1980s, Alternative, Dance Music, Disco, Freestyle, Funk, House, Live Music, New Wave, Reggae, Rock

Then & Now: The Copa

September 23, 2014
The Copa GTO ___ ATT12401666-960x660

Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.


Article originally published March 15, 2012 by The Grid online (TheGridTO.com).

Denise Benson looks back at the massive, corporate-owned Yorkville spot that helped create Toronto’s big-ticket nightclub experience in the early 1980s.


Club: The Copa, 21 Scollard

Years in operation: 1984 – 1992  [Original article stated 1983 - 1992]

History: Yorkville dance club and concert venue The Copa made its mark as one of the largest and busiest nightclubs to emerge in early 1980s Toronto. Opened in August 1984, the hotspot was located on the south side of Scollard, in a mixed commercial and residential area.

Its owners, the Chrysalis Group, were no strangers to Yorkville, having already opened trendy restaurants Bemelmans and the Bellair Café nearby. Chrysalis, in particular its CEO Tom Kristenbrun, would also go on to open Toby’s Goodeats and Bistro 990, but Chrysalis Group would make their mark with music as well as food.

“They were rocker guys, tavern guys with long hair from North Bay who came into town with some money and bought The Ports of Call on Yonge Street, the El Mocambo on Spadina and the Jarvis House Tavern,” recalls Arnie Kliger, former owner of Stages Nightclub on Yonge Street, who also worked as assistant manager at The Copa during its first year of operation.

“They were beer and wings guys who had a dream of opening a restaurant after having the bars,” says Kliger.

Chrysalis, while still known as Consortina Inc., made their mark on 1970s Toronto with The El Mo, The Ports and 101 Jarvis, but by the early ‘80s they were hosting celebrities, society types and Toronto Film Festival parties at their Yorkville venues. Opening a mega-club was a logical new feather in their corporate cap.

The Copa may have been corporate-owned, but to place it in context, it was large (legal capacity 1100) and licensed, where most other dance clubs of the time were either unlicensed (Twilight ZoneClub ZFocus), or licensed and located in hotels or other touristy spots, as with the CN Tower’s Sparkles disco.

The Copa, as observed from the balcony. Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.

The Copa, as observed from the balcony. Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.

Why it was important: In this environment, The Copa emerged all shiny and new. Chrysalis spared no expense, installing an incredible and intricate sound system, computerized lighting and lasers, and banks of television monitors on which music videos played. The DJ booth was custom-built and massive, there was a raised stage area in the middle of the narrow, rectangular-shaped room, and an overhanging balcony ran the club’s entire length.

While opinions vary as to whether this balcony added to the party by offering a primo view of the action below or dissipated the club’s energy by its placement, the young, fashionable, heavily uptown crowd packed the place. The Copa, with its 39 bartenders, VIP room and super VIP room (behind closed doors, with its own bathroom and bar), was ready to serve. In order to meet the food-to-liquor-ratio laws of the day, The Copa also had a full-time chef who cooked up the club’s infamous buffet. Opinions on the quality of the food also vary wildly, but numerous Toronto clubbers have told me they went to The Copa in part to eat a full meal.

Open Wednesday through Sunday, the club featured DJs most nights, augmented by live concerts. The Copa—along with The Diamond and, later, RPM—put Toronto on the map as far as licensed venues go, but its music format was a lot more commercial than many dance clubs of the era, especially on Fridays and Saturdays.

Early resident DJs included Terry ‘TK’ Kelly (who later established himself as the DJ at RPM) and Jeff Allan, a dance music DJ who was also an announcer at rock station Q107. Now a morning show host at Kitchener’s 570 News, Allan created extended dance mixes of rock songs during his Copa days, including this one of Glass Tiger’s “Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone.”

Although bars at that time had to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. on Sundays, they were consistently among The Copa’s busiest and most musically adventurous nights. Early on, Sundays were alternative nights DJed by CFNY’s Chris Sheppard and hosted by the station’s equally infamous personalities Earl Jive and Beverly Hills.

When that crew departed to work at RPM—opened by a group that included Martin Arts, The Copa’s original general manager—Sundays morphed into one of Toronto’s first house music weeklies in a licensed club. DJ Barry Harris was hired in the spring of 1986, and thoroughly transformed Sundays during his year-and-a-half residency.

“I originally slid in quite comfortably by playing Ministry, The Cult, Beastie Boys and other CFNYish music, which I enjoyed,” recalls Harris, who had previously DJed at 101 Jarvis. “It was great playing Sunday nights as it was known as ‘alternative night’ and not commercial.

“As the alternative crowd started to discover RPM a few months later, my Sunday night music became more influenced by the Twilight Zone and [CKLN’s pioneering Sunday afternoon program] Dave’s Dance Music. Host Dave Ahmad recommended The Copa to his audience each Sunday and by fall of 1986, the crowd had completely changed. We continued to maintain an average of 1100-1300 people, but it morphed naturally into a house night. House music was really starting to explode in 1986, and soon the crowd would stop dancing and stare me down if I played rock or something like Ministry. They reacted more positively to freestyle artists like The Cover Girls.”

The line at the front door of The Copa. Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.

The line at the front door of The Copa. Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.

Harris also took on The Copa’s Saturdays for a few months in the summer of 1987, but found the crowd too mainstream for his liking.

“Sunday nights were the best, and my favourite night to play,” he says. “It was a DJ’s dream gig as the audience was magical. They really knew their music and were hungry to hear the latest house. Really, the night kind of became ‘The Twilight Zone part two’ of a weekend; if you wanted more of that sound and spirit, then you came to The Copa on a Sunday. I think the night introduced house music to a lot of people who might not have went to the Zone.”

The Copa and Twilight Zone had another key element in common: fierce, crystal clear sound designed by New York’s Richard Long, known for his systems at clubs including Paradise Garage.

“That system felt very powerful, almost overwhelming at times actually,” Harris recalls. “With an Urei mixer and three floating turntables as well, it could be quite a rush from a DJ’s point of view. The Copa was a large, rectangular warehouse space, but Richard Long thought of everything, including digital delay for speakers placed further away from the stage.”

The Copa DJ booth, with coat check below. Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.

The Copa DJ booth, with coat check below. Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.

Barry Harris with Jimmy Sommerville in The Copa’s massive DJ booth. Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Harris.

Barry Harris with Jimmy Sommerville in The Copa’s massive DJ booth. Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Harris.

Harris left The Copa in October 1987 to become the main resident DJ at Charles Khabouth’s Stilife, and later had a massively successful production career, recording as Top Kat, part of Kon Kan and, most notably, Thunderpuss, the duo who crafted smash dance club remixes for pop stars including Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Britney Spears.

The Copa had, by then, also become a house haven on Wednesday nights, thanks to influential promoter Wanda Marcotte and DJ Jason ‘Deko’ Steele. The two had been a core part of The Diamond’s success—Steele was its star resident DJ for five years before defecting to The Copa—but jumped ship after a falling out (Marcotte) and frustration over pay (Steele).

“Wanda was one of my favourite people ever and the reason I went to The Copa,” says Steele. “She was this fucking obnoxious lesbian dressed in black from head to toe, she smoked profusely, wore French braids, and had the most gorgeous lover, Irena Joannides. It wouldn’t be fair at all to do a story about that time and not cover Wanda. She was everything. Wanda was largely responsible for a third or more of the scene, in terms of the progression of house, new wave and the Queen Street art fag kind of crowd in the 1970s. She was an absolute cornerstone who, sadly, died of ovarian cancer about a decade ago.”

Together, they transformed The Copa’s Wednesdays. The crowds went from a few to fifteen hundred as house was added to Deko’s already eclectic mix.

“Really, nobody but Barry Harris and I were playing house music in big, licensed clubs back then,” says Steele. “But I didn’t just play house. I’d also play “Go See the Doctor” by Kool Moe Dee, old Aretha Franklin, some great old disco tracks—basically the roots of house.”

For a period, Steele entertained The Copa’s crowds several nights a week.

“My signature was that I didn’t have one particular sound,” he recalls. “I made sure that everything was played in a night, from the pop stuff you had to play to some edgier stuff. I’d literally play Bob Marley, go into U2, and then into something completely different.”

Unhappy with The Copa’s vibe and weekend crowd, Steele returned to The Diamond within seven months. There he was greeted by bigger pay and great fanfare.

Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.

Photo by Julie Levene, courtesy of Barry Harris.

Who else played / worked there: The diverse DJ Dante held down weekends for much of 1987. That same year, Dave Ahmad, host of Dave’s Dance Music and a resident DJ at Club Z, took over Sundays for a period. Unlike Steele, he was a fan of the club.

“The Copa was the big cheese back in the day,” says Ahmad. “It was definitely the ‘beautiful people’ spot, with a hip, fashionable crowd who knew their music. Everyone would come through on a Sunday—lots of DJs, flight crews, young professionals, people from The Zone.

“The Copa was absolutely influential,” Ahmad emphasizes. “They showed that big dance clubs with multi-format nights could work. You could go The Copa on any given night and hear something that you had not heard before. It was a commercial bar, but the music mix was smart.”

CKLN host Dave Ahmad. Photo: Keith Beaty/Toronto Star.

CKLN host Dave Ahmad. Photo: Keith Beaty/Toronto Star.

Sundays returned to an alternative music format circa 1990, when DJ Iain McPherson, then still calling himself DJ EN, was brought on board by promotions manager Max Blandford, formerly of Nuts & Bolts.

“Sundays became ‘Piccadilly Circus: A Human Zoo,’ a delightfully irreverent night that did quite well for a while,” McPherson says. “There were ‘go-go humans’ in cages, hard-core clothes, and I played emerging underground electronic sounds, like New Beat and early Acid House. It was a far cry from the mainstream dance music that The Copa was known for at the time. We even had in live acts, including Karen Finley and Skinny Puppy.”

The Copa is largely remembered for hosting an impressive array of live shows, with 1980s appearances by the likes of Fela Kuti, Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Berlin, Chaka Khan, Beastie Boys, A Flock of Seagulls, X, Erasure and Ministry.

Error: Invalid URL!

Reggae greats including Burning Spear, Dennis Brown and Freddie McGregor performed, courtesy of late, great promoter Lance Ingleton and his LIP Entertainment. Jermaine Stewart performed in December of 1986, and received a gift from Santa. The Cult played in 1987; vocalist Ian Astbury notoriously smashed an overhead neon light with his mic stand. A bootleg recording of The Cult’s set from this night can still be found online.

Error: Invalid URL!

“The biggest thing I remember about The Copa is that there was a constant diversity of crowds,” summarizes Boris Khaimovich, a Copa doorman who also worked as head of security and assistant manager between 1987-1989.

“We went from doing reggae nights to fetish nights. We did everything from black-tie events to hosting a Skinny Puppy concert two days later. The Copa was a club that was able to morph into whatever was needed, and even though it was corporate, the managers were given a fair amount of leeway to make decisions.”

The Copa’s large staff was filled with talented people who made their mark at that club and beyond. Many interviewees give special mention to The Copa’s main lighting woman, Andrée Emond, who worked in early dance music record shops and provided a visual aesthetic for numerous dance clubs. National Velvet vocalist Maria Del Mar was a Copa cigarette girl (yep, people could smoke and buy cigarettes at clubs back then). Promotions manager Max Blandford now promotes and markets large events and venues in Miami.

“I tried to give somebody a brief history of the Toronto nightclub scene the other day and it all kind of led back to The Copa,” says Khaimovich, who himself went on to manage Toronto clubs including Go-Go and Limelight. He now owns Maple Crescent Farm in Northumberland County.

Copa lighting technicialn Andree Emond. Photo courtesy of Barry Harris.

Copa lighting technicialn Andree Emond. Photo courtesy of Barry Harris.

What happened to it: While The Copa had its heyday in the ’80s, it continued to operate until the early ’90s. Online research indicates that the club closed in 1992, while some of those I spoke with thought 1991 to be more accurate. What is clear is that The Copa was inundated with noise complaints throughout its existence and, in fact, was made an example of by Toronto city councillors when they voted to create the Entertainment District through a series of new zoning laws (read more about this here).

21 Scollard became The Barracuda in 1992. The sports bar and dance club famous for its cheap beer, indoor beach volleyball court and car on the roof closed in 1996. The property was heavily renovated in the early 2000s and is now a seven-storey condo, attached to the building at 18 Yorkville.


Thank you to contributors Arnie Kliger, Barry Harris, Boris Khaimovich, David Ahmad, Iain McPherson, Jason Steele, and to Carlos Mondesir, David Heymes, Don Berns, Julie Levene (R.I.P.), Mitch Winthrop, Shawn Squires.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply David Berger February 9, 2022 at 8:52 pm

    Great place to work. I worked the door with Greg, Michael Berger, David Litz, Ed Leaven’s

    Miss all the bar staff, like Dawn, Tona, Eloise

    • Reply Voyo Zlojutro November 16, 2023 at 4:21 pm

      I remember you David, and Michael Berger, Ed, and Larry the door manager. He used to call me Orville! Then there was staff manager Linda Jenkin. Bartender Frankie Morello. And of course the girls, Dawn, Tana, Michelle White, Karen Summers, Eloise, and Maria Del Mar the cigarette girl!

  • Reply susan lynne schwenger August 9, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Graphika Studios – Norm, Gary, Susan Lynne Schwenger

    Graphika Studios remembers,
    Chrysalis Group & the incredible Tom Kristenbrun
    who granted Norm, Gary, and, myself a contract
    to design
    The Logo for The Copa
    which was, as, i remember,
    NO easy feat
    - getting that neon placed into that sign
    it truly, was a lighthouse to a landmark in Yorkville,
    for dance, as, well as concert venues
    that was the place in Toronto to be,
    they were ‘good’, ‘happy’ and ‘fulfilling’ times,
    Tom Kristenbrun, big thanks for your knowing,
    we could do the job, on short notice !!!
    and, deliver it !!!

    i once heard our LOGO work won an award

    ~ so, many good times are always fondly remembered

    when you work with good people, great organizations…

    and, DiSCOVER concepts and ideas that can eXpress !!!

    by, creating THE MAGiC
    INTO Totality of THE WHOLE MiX

    also it was at The Bellair Café., in Toronto, Ontario Canada
    where we crossed paths to pick up ideas & checks :)
    it was all ‘good work’ – THANK YOU !!!

    Much love, as, well as Blessings to Everyone,
    incredible pages in the book of eXpressions of my life !!!
    ~susan lynne schwenger

    “we are all notes in the song,
    just different melodies,
    iMAGiNE when we sing together,
    it will be SUM THiNG”

  • Reply Claude Lajoie March 27, 2018 at 10:45 am

    I was one of the first employee , just before it opened , was so massive like nothing I’d never seen , and so centrally located . So sad to hear it has been taken down . What an awesome time in those days . Great memories

    • Reply Claude Lajoie March 27, 2018 at 10:49 am

      I remember the tiki statue on the overhang at the front door

  • Reply Jinjee April 13, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    I sang at The Copa with my Dad’s big band The Toot Ensemble in…oh… it would have been around 1987 I think. It was a lot of fun! The band’s best venue played. I was subbing for the regular singer Arlene Greene.

    I also remember being excited to go see Fela Kuti at the Copa but that time he was cancelled due to being detained during travel. He was an activist and was in some political trouble.

  • Reply Frank Di Rosa August 9, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    How Dave’s Dance Music influenced Acidone’s music career:

    Born in September 17, 1974, and raised in Toronto (Canada), Frank started mixing and dubbing cassette tapes when he was 7. Inspired by break dance music, classic hip-hop, and retro/alternative dance music, he started experimenting with mixing. His grade 4 teacher commented on Frank’s report card how he marveled and enjoyed music.

    In 1986 Frank discovered “Dave’s Dance Music” hosted by Dave Ahmad which aired on CKLN 88.1FM every Sunday between 1:00PM to 4:00PM and also in 1990 he discovered “Footnotes” (aka “Hard Drive”) on CIUT 89.5FM hosted by Phantasy, Goldie & The Rufige Kru which played on Sundays between 4:00PM to 6:00PM. He started listening to House music, Freestyle, Techno, Funk, Reggae, and other styles of Electronic genre.

    In 2005 Frank started as a hobby to create his own music. He took on the name “2Touch”. This name originated from his honeymoon when he played water volleyball in Mexico and Frank use to touch the volleyball two times and his team mate Lloyd nicknamed Frank as “Two Touch”. He worked on his first house single called “Blast Zone”. He also finished Techno tracks “Serious Rhythm” and “Insane” and house track “Just House”. Frank also experimented with Beat boxing and Techno called “Authentic” which meant all sounds were from Beat boxing and natural sounds mixed together.

    In 2016 Frank is currently working on his first EP release to add some earlier tracks plus new Acid House tracks. Frank changed his Artist name to “Acidone”, from Acetone which is a organic compound that is a colorless, volatile, flammable liquid, combined with “Acid” for Acid House music. In July of 2016, Frank released his first two 12″ singles called “Acid Rant” (new track) and “Blacid Storm” (acid mixes of his original 2005 house track “Blast Zone”). He is currently working on two more projects, one a parody acid house track 12″ single coming from a popular mid 80s Electro track and also a house 12″ EP (no acid 303) which are under raps for now.

  • Reply Happy April 1, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Copa, in mid 80s, was where wife and I first met. We have since moved far from T.O. And, today, over 30 years since our intro, very sad (heartbroken really) to see that the Copa was replaced with a condo.

    Frequently used to walk Yonge Street all the way down to the Eaton Centre on weekends, back in the day. Like what replaced the Copa, Yonge Street has changed very much in character – all those little shops replaced by condo / office towers, and construction sites of yet more – lost much of the entrepreneurial/bohemian vibe that used to exist downtown. Even Queen Street is now home to big brand retailers!

    Sigh! Just ephemeral memories now.

  • Reply Trevor March 12, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Ah, the Copa. I worked there from about 1988 until ’91 or so – just before it closed. Great time with a lot of fun, fun people. Andree, the lighting vixen; Barry, the world’s best busboy, Dave/Myrnah; George Mendez and his assistant Tim; and countless other good people. I move to Ottawa in 2003, and came back once in 2004 to find the building completely gone and a crushed gravel space where it used to be. That space, without the building, looked so impossibly small to have held all of those memories.

  • Reply Sarah Wayne December 12, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    All comments in the string below have been republished from their original appearance on The Grid website. We’re including the readers’ comments as they add to these Then & Now stories. We look forward to reading new comments here as well.

    The Cult & Barenaked Ladies 

    Two great memories:
The Cult – blew the place apart in about 1986/87. Best. Show. Ever.
Plus Barenaked Ladies BUSKING the line-up for a CFNY indie release party (they were bumped from the line up, but CFNY squeezed them onto the release tape because their song was so short – You Can Be My Yoko Ono.
Good times. 

12:35 am on October 17, 2014 

    I worked at the Copa soon after it opened, for about 3 years. Lots of good memories, but the best part were the booze cans other staff and I were invited to after we cashed out and closed down. 

6:39 pm on September 21, 2014 

Wow! I remember The Copa!! We had a great time there back in the days…
Didn’t Ray Charles perform there? 

10:34 pm on August 15, 2014 


    You are absolutely right I saw that show…felt a little bad though cause he was being picketed for playing SunCity but I had to see Ray! 

1:20 pm on September 21, 2014 


    Worked behind the bar…Eloise, Karen, Dawn, Frank, Jim, Larry and so many more were amazing people – Life changing experience I will never, ever forget. One of the best times of my life  

12:21 am on July 12, 2014 

Wow…I managed and bartended here a very long time ago! Interesting to find something still on the web about the original clubs of Toronto. 

12:09 pm on May 2, 2014 


    Saw some great shows there.Here’s some photos I took of X in 1985.

9:35 pm on November 29, 2013 

    Sam Agost
Hey, i guess i’m a year or two late on this article but i worked there in 1987 as a bar-back and worked with some really good people, Kim waitress, Karen waitress, Steve bartender and bodybuilder and Hair Salon owner, Dennis bartender, Barry and Kwame bar-backs, Danielle bartender, Cindy bartender, Mike manager and male magazine/flyer model, Andreas manager, Karen manager, too bad we didn’t have Facebook back then to stay in touch, everybody just fades away.
I was lucky enough to be there for concerts by World Party, Johnny Winter, (we sold more beer for that show that i can even count) The Cult ( Ian smashed an overhead neon light with the mike stand and it took 6 months for the club and Cult management to decide how much to pay for the damage) Ronnie Wood without the rest of the Stones and Ronnie Hawkins.
I remember the Club being so big that filling it up on weekdays was so hard to do that we had a full-time promotions girl for awhile but it didn’t really help. Saturday and Sunday nights were the money nights except back then last call on Sunday was 11pm which always surprised the americans coming up to party on a Sunday night.
If anyone remembers any of this, send me a message. Later. 

9:38 am on November 13, 2013 

    Dante Krysto
Hey! I was also there in 1987. Maybe we know each other. I’m Dj Dante, the Friday and Saturday night DJ. I was Corrine’s boyfriend at the time… she was one of the coat check girls! Paul Murton handed me over the job. Anyways hopefully to bump into you one of these days when I start Karaoke at the Windsor Arms Hotel in the new year (also in Yorkville! 

2:27 pm on November 30, 2013 

    Kinda overused the term infamous in this story. Maybe someone can buy you a thesaurus for your birthday. 

6:28 am on October 3, 2013 


    The COPA!! I remember chatting to Ben Johnson about his Testarossa in a Yorkville car park back in the day and convincing him to come to the Copa with my pals Bobby Martin and Ali (of NRG in Motion). We all got in free because of Ben & everyone assumed we were VIP (lol). I never paid to get into most clubs in the T.Dot after that night (although my alcohol bill probably made that a mute point!)
Now with two kids (and a surly wife to boot  ) in far off England, I think fondly of bygone days and friends from the clubs of yesteryear: Go-Gos, Earl’s Tin Palace, Berlin, the Diamond, Oz etc. Thanks for the memories Toronto, and thank you Scarborough for “Everything”! ! Anyone remember “The Kremlin” downtown?? 

10:10 pm on January 12, 2013 

The Copa was unbeatable on Sundays when Chris Sheppard played. And then it all moved to RPM after Chris Sheppard left The Copa and whet there. The Copa was mostly chessy accept on Sundays. 

4:49 pm on January 9, 2013 


    I frequented The Copa when I was 17 all the time on Sundays. Back in the day when drivers license had no pictures, so you just borrowed you buddies license. I was backstage when The Beastie Boys played their first gig in Toronto at The Copa. That was when the Beasties were drinking cans of beer on stage and throwing them into the crowd. I remember one of them threw a can and hit a very expense disco light in the ceiling. I can’t remember which Beastie it was but one of them was backstage and grabbed a girl and said to us watch this and took her into a bathroom and screwed her up against the door for all to hear. 

4:40 pm on January 9, 2013 


    I too worked at the COPA in the very early days. I came with a bunch of people from the El Mocambo (on Spadina) with our manager, Larry. After, we went to RPM. I remember Julian Lennon in the VIP room, the stupidity of giving all of us girls a tray full of champagne glasses on New Year’s Eve to give to guests for free (stagger upstairs, gulp down a glass, stagger downstairs…) and one particular incident – a guy asking us what that was in his salad – Cindy said “chicken” but the guy flipped it over and it was a baby mouse. 

4:26 pm on November 14, 2012 

I remember the mouse incident. (I was working there at the time). There were a lot of residents in the area that wanted to get the place closed down and it was speculated that the mouse had been put in there as a form of sabotage. (The salad was from a buffet that people filed past). 

8:33 pm on November 29, 2013 

Great series Denise, 
I worked at The Copa before heading to RPM where I worked as a server and then a bartender. Oh and I had way too much fun dancing. I remember Julian helping me after that speaker/dancing incident when The Copa staff went to check out Martin’s new club, RPM. TK, thanks for all those great tunes. The best part of working in these clubs were the people, Terry, Maria, Julian, David, Jamie, Darren, TK, and catching some great performances. Thanks for the trip. 

3:35 am on July 8, 2012 

    paul johnston
It’s bloody sad to hear that Wanda died – she was a very special person. Dave Ahmad on that giant bass-heavy sound system is something I can still remember quite vividly. Copa was cheesy, but somehow had moments that were super compelling!! 

7:12 pm on March 17, 2012 

My experience with the Copa was more as a concert venue than a dance club. I saw Love and Rockets, Belinda Metz, Nick Lowe and Inxs there. I remember Nick Lowe casually strolling amongst the fans with his pint before the show. Happy times. 

9:43 am on March 17, 2012 

Wow . Reading this brings back great memories. Nice to hear the behind the scenes history. Some of it i experienced first hand. I happily worked at the COPA as a bartender from it’s opening day until I followed Martin Arts to work at RPM(1986). Martin hired me to drive their shuttle-bus and paint and create murals and themed installations his new club on Queens Quay. 
My best memories revolve mostly around the great staff (individuals) i worked and played with and the patrons i served at the COPA. The COPAclub experience connected me with a group people who encouraged creative activiites and expressed themselves with music, dance and fashion. My creative impulses may have been dashed if i had i not been a part of the Copa experience from the inside. Chris Sheppard and EarlJive had me paint a graffiti mural on the back wall of the stage for their Sunday night Q107show. That was my first commercial art job. It felt good so i kept moving in that direction.
My most memorable live musical experience of all time, to date, was watching and listening and watching to Tina Turner sing from her recently released ‘Private Dancer’ album. I recall standing alone in the middle of the dance floor in awe. My best bar-tending moment was serving John Candy and his brother- in-law. They invited me to an after hours club on Queen W. It took them up on it and they entertained and bought me drinks until 4am. He was truly a friendly and funny GIANT. I remember the “Don’t play SunCity ” protesters outside when Ray Charles played the club.
Thanks for rekindling some warm memories. jamie 

8:17 pm on March 17, 2012 


    Great article Denise. It brings back loads of memories. I remember Chaka Khan playing there in a weird blue spandex body suit and the VIP after party for Prince’s Purple Rain movie. I was thrilled that Clarence Williams III invited me to dance. I was working at CKLN or writing for magazines and was invited to fabulous parties too. Julian Lennon and all sorts of wonderfully interesting folk were very friendly because that was the vibe. The music was consistently fantastic and there was a great sound system (maybe that’s why the neighbours complained so vociferously) , good crowds and even that funny buffet that was a more to do with the liquor licenses at the time than feeding anyone for real.
Thank you for this.

1:47 am on March 17, 2012 

    gOgO k’necht 

    great article Denise,
not sure if I mentioned this to you b4 but I actually worked at the COPA for about a year or two circa /85 /86 and then to Toby’s with dj Iain (mcpherson!)
what great memories you have brought back I totally forgot about that buffet!
. I remember when the beastie boys played and they threw a beer can and broke a light.
Darren do you remember me I was “Carrie” the waitress. KIm Hughes worked there too before going to NOW magazine and Julian Finkle who now has his own clothesline and store in Kensington. 

12:52 am on March 17, 2012 

Oh yes I do, Carrie! I remember the manager at the time (Andreas?) going ballistic after they smashed the light. ha ha ha. Yes, the last I heard Kim was on the west coast working for Amazon (could be wrong) and Julian I know about sometime ago. Oh the stories I could tell about hanging out in the women’s change room. lol. So what are you doing these days? I am now on the east coast and working in the visual arts – go figure! 

7:07 pm on March 19, 2012 

Sad to hear Wanda passed away. She knew all the lyrics to Parliament’s “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)” and that was so damn cool at the time. 

8:26 pm on March 16, 2012 


    My big regret with The Copa was missing The Cult. I heard the news on Q107 just as I was waking up but ignored it as I thought I must be dreaming. The Cult, in its prime, playing The Copa? Later on in the day I found that was indeed the case. My one and only visit to The Copa was to see the Beastie Boys. It was a good show and interesting evening with all the other rap groups that preceded the band. 

3:33 pm on March 16, 2012 


    I saw The Cult play their first gig in Toronto at the Concert Hall. A weird mix of rockers, gothics, new wavers and pop music fans. The crowd just stood there and Ian Astburty got pissed off as he wanted people to move and dance or something. Also saw Iron Madien in their first concert in North America at the Concert Hall with the original lead singer. The Concert Hall was the best place to see concerts. The Copa was only great on Sundays, otherwise it was cheesie. Chris Shepard was a legend at that time before he went all house music. A few years later I was a big DJ trying to copy what Chris Shepard did at The Copa at the Thunderdome and at Foufonne in Montreal. 

4:47 pm on January 9, 2013 

    TH Boss
Great article – thx for this !! Can you do one on The Mo at some point please ? That was a huge hangout for all in the late 70′s early 80′s ! Thx 

2:55 pm on March 16, 2012 

    The Copa was a tad slick most of the time but I was happy to be in attendance when Alain Jougensen / Ministry played there – it was a memorable night. 

2:50 pm on March 16, 2012 

    Darren McLeod
    Thank you, Denise for a important slice of my life in the 80s. I worked at the Copa from 84 to 88. God, the stories I could tell…ha ha ha. I was definitely one of the pretty new-wave boys that served there at the time. In many cases with a full face of make-up, and depending on my mood a smart black or tartan skirt! Oh, those were the days.
I saw some incredible bands there, served a lot great and obnoxious VIPS, and developed some great friendships though my stint as a waitron at the Copa! It’s been great to read your club series, including Voodoo and others, most of which were my stomping grounds in the 80s. Toronto was a great place to be in the 80s, especially in the emerging and established alt club scene. Thanks for revisiting a period where my memories…albeit a bit sketchy, were for the most part good ones. 

2:31 pm on March 16, 2012 

    jimmy j 

    and what i remember is..that it was safe to go nightclubs..no guns/knives or gangs…
now…it’s a risk….alas..times have changed.. 

1:31 pm on March 16, 2012 

Snuck in with a girlfriend just to see Terri Nunn and Berlin in 1987 or 1988. I was waaay underage. Awesome times. 

11:09 am on March 16, 2012 

    DJ AMC
Denise! Last week Focus this week the Copa! Way back. I remember Djing with the Twins (Neil and Noel Martin) at the Copa one Sunday as guest Dj’s for Dave. That was a crazy night! Largest soundsystem I had played on up to that point. Didn’t Richard Long also work on the Zone’s system too? Anyways I remember throwing down Strings of Life and the crowd going absolutely crazy. Those were the days, hot summer nights at the Copa. Wasn’t the Mo across the street? 

9:55 am on March 16, 2012 

Oh how I miss the COPA. Today’s generation will never know what they missed. Bring it BACK!!! 

7:50 am on March 16, 2012 

    Wendy Baskerville 

    Thank you for taking me back in time. I too worked for the Chrysalis folks. It was an organization far ahead of its time. They woke up far more than the club scene. But to the point. It was such a gas to stagger over there after a long hot shift on the line at the Bellair or Bem’s and saunter past the line. Exhaustion dropped away the second the music hit.
It was always fresh and hot and let’s face it. We danced our asses off. Reading this reminded me of a time when life didn’t seem to have nearly the demands it has now and Arnie Kliger was the most fun to party with. back then we all had a style and somehow whether you were in tin foil or corduroy you were welcome. I wish that time could come back. Thank you Thank you. 

12:57 pm on March 15, 2012 

Some nice memories of the Copa – rock ones, actually – Chilliwack and Randy Bachman … and I remember the big showcase night for all the university & college entertainment bookers, seeing Chalk Circle and their ilk performing. 

9:45 pm on March 15, 2012 

  • Leave a Reply