the garrison

This popular live music venue was inspired by one of Toronto's long buried rivers

One of Toronto's most popular indie music venues has thankfully emerged from lockdowns alive.

It's all thanks to the tireless efforts of its founder and operator to keep not only it running, but other venues in Toronto and Canada.

"In all The Garrison was closed for 19 months, but we have reopened and hope that 2022 sees a return to a somewhat normal existence," Garrison founder Shaun Bowring tells blogTO.

garrison torontoWhile he's been owner operator at The Garrison for the past 12 years, having founded the venue in 2009, his history in music and the Toronto scene stretches back even further than that.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Bowring was in a band called Teknicolor Raincoats that put out several records and toured Canada and internationally, supporting bands like Blur, EMF and The Charlatans.

From 2003 to 2009 Bowring was booker for Sneaky Dee's during an explosive time when bands like METZ, Broken Social Scene, PUP, Fucked Up and Arcade Fire were starting their careers playing shows at the club.

garrison torontoWanting to support both local and touring talent even more, on Oct. 1, 2009, Bowring opened The Garrison with a sold out Glass Candy show, the mid-size venue holding 300.

In search of a name, he found inspiration in a nearby underground river a few blocks east of The Garrison's Dundas West location.

"I was researching the neighbourhood trying find a suitable name and discovered the Garrison Creek history and was fascinated by this creek that has long been buried underground and runs from north of the city right under Trinity Bellwoods park," says Bowring.

"Also, Toronto's first breweries in the mid-1800s were located along the Garrison Creek, so being a craft beer nerd, that sealed the deal."

garrison torontoThough the venue operated on a small budget, over the years Bowring continually reinvested revenue in upgrades to the club's look and equipment.

Bowring didn't stop his quest to support emerging talent with The Garrison: in 2016 he opened small venue The Baby G, with a capacity of 150. 

Just a few years later, lockdowns stopped the evolution of both venues in their tracks for a while.

"Every day of the lockdown was a challenge," says Bowring.

"At first thinking The Garrison would be closed for four or six weeks was ok, but then realizing the pandemic was going to last a year or more was very stressful, mentally and financially."

garrison torontoWhile his venues were unable to host shows, Bowring devoted his attention full-time to advocacy for live music venues as a board member of the Toronto Music Advisory Committee.

Along with many others he also helped found the Canadian Independent Venue Coalition.

"We work with organizations like CLMA and engage in direct advocacy with all three levels, municipal, provincial and federal politicians," says Bowring.

"We have had a few successes that have helped many live music venues survive the financial hardships of the past 20 months and will continue working through the years to come to make sure independent live music venues are recovering and viable."

garrison torontoAs venues resurface after lockdowns, Bowring is back to booking, and what you may not know is that his reach actually extends beyond The Garrison and The Baby G.

Through his concert promotion company Transmit Presents (which, along with Garrison and Baby G, he runs with Denholm Whale and Kat Angus) he also puts on concerts at other venues in Toronto like the Monarch Tavern, Lee's Palace, Opera House and Danforth Music Hall.

He's also back to upgrading The Garrison, and recently installed a new Meyer Sound line array system.

"I must say it sounds fantastic," says Bowring.

garrison toronto

So basically, if you've seen a show pretty much anywhere recently and have been so glad live music is coming back, you could very well have Bowring to thank.

"My main focus currently is getting The Garrison, The Baby G and Transmit Presents up to full speed so audiences enjoy seeing live music well into the future," says Bowring. 

"After that there are a few interesting projects on the horizon, more on that at a later date."

garrison toronto

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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