2012 Villain: Sedwick Hill
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2012 Villain: Sedwick Hill

Nominated for: his role in the untimely death of the Toronto Underground Cinema.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Its final double bill was among its finest, and in many ways its most personal: a pairing of the cult horror-comedy classic Night of the Comet with Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, capturing the farewell performance of folk-rock superstars The Band. The evening proved a fitting if all-too-sudden end to one of last year’s Torontoist heroes, the Toronto Underground Cinema. Rapidly emerging as a hub of eclectic and eccentric cultural activity in the Queen/Spadina area, the theatre closed after three years, in September 2012, amid stories of owner Sedwick Hill’s worrisome financial troubles and participation in an investment scheme gone awry.

In 2008, Hill bought the former Chinese movie theatre, nestled in the basement of a Spadina condominium, with the intention of turning it into a performing arts venue. When that didn’t pan out, he turned to a trio of film aficionados—Nigel Agnew, Charlie Lawton, and Alex Woodside—two of whom had worked at the Bloor Cinema. They resurrected and rebranded the space, developed a slate of unique and eye-catching programming, and began reaching out to potential clients who could book the theatre for concerts, festivals, and special events.

What they didn’t know, however, was that Hill had stopped paying condo fees on the property a full year before the Underground even opened. As Torontoist‘s Steve Kupferman wrote in the Grid, Hill and his business partners ran up against the Ontario Securities Commission for their involvement in the ill-fated Prosporex Investment Club, which enticed more than 1,700 Ontario investors with the potential of massive profits on the international currency market. The commission found the club had mishandled $14 million in investments and levelled more than $800,000 in penalties and fees, in addition demanding that the three pay back millions that they apparently appropriated from Prosporex. Hill found himself on the hook for $3.4 million, although he denied participating in any wrongdoing.

Thus, the Toronto Underground Cinema started in the hole and could not dig itself out, despite everyone’s best efforts to make the theatre into a viable, profitable venture. The managers weren’t being paid, Hill was using the returns from its box office to try to solve his other financial issues, and, as Woodside told the Toronto Star, Hill’s financial history “made it really impossible to bring in new investors or people to stabilize the business—it was an impossible sell.” The cinema finally closed when Hill was no longer able to pay its expenses out of his own empty pocket.

Today, the building’s condominium board maintains a lien on the property, and Hill has listed the theatre for sale—for nearly twice the price he paid for it. Whether he was a pawn (or a player) in a much larger game, or just a truly terrible businessman, Sedwick Hill’s mishandling of the Toronto Underground Cinema has earned him a place among our villains for 2012. If someone out there has a spare $1.4 million that they’d like to put to good use, this movie could use a surprise twist and a heroic, heartwarming ending.

See the other nominees in the Culture and Sports category:

Margaret Wente

Plagiarism, and laziness of epic proportions.
  NHL Lockout

Taking hockey away from us.
  NFB Funding Cuts

Forcing the Mediatheque closure.

John Farrell

Checking out even before he left the team.
  CBC Funding Cuts

Weakening one of our national institutions.
  Factory Theatre Board of Directors

Losing their community’s trust.

Cast Your Ballot