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Cameron House

Photo: Jesse Milns

Posted by Luke Champion / August 17, 2013

The Cameron House is the first bar I ever went to in Toronto. I had just turned 19 and recently reconnected with a cousin of mine who was taking me out for a night in the city. He was roughly five or six years older than me and always kind of a mentor. When I was a small kid he had all the best video games, as a teenager he turned me on to writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and now he was showing me what life was like in big, bad Toronto.

At the time — to a born and raised suburbanite like myself — Queen and Spadina felt like the wild west, like unchartered territory. It felt like violence and sex was lurking in the alleyways, one wrong turn and you'd be faced some thug who would skewer you just for being green and from the suburbs. And while it was a very different place 12 years ago, it was hardly the wicked frontier.

There was a time I suppose when it was considered the outskirts of the city — maybe back when the building first opened its doors as a hotel in the 1920's — but that was long before I ever made the pilgrimage. By the time I got there the urban wave had long since enveloped Queen West and was lapping at the shores of Parkdale.

The Cameron House in its current incarnation was born in 1981 when Anne Marie Ferraro and her brother Paul Sanella took over the aging hotel along with their friend Herb Tookey. This is the Cameron House that fostered the talents of Jane Siberry and Blue Rodeo and all sorts of other artists and musicians over the course of its thirty-odd years in operation.

Today the place is run by Ferraro's son, Cosmo. He took over the business three years ago and has since started a record label — Cameron House Records — along with breathing new life into the famed bar and venue.

Recently, I stopped by on a random weekday evening — I think it was a Tuesday, but the exact day is really inconsequential. My date and I took a seat at the bar, I ordered a Boneshaker ($7.00), she an Oatmeal Stout (also, $7.00). The room was probably 3/4 full and on the small stage across the bar there was a woman introducing the next act: an accomplished, Rootsy folksinger whom I can't remember the name of.

There is live music at the Cameron House seven-nights-a-week and, frankly, that is generally a pretty wretched advertisement in my ears. I hate "Live Music." Live Music is the kind of billing that evokes bad covers of Van Morrison and Spirit of the West, or young bands stumbling though a set of originals, blissfully unaware of their own mediocrity. Don't get me wrong, a live show can be a wonderful thing. I attend plenty, but I go to see specific musicians, I'd never just stumble into a bar for some "Live Music." That is, unless it's the Cameron House.

The Cameron is different. Much like the rotating art installations that adorn the walls of the front room, the ongoing live music is of such high quality, it's among maybe one or two bars in the city (the Dakota being another) I would show up to simply for Live Music. It has cultivated a rotating roster of the city's finest folksingers and Roots musicians and so, when we stopped in on a rainy night, it didn't much matter who was up next. And it didn't, because she was wonderful and I don't remember her name because I'm a terrible music fan. But the crowd knew; they tapped their feet and swayed to the beat, a couple of people up front danced in front of the stage.

It's a scene common within those walls, and you can bet you'll find something similar any night of the week.

Additional Details

Beers on Tap:
Signature Drink:
Bar Snacks:
Patio:
Yes
Music/Genre:
Roots, Folk, Indie (sometimes)
Live Music:
Yes
Who Goes There:
Live music fans, aging Queen West barflies, misdirected tourists
Hours:

Discussion

11 Comments

Luckstream / December 2, 2011 at 11:52 AM
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Turned into a clubhouse for rich, suburban kids. Nothing cool or authentic here.

Sammy / June 2, 2012 at 3:50 PM
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This place is MEH. Much better options in the area.

Dave / March 11, 2013 at 6:56 PM
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Some great, original live music - and reliable. There's always live music every time I've been there.

federal background check / May 5, 2013 at 11:14 PM
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Great info a lot of thanks sharing and reaching us your subscriber
list.

pz / August 17, 2013 at 11:16 AM
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This place is great... don't know what the first two reviewers are talking about??
And yes, "live music" -- you're pretty much guaranteed a good band will be playing here, night in & night out.

Luke / August 17, 2013 at 11:36 AM
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The previous four comments refer to an old stub that was here, not this article. Even still, "club house for rich, suburban kids" seems off.

Erella / August 17, 2013 at 12:19 PM
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I love the Cameron. There is always something fantastic to discover. The vibe is friendly and warm and the music, any evening is worth checking out. To be consistently doing this for so many years is remarkable. Even if you are like the writer of this article and are not a music fan, its charm is apparent. Bravo.

Scott M2 / August 17, 2013 at 1:10 PM
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Nice line closing the 3rd paragraph Luke.

Sal / August 17, 2013 at 2:24 PM
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Cameron House is authentic in its own right! Great place to see live music and great musicians. Not sure what the first 2 bozos are talking about - Must hail from the burbs!

Richard Flohil / August 18, 2013 at 2:46 PM
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The Cameron is to roots music what Grossman's is to blues — a starting point for good players honing their chops, trying new material, interacting with fans and friends. Some of the folk who did long residencies here — Alejandra Ribera and Justin Rutldge and Jadea Kelly among them — have moved on (wait'll you hear Alejandra's new album due early next year!) and relative newcomers like Devin Cuddy and Melanie Brulee just get better every time they play here...

Layla / March 16, 2014 at 12:24 AM
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This place never has cover when I go and awesome bands!! Overall laid back vibe, not a strictly young crowd which is nice for a change. Also love the back bar if you're not feeling whatever is on in the front

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