Goodbye to The Spill

Tributes to Peterborough’s pirate ship of culture

The Spill (photo by B. Mroz)
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Word travelled fast on Wednesday, October 18 that the Spill was closing that night. People abandoned weeknight plans and crowded the place – somewhat ironically, given that fines for being over capacity were a regular financial strain for the venue.

Losing the Spill is about losing an old friend but, more vividly, it’s about losing a vital organ. The Spill played a unique role as incubator of new bands, new fans, and new scenes. Its closure puts immense pressure on the Garnet’s, the Spill’s smaller and younger cousin, to provide space to all things original.

The Spill was never a money-maker, and was always a musicians’ venue—literally. Opened early in the new millennium by Jeremy Gabriel of Maggie Fame, it was sold in 2004 to James Kent of Bloody Miracles, who operated it until 2008 when he sold it to Dave Tobey.

Tobey famously booked almost anything, with little to no regard for how attendance would affect bar sales. The Spill liked surprises. Every show could be great or terrible or both. Some shows drew almost no one, others exceeded the room’s legal capacity.

It has been a long journey, with an ever-shifting but ever-loyal crew. Here are some of the things Peterborough musicians had to say about the Spill on Facebook in the days following the closure.


Karol Orzechowski (Garbageface)

A lot of us are waking up to a different city today, with the closure of the Spill. I was fortunate and privileged to call it home, and honoured to be an employee there for so many years. I have grown as an artist there, and there would be no Garbageface without it, quite literally. Dave Tobey, and all of the people I got to work with over the years who held the place together, you have my heart.


Kelly McMichael (Renders)

Goodbye to the Spill! Thanks for all the great music and fun. I probably played the Spill over 50 times, from open mics in high school, getting my start as an indie-folk darling with David Simard, to rock bands and electro-pop dance parties, great memories with Yacht Rock, and so many more. I experienced some of the best live music vibes in that room (and some not so good ones too, haha). Thanks to all the staff and everyone who came out to shows over the years and made it all happen.

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Jay Swinnerton (The Silver Hearts, ex-Tarantüela)

I remember being in high school and so nervous to book my first show at the Spill that I had to watch the beginning of Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same to psych me up. I learned lots about rock and roll at this space and now I get to make music for a living. Thanks for making my dreams come true!

Peterborough won’t be the same.


Jem Woolidge (Stacey Green Jumps)

The Spill (photo by B. Mroz)It feels like we threw a spontaneous funeral last night. There are so many things I wish I had words to say, but in my experience of the Spill: it was more than a storefront in a small town. I had the privilege to grow up and spend very formative years there, with consistent support from Dave Tobey. I started writing this steeling myself not to be tacky but who cares, I’m sad. I experienced such a spectrum of emotion and formed incredibly meaningful relationships there over the years, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. It was a reflection of the Peterborough scene, and I learned so much about human relationships and existing in a community there. It’s a perspective shift, and it felt like everyone was celebrating their luck to experience something so human. I still feel like I’m on the verge of tears but at least we sent this historic, emotionally charged space off with the party it deserved. It’s the end of an era.


Charlotte Dempsey (The Lonely Parade)

I’m having a very hard time processing the closure of the Spill. Aside from the sentimental value it holds for me, I truly believe it was the best music venue I’ve ever played at. The Spill had really good house gear that was always available, was always all ages (and actually had good snacks and drinks for underaged kids, like cookies, milkshakes, hot dogs, iced tea, and ice cream floats), and was the beating heart of the Peterborough music community. Its dedication to being an all-ages venue is the reason I started playing shows at age 12, the reason the Peterborough music community is inter-generational, the place I made friends with so many out of town folks and therefore the reason I’ve been able to go on tour. Without a gem of a space like the Spill I would not be the person I am today. Feeling very lost, as if my parents have sold my childhood home. I’m very upset to see it go. Dave Tobey, you’re a fucking legend. Thanks for everything.


Prime Junk

We were all heartbroken to hear about the Spill closing on Wednesday night. As a venue and as a social space, the Spill was extremely important in each of our musical and personal developments. It is unlikely this band (or many others) would exist without it. We are forever grateful to all the staff and especially to Dave Tobey, whose support of our music and the arts community in Peterborough more broadly cannot be overstated.

Photos by B. Mroz.

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David Tough

David Tough


David Tough is a musician, scholar, and journalist from Peterborough, Ontario. He is Senior Editor of Electric City Magazine.