Following the soft June opening of The Friar’s Music Museum, the 140 sq. ft. micro museum tribute to Toronto’s club-saturated Yonge Street scene located on the second floor of the Shopper’s Drug Mart near Yonge and Dundas, co-curator Nicholas Jennings was mulling around Mike’s Music on the Danforth when he spotted something curious out of the corner of his eye.
“I asked the proprietor, Mike Waite, if that’s what I thought it was – the original wooden sign for the Nickelodeon, which hung on Yonge Street near the Friar’s Tavern – and he replied that it was – that he had bought it at an auction,” Jennings recalled.
One donation from Waite later, and the Nickelodeon sign now hangs proudly near the museum entrance – one of several bells and whistles Jennings says were added in time for the Friar’s hard opening last Tuesday.
The project – curated by Jennings, Grammy-winning producer and archivist Jan Haust, produced by the Downtown Yonge BIA and underwritten by Shopper’s franchise owner Andrew Yeh – spotlights the Yonge Street club scene of the ‘50s and ‘60s on the very spot where Bob Dylan recruited Levon & The Hawks – known later as The Band – to help him electrify folk music.
Many of the local musicians who called the Friar’s their musical home were there for the official grand opening on December 4. Among them included Robbie Lane, Grant Smith, Cathy Young, George Olliver, Jay Jackson, Jeff Cutler of Jon & Lee & The Checkmates, and Jay Douglas and Everton “Pablo” Paul of the Cougars, as well as radio legends Duff Roman and Doug Thompson, retailers Bernie Latofsky, Bobby Sniderman, Mike Waite, and Fludd/Sherman & Peabody/Goddo’s Greg Godovitz.
Until 2017, the spot was occupied by the Hard Rock Café, which offered its own memorabilia – and was replaced by a Shopper's Drug Mart franchise earlier this summer. Jennings credits new space owner Yeh with stepping up and designating what could be valuable retail space for community interests.
Among the upgrades include a welcome sign from Haust, and Jennings and a collaborative effort with Markham’s ICON Media to incorporate performance video spots of “a very young” Ronnie Hawkins, Ritchie Knight & The Mid-Knights and David Clayton-Thomas & The Shays on the interactive timeline. The feature also profiles Oscar Peterson, Glenn Gould, and a short documentary on Jackie Shane.
Some early rockabilly recordings have been added, as well as a slideshow incorporating such artists as bluesman Lonnie Johnson - photographed by Bill Smith - and a pic of Hawkins and Dylan together at the Nickelodeon that was snapped by Art Usherson.
For the moment, the prize exhibit remains the Fender Telecaster, amplifier and stage jacket of the late Domenic Troiano. Jennings says that the museum is to be refreshed in the spring and that there are plans to establish an interactive museum website next year. The Museum plans to eventually have brochures made available for visitors to leave with.
It is hoped that the Friar's Tavern project will inspire other city neighbourhoods, including Queen Street and Yorkville Avenue, to commemorate their own musical past.
“In my wildest dreams, Friar’s will become a must-see tourist destination,” he says. “This is the little engine that could.”
Admission is free.
Pictured L-R: Jay Douglas (formerly of the Cougars), singer-songwriter Cathy Young, Everton “Pablo” Paul (Cougars), Bernie Letofsky (Cheapies Records), Bobby Sniderman (Sam the Record Man), Shoppers franchise owner Andrew Yeh, Grant Smith (of Grant Smith & the Power), Downtown Yonge BIA head Mark Garner, Robbie Lane (of Robbie Lane & the Disciples) and Jeff Cutler (of Jon and Lee & the Checkmates).