Here are three things that I wasn’t familiar with prior to last Thursday morning: Alan Cross, the culture behind the iconic Brunswick House and the fact that Rexall and I share an affinity for all of Music’s healing powers. Today, I’m a few facts wiser.
Let me start by saying that I moved to Toronto just over 7 years ago. And even though I attended Fashion School in the first couple of years of my time in Canada, I somehow missed out on the opportunity to dance the night away at the Brunswick House. When I told my friend that the venue was closing, hoping she’d shed some light into the darkness in my head around the subject, she panicked: “WHAT?! Poor college kids! Where are they supposed to go now?!”
It was soon explained to me that the Brunswick House is an iconic building, nestled just West of Spadina on Bloor, that has existed for almost as long as Canada itself. And seeing that we’re about to celebrate the country’s 150th, what better time than this year to have Rexall honour its heritage.
Yesterday morning, I attended the opening of Rexall’s new flagship drugstore that permanently took home inside the Brunswick House. And they did it just right – with a nod to the building’s rich, musical past.
“We’re very proud to be a part of the community and build on [that] legacy by providing excellent health and wellness services”, said Paul Dale, Executive Vice President of Store Operations for Rexall.
Alan Cross, an international broadcaster, writer, blogger and speaker, and lead MC of the morning, reminisced about the “one, two (or maybe six) drinks that one would probably have on a regular night at the Brunswick House”, while dancing to electrifying tunes on a dance floor that housed the emotions of thousands of dancing feet. He took us through the History: the foundation of the building as a saloon in 1874, shape-shifting into a hotel, pub, dancehall and a general music venue for the past 140 years. Since the 1950’s it’s been serving as THE hangout for students to unwind and dive into the smooth melodies of jazz and blues.
How does Rexall tie into the picture, you ask?
Rexall worked in conjunction with the City of Toronto to ensure that they fully restored the building’s facade and preserve the original interior accents – think lighting, chandeliers, signage, mirrors – even its infamous barrel bar that now serves as the drugstore’s central checkout area. During the official opening, they also used the opportunity to unveil a the Rexall Brunswick House Music Artifacts Exhibition, which is currently on display at the location. The items on display were carefully selected and curated by Alan Cross himself and include priceless memorabilia from artists, whose music graced the Brunswick House stage at one point or another: Jeff Healey, Oscar Peterson and more.
While I didn’t grow up here and my knowledge of Blues bands has yet to build, I did grow up in a family that valued music. My father raised me with a sense for Classic Rock, my mom had a love for Spanish Guitars and my culture relies heavily on its rich folklore music history; I later fell in love with Hip Hop and its deep roots. I value music so much that I’ve studied its effects and employed them, as the best tools to fighting anxiety and panic attacks. At times it’s Sade, sometimes it’s the Buena Vista Social Club, others it’s the beats of J Dilla or Common’s poetry; in darker times I turn to Budden and at my realest to UGK and the whole of the Dirty South. Then there’s Rainbow – a music bond, born on during long road trips with my father, learning the lyrics to Street of Dreams before I could even speak English.
There’s an importance in music that many people tend to overlook: it soothes the soul, engages positive emotions, releases serotonin into your body, ultimately improving your sleep cycle, mood and pain perception; it even aids your memory. When used right and often, it can genuinely become an integral part of your wellness routine.
That’s exactly why I admire – and commend – Rexall: for going the extra mile in preserving a building that has played an important part in shaping the overall music culture of this city. Walking through the “halls” of the drugstore, music playing through the speakers, I couldn’t help but notice the effect it had on me – humming to a familiar tune, while shopping for the perfect shade of red lipstick elevated my spirits, and ultimately made me forget about the pushy sales associate at my local drugstore, who forces me to make a run out for the door.
But in order to understand the feeling, you have to see it for yourself.
Rexall’s flagship location is now open at 481 Bloor Street West and plays home to not only a drugstore, but also a pharmacy and a walk-in clinic that is committed to providing the best health and wellness services to its community. Rexall’s Brunswick House Music Artifacts Exhibition will be available to the general public’s viewing for awhile longer and later moved to Calgary’s Studio Bell – home of the National Music Centre – where it will go on display in 2018.