The Garrick Centre was fortified to hold anything heavy and hard-hitting and off the main-stream. For fifteen years, fans of the underground could trust the Garrick to lure acts like Suicidal Tendencies, Fetty Wap or Atmosphere to downtown Winnipeg. But last week, the pandemic forced The Garrick to close its doors. The management contract is terminated, and the space is being converted to a COVID testing site. Having been a movie theatre and music venue for the entirety of 80 years, the building has never held such dismal duty. It’s like seeing Elvis in fatigues.
That big brick box on Garry St has held raucous joy for so many, so in honour, we’ve compiled some stories from the badass Winnipeggers that frequented it.
Grotesque heavy metal rockers Gwar were a returning act throughout the years, and visual artist JD Renaud remembers a moment with the late great Oderus Urungus (aka Dave Brockie) after he and his friend William O’Donnell had taped an interview with him in 2012.
“We were in the small theatre to the left which was empty, the audience was already in the main hall. He was in full costume, and since we were filming the interview we had to do it right before the show, because it’s not like he’d be wearing all that stuff any longer than he had to. We did the interview, went great, he was in character the whole time and was exactly what you’d expect. We wrap up, he gets up and walks to the side of the stage, ready to go into the main hall and start the show. I’m paraphrasing, but out loud, not necessarily speaking to us, but just sort of speaking to himself in his non-Oderus voice, he said “Most of this job sucks, but this makes it all worth it”, and walked onstage. The show was awesome. He passed away about two years later.”
Without the Garrick, it’s doubtful acts like Gwar would have stopped over so many times if their only venue option was the gilded loges of the Burton Cummings Theatre.
Sewing teacher Jenna Malmo, in a perfect embodiment of rejecting a champagne event for the alternative, remembers:
“On the night of my graduation party from university, Ghost was playing at the Garrick and I wanted to see them. So I went to the dinner part of grad, then ditched and met my friends at the Garrick to watch Ghost. The Garrick was down the street from where grad was happening. Joel and I were dressed all fancy for grad, so we sorta stood out haha. It was a lot of fun, more fun than a dinner and dance.“
For three years MRG Group managed the Garrick Centre and although they had begun to show the Garrick Centre some TLC and renos, house photographer Joey Senft recalls a time when the building was as unpredictable as its fans.
“I think it was Wilhelm Scream and Protest the Hero. It was one of the coldest days we had, it was like minus 40 something. The hotel [that owns the building] turned on the radiators and nobody’s turned those radiators on for like forever. So they turned them on and they kind of exploded and there was water everywhere. . . This was before all the crowd was let in … Everyone was rushing around trying to get like carpet cleaners and stuff like that to suck up all the water before everyone came in. So they had to turn the heaters off. So it was frickin’ freezing in there after we actually cleaned up the carpets … [Which] were soaked so the merch guys couldn’t put their merch there, so we had to put them in a different spot near where the coat check was. And so all the merch guys were like wearing their sweaters. . . [they] were frickin’ freezing in there … It was still a really good show but the merch guys were like ‘This sucks.’”
Any old place will have a storied past of varied fortune. Those merch guys possibly did not have the best time at the Garrick that night, but radio personality and movie expert James Borsa may have had the greatest night of his life there.
Strap in folks, this one is going to make you grin big.
Borsa recalls, “Okay, so I’m representing UMFM as the host of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” screening. This was a full-on cult screening complete with throwing stuff and everyone dressing up! I took my job as host of the screening very seriously. So I dressed up as Riff Raff and practiced my dance routines, so I would be able to dance along with a key musical number. I knew I was going to dance to “Time Warp” and I had an old VHS tape of the film so I practiced at home again and again, so I could nail the “Time Warp” dance on the stage.
When it came to the actual screening the theatre was sold out! When I went to the theatre in costume I brought a large bag so I could have a place to put my costume away if need be. I introduced the film (in character) I had practiced my best voice and got close to Riff Raff. (in my opinion) So “Time Warp” came up in the film and I danced up the aisles and on the stage! I encouraged folks to get up and dance along with me, and so many did! It was a glorious sight to see from the stage, I can assure you! Both the lower level and the upper-level audiences were totally getting into it!
So after “Time Warp” finished I collapsed into my seat and was happy and relieved that my key number was done! So 10 minutes or so further into the film, the movie froze on the screen!!! It turns out that the event organizer brought his used DVD and we were watching the film off of that! Clearly, there was a scratch and the DVD was completely frozen on the screen! The entire audience went nuts and reacted rather loudly! I rushed over to the event organizer and we met with the projectionist….
The projectionist decided that even if we tried to keep playing the DVD, he couldn’t guarantee that it would not happen multiple times again. Then I had an idea!!! For some reason, I had tossed my old VHS tape of Rocky Horror into my clothing bag when I went to the theatre. So I asked the projectionist if it was possible to play my VHS tape? Amazingly the Garrick had a setup that allowed VHS tapes to be projected!
So I asked the projectionist to rewind the VHS tape to before “Time Warp” and play it from that point on and he agreed! Then I got up on the stage and apologized for the interruption but then I told everyone that we were going to rewind the film…and that we were going to do “Time Warp” again! They all freaked out, very excited! So I danced up a storm (again!) Spinning, jumping. kicking, hard-core fast dancing (again!) by the time I collapsed into my seat I was close to hyperventilating! But it was an incredible rush that I will never forget!”
Though the future is uncertain for one of Winnipeg’s biggest entertainment venues, what is certain is that when shows return to business as usual, there will be a gap in the market left for something Garrick-sized and Garrick-shaped. We can hope that the old fortified theatre will weather this storm and one day open its doors again to Winnipeg’s faithful music lovers.
A heartfelt thank you to all the people who came forward with stories. These stories are more about awesome people than about brick and mortar.