Soho House Toronto celebrates its 10-year anniversary
One decade in, members and staff reveal everything that makes Canada’s first House so special
Thursday 29 September 2022 By Hazel Ong Photography by Neil Watson
Before Soho House Toronto as we know it came to be, the club first made its mark in the city hosting exclusive pop-up events for TIFF. Chief Membership Officer, Markus Anderson, who himself happens to be a Toronto (Peterborough) native had been quietly championing the city as the next permanent Soho House locale. But always one to let things come together organically, he felt it wasn’t quite the right time. Enter, the Bishop’s Building. Built circa 1829, it’s considered to be one of the downtown core’s oldest historical landmarks – which at one point was, naturally, the site of one of the city’s first hospitality establishments – a rooming house.
As serendipity would have it, the property finally became available, so Anderson and Soho House founder Nick Jones decided it was time to bring a House to Toronto, the first and only in Canada. After being fully disassembled and painstakingly reassembled, the building was brought back to life. To the excitement and curiosity of Toronto’s diverse creative community, Soho House Toronto officially opened its doors in the autumn of 2012.
Ten years on, we reflect on a decade of creative thinking, socialising and community building from the perspective of four key players who continue to play an integral part in Soho House Toronto’s past, present and future. Here’s to another 10 years!
The Chief Membership Officer: Markus Anderson
How did you approach Nick Jones about opening a House in Toronto?
‘Our first experience in Toronto was during TIFF and we hosted three years of pop-ups before we opened the House. I’ve been working with him for 20 years, so we have a bit of trust and he would say, ‘do you think one would work in Toronto?’ I had only lived there briefly, but every year I’d come back for TIFF, and it was getting cooler and cooler. And I always joke that it was sort of just OK with being itself. It wasn’t trying to be New York, it wasn’t trying to be LA, it was just becoming Toronto, and becoming a bit more interesting. Nick came for those pop-ups originally and fell in love with the city, and he loves the members here as well. And then the building came up, which I think was sort of special because it was Toronto’s first hotel.’
What was the story of the building and location?
‘It was a historic building and they had to tear it down to build the Shangri-La. But because it’s historic, they had to take it apart brick by brick and note the brick’s position, then put back the façade exactly. So, it was a three-storey empty shell and we put the floors in, but the shell itself is the original. I think Nick loves that story and the fact it’s a story of hospitality. And it’s a great neighbourhood for us, because I think it’s a good cross section of Toronto. People are always like, ‘it should be further west. It should be over here. It should be north.’ But I think it’s sort of in the middle for a lot of our members. I mean the dream would be to have a hotel in Toronto next, but yeah we’ll get there.’
What makes Soho House Toronto special or different? Obviously it’s smaller than in other cities, but what else?
‘Soho House Toronto is actually the same size, if not a bit bigger, than the original Soho House in London. And I think because I started at 40 Greek Street, to me, Soho House is about the people. Toronto doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. It’s great if there’s a gym or hotel rooms or whatever, but I think it’s more about the people. What’s interesting, having set up so many Houses, is that the diversity of our membership in Toronto is amazing and it’s quite strong. It’s a true reflection of different creative industries there. You sit at the bar and it’s not necessarily someone that’s in your industry. There’s some common thread of creativity, but apart from that it’s actually a really good mix of people.’
How would you describe the energy in Soho House Toronto?
‘Out of all the Houses, Toronto actually feels like a house. You almost feel like you’re in someone’s beautiful townhouse, and everyone is looked after and it just feels good. It’s cosy. People always say things feel like a ‘home away from home’, but I think the Toronto one actually does.’
The founding committee member: Karim Olen Ash, DJ and producer
How do you remember the energy of Soho House Toronto when it first opened?
‘The energy here is quite special, because we’re a smaller city. The community is smaller, so you already kind of know everyone or have a degree of separation. Having that kind of familiarity brought a lot of ease. At the time Soho House Toronto opened, the city had a lot of creative energy brewing and many artists were starting to make their way. You could definitely feel that all of these things worked in tandem with the House coming to Toronto. It was a great vibe. It made Toronto feel like it was on the same level as New York or LA.’
How has being part of the Soho House community affected you?
‘I think that a big part of why I was able to navigate my way through the industry and figure out my place was due to the fact that I made such a wealth of connections through the House. I’ve met so many amazing people at Soho House, who have been instrumental in my career growth. And not just in a business sense, but also just meeting other artists and learning from them.’
How has the House evolved over the past 10 years?
‘I’m very happy seeing the diversity of not just the membership, but the staff, too. It’s something I really commend Soho House for. I really respect that they’ve hired amazing women, queer and BIPOC individuals to make the House feel like a microcosm of what you see in the city, which is a completely diverse melting pot of different cultures and vibes. It speaks to Toronto as a city and I respect that so much.’
The longstanding member: Janaan Issaka, marketing and events manager at Moët Hennessy
How would you describe the energy of Soho House Toronto?
‘It varies and it depends on what’s going on in the House, because it’ll be a different vibe on different days. I come for various reasons, sometimes to chill and do work, and then other times to party when it’s high energy. Also, because it’s a smaller House, it feels a bit more homely and there’s more of a community. You see a lot of familiar faces when you come in; I feel like that’s maybe what sets it apart from some of the larger Houses.’
What has been your most memorable moment at the House so far?
‘There have been so many. This didn’t physically happen at the House, but I would say the Soho Camp that was put on this year and last year. It was such a different experience. It was basically like an adult summer camp and just super unique, and the type of thing you don't get anywhere else.’
What’s the biggest change that you’ve seen from when you first became a member up until now?
‘Soho House is known for having great events, but I just feel like in the past year there's been something different about them. I like the energy they’re bringing. I like the diversity in the events. And I feel like they’re really creative, well curated, and organised. They introduce members to different things happening in the city and people are more excited to come into the House to see what’s going on.’
The current Head of Membership: Patricia Yeboah
How has the House changed since you started?
‘It’s funny, because we actually got an email today about the different feedback that we get from members and one of the things someone pointed out is how diverse the House has become – from the programming to the people, to how we are seen within the community. And I think that speaks for itself and shows how the team has been able to build that all together. I think when people see that, they feel like this is a community they want to be a part of.’
Has that been your goal in this role?
‘I started in this role during the pandemic, and I asked myself coming out of it: how do we create that sense of connection and intentionality, and build that community? I think we’ve been able to do that through our strong team and our members being happy to be in this space again. They’re excited about our programming that’s helping to bring back that “sparkle”. My goal was really to decipher the best way to connect with our community as members and the wider community of the city.’
What do you hope for the future of Soho House Toronto?
‘I think just for it to continue to grow and continue building. We want to challenge our members with different ideas. It’s been 10 years, so it’s important to bring new ideas, new changes and challenges.’