The Friar’s Tavern is a long-lost gem in Toronto’s music folklore but a part of its fabled history is preserved in a small space that is now a Shoppers Drug Mart and, last week, the space was used to salute the memory of the city’s embrace of Caribbean culture and the many musicians who came here for a better life and to continue making music.The Friar’s Music Museum hosted a celebration acknowledging the same with an exhibition billed as Rhythms and Resistance: Caribbean Music in Toronto.
Curators Nicholas Jennings and Klive Walker welcomed artists and thanked exhibit contributors, who gathered in the museum space on the second floor of Shoppers at Yonge and Dundas Square. The Friar’s, sponsored by the Downtown Yonge BIA and Shoppers, operates under the auspices of Toronto Music Experience, a new non-profit organization formed to create a long overdue music museum for the city.
Ephemera exhibited at Rhythms and Resistance include original posters, photos from the era, a video, musical instruments, and the original hand-painted sign advertising the first Caribana carnival from 1967. There’s also a display featuring Michie Mee, Maestro and Dream Warriors. With their Caribbean-influenced sound, these artists were the hip-hop pioneers who first put Toronto on the map and paved the way for global superstars like Drake and The Weeknd.Guests at the museum reception included singers Jay Douglas, Nana McLean, Adrian Miller and Tanya Mullings, bandleader Jason Wilson, producer Eddie Bullen and Messenjah frontman Rupert Harvey. Marcia Mittoo and Lydia Mittoo, daughters of the late legendary keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, also attended and posed for photographs with a life-sized photograph cut out of their father.
Following the reception, guests moved over to Bob Sniderman’s Jazz Bistro for an informal reception and a chance to hear the Toronto calypso band Shak Shak.
“By the 1980s, the city was known as the second-biggest source of reggae on the planet, second only to Kingston, Jamaica,” Jennings noted. “This collection of artifacts is an invitation to immerse yourself into the memories of diverse rhythms, melodies and lyrics – all underpinned by a burning demand for equality.”
Friar's Tavern in its day hosted a dazzling list of notables that included Oscar Peterson, David Clayton Thomas & The Shays and is the place where Bob Dylan spotted The Hawks who became The Band after he enlisted them as his own backing band.
Admission to Rhythms and Resistance: Caribbean Music in Toronto is free. The exhibit runs until the end of the year.
– Photography by Becca Gilgan.