to complete, Smith seeks out photographs (preferably in color) of the facade and begins to dig into the history of the place: “Was it important, and how? He runs the image through Photoshop to get a clean copy for the perfect detail, then uses a construction program to produce a set of scaled plans. He uses materials from his career as a scenic carpenter to build the project, including plywood, masonite and plexiglass.

Chick 'N' Deli was known as much for its sign as it was for its chicken wings and live music.

Whether it’s carving a little chicken to adorn the Chick ‘n’ Deli or finally score enough visual material to recreate the cheetah print front of the BamBoo and beetle juiceresembling traffic signs (including photos, an illustration by David Creighton and freeze frames from videos of Queen Street in the 80s), Smith has fond memories of making them all. “That’s what makes it fun. I also continually try to improve what I do,” he says. “Most of my models are brick – it was Toronto’s favorite material. My first ones were brick pattern flat sheets. The one I just finished had detailed, decorative masonry that has different layers, so naturally I want to try and replicate all of that – with extra layers of foam core and very neat, specific indentations.

Some may take a little over 10 days to build, but Smith doesn’t mind. “I don’t work there full time,” he says. “I’m old, I’m retired, I need my naps and I don’t mind watching the paint dry.” Next, he wants to tackle Knob Hill and the Hard Rock Café, since his daughter’s band, RG5, was the last to play on his 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 grills”) and Le Coq d’Or (“all these lights scare me!”).

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

Smith hopes to one day mount a large-scale exhibition of his work. “I would like it to be a combination of art and history: the models and the stories of the places,” he says. “There is such a rich musical cultural history in this city, it needs to be remembered and celebrated. It’s part of what has 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 most important venues.

How long is he going to do this? “Probably for the rest of my life,” Smith says. “I came to Toronto when I was 19, and for the next 53 years, this city has been very, very good to me. It gave me a full, rich and creatively rewarding life, along with two ex-wives and two children.

“It’s my way of paying homage to this city that I love”, he adds, thanking in the best way he knows how: “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.

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