Like a keg of beer or a one night stand, punk venues weren’t meant to last
For decades, Saskatoon’s underground music scene has long been forced into unorthodox venues. Promoters sought out strange and out-of-the-way rental spaces – basements, industrial garages, etc. – which typically brought in a bunch of enthusiastic kids and some really amazing bands.
Anyone else remember watching punk legends Rancid play in that weird warehouse space on 51st Street?
Tellingly, it’s always been ironic – and hilarious – that many of the rental venues were various local churches who (unwittingly?) hosted several legendary punk shows. For the most part these venues never lasted all that long. Many of these shows featured bands on the dirtier end of the punk/hardcore/grind milieu.
And, if memory serves correctly, the cops were less than receptive to the city’s all ages scene. What else is new?
Welcome to the punk scene of Saskatoon past.
But impromptu venues have always been the genre’s calling card, a preaching that is still very much practiced to this day. It’s part of the spontaneity that makes indie rock shows lively, engaging and fun. Nevermind the fact that it could all come crashing down like a wayward booze bottle, many of our most beloved venues were never meant to last. Just like a keg of beer or a delicious one night stand.
The remains of impromptu and/or illegal punk venues can be found all over the city. Some are located in the industrial wasteland of Saskatoon’s north end, including Phat City on 51st Street (which hosted the aforementioned Rancid and openers AFI), and the RCAF Astra Hall on Avenue C (DOA and Mystery Machine). Others include Rampage (UK Subs) located just south of the Idylwyld Freeway.
Some of the more notorious venues in the downtown area are The Shelter and The Times – both of which lasted for many shows and hosted now-legendary groups such as The Smalls, Propagandhi, Lagwagon and many others.
The following list is by no means comprehensive, and is likely going to be an ongoing project once we track down some more photos from the murky past.
Five of Saskatoon’s Unlikely Rock Venues
St. Joseph Parish Church – Broadway and 8th Street
The St. Joseph Parish Church, located on Broadway just off of 8th Street, hosted several notorious shows, including the Misery Signals show where some dude threw a chair into the audience. The space, located in the basement, wasn’t really all the ideal for punk bands anyway – the acoustics were total hell. Nowadays it’s still a church, although you can catch a craft fair here every now and then.
– The Wolfnote, photo courtesy of Andrew Walls
The Pit – 621 Avenue O South
Located in a weird west side industrial on Ave O, The Pit was a bizarre but wholly functional punk rock clubhouse, complete with a mini ramp and gross party couches. Mostly hosting the few punk bands kicking around at the time, amazingly someone got it together to book Swedish hellraisers Raised Fist. That show in particular was absolutely bonkers. The Pit still looks like a pit – no idea what it’s currently being used for although it’s situated on a block where nearly every other business is an auto wrecker/garage. It’s actually kind of more desolate and creepy than I remember it being.
– DFA, photo courtesy of Andrew Walls
The Vimy Memorial – Kiwanis Park
The Vimy Memorial Band Shell in Kiwanis Park is available free of charge for event use – basically all you have to do is call the city and they’ll turn on the power for you. There have been plenty of concerts here, although most of them weren’t from notorious local crusty punks Decontrol, who once played an anti-Canada show there. It mostly funny to watch the reaction of the various people who passed by. Also funny: watching punks try to burn a flag only to discover the material is fireproof.
– Decontrol, photo courtesy of Jon Friesen
The Unitarian Centre – 912 Idylwyld Drive
Like so many other cool places in Saskatoon that changed hands, the space is now a yoga studio. But before then it was a church of sorts that some kids got together to rent out to hold shows. There were a few Alberta punk bands that rolled through – The Wolfnote, All Purpose Voltage Heroes and Fractal Pattern immediately come to mind – but the majority of the shows centered around the emerging local scene at the time, which included groups like No Birds and Parades Against Parades. Australian band Clann Zu also played here, and absolutely devastated the place.
-Chimpan A to Chimpan Z, photo courtesy of Andrew Walls
Hub City Curling Club – Avenue D and 21st Street
When the Hub City Curling Club closed it was reportedly close to $435,000 in debt to the bank and the city. This might explain why they rented the basement hall out to the crusty punks. The site now houses the Habitat For Humanity ReStore but back in the ‘90s you used to be able to catch some really ripping grind shows here, including Moral Panic from Regina and Mung from Winnipeg.
– Mung, photo courtesy of Jon Friesen