The partially razed remains of McClear/Digital.
Except for twisted lengths of rusting I-beams and small piles of broken concrete, not much else remains of the single-story structure that once stood at 225 Mutual Street. Before being razed in early August, this was the location of a once-venerable recording studio. Visiting the site a few weeks after its demolition, workers in hardhats were tidying debris. Asked if they were aware of the significance of the demolished structure, a workman responded with an indifferent shrug.
The history of 225 Mutual Street is a microcosm of Toronto’s music and recording industry. In 1947, when radio consisted primarily of live broadcasts, 1050 CHUM, still in its infancy, set up a live studio in what was then known as the Fulpart Building. In a few years, 1050 CHUM would relocate to its iconic 1331 Yonge Street address, remaining there for the next half century. Soon after, RCA Records established a recording studio in the Mutual Street property.
Over the next fifty years, some of the biggest names in the industry would visit 225 Mutual Street to record. Rosemary Clooney recorded here, as did Mel Torme, Chubby Checker, Wilson Picket, James Brown, Steve Winwood, and Mark Knopfler.
Canadian content was well-represented, too. Gordon Lightfoot, Ann Murray, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and Rush all made records here. The studio also provided recordings for numerous CBC television programs.
While still under the ownership of RCA, the studio played an important role in the production of numerous recordings for the Canadian Talent Library Trust. This non-profit initiative, operating from 1962 until 1985, was an early effort to promote Canadian music abroad.
In 1979, McClear Place Studios purchased the studio space from RCA. In the intervening years, McClear Place merged with several similar companies. When McClear Place bought the firm Pathe Film Post Production Studios in 1990, they were rebranded McClear Pathe. Benefiting from Toronto’s lucrative film and post-production market, McClear Pathe focused primarily on the production of soundtrack recordings, including Aretha Franklin and B.B. King’s recording for the film, Blues Brother 2000.
In an ever-evolving market, McClear Pathe purchased Digital Music+Post in 1999. The resulting studio was known as McClear/Digital. For three years beginning in 2002, Aaron McCourt worked as an assistant engineer at McClear/Digital. Today, he considers himself fortunate to have had the opportunity to hone his skills at what was then the only remaining large-scale, privately owned recording studio in the city.
225 Mutual Street being prepared for demolition.
McCourt explained in an email, “During my time there, I assisted on everything from forty piece orchestras, records for TV, film and albums, to rock bands, horn sections, and large choirs.” In praise of his former boss (and McClear/Digital owner) Bob Richards, McCourt said Richards encouraged assistants to invite musicians into the studio after hours in an effort to improve their technical skills.
“The building,” McCourt lamented, “had an amazing history which you could almost feel in the rooms.”
Advancing technology, coupled with the proliferation of home studios, saw the necessity for large-scale studio space evaporated. In 2005, McClear/Digital was placed in bankruptcy. By October of the same year, its assets had been auctioned off.
For five years, the facility sat vacant until the nearby Best Western Primrose Hotel purchased it.
The building was razed in order to provide future parking space for hotel guests.
Photos by Aaron McCourt.
Thanks to reader Andre Quenneville for the tip.