Basecamp Climbing Gym Opening Soon
Basecamp Climbing, Toronto’s newest climbing gym, is days away from opening to the public.
Last year we reported that the iconic Metro Theatre at 677 Bloor Street W would transform into Basecamp Climbing
, Toronto’s newest climbing gym. Now, just over one year after that announcement, we caught up with the owner of Basecamp Climbing, Matthew Languay, and discussed the upcoming opening date, the challenges encountered with creating a new climbing gym in downtown Toronto and some of the benefits that Basecamp Climbing will provide to the Toronto climbing community.
Basecamp Climbing will be soon be open.
Ok, it's been about a year since you started work on the gym. What have you learned along the way about trying to convert an old porn theatre into a climbing gym?
The most important thing I learned was to extend my timelines - and everyone else’s timelines. Almost every day during this project I've struggled to work with and coordinate the many different trade people. I've learned the hard way that no matter what the trade, always take their estimated timeline and double it. Many times throughout this project we had people come in one or two weeks later than the day they quoted and then do their work in the wrong order, which caused issues for the other trades. We also had to deal with the occasional contractor that had multiple jobs going on at the same time making them almost impossible to track down. Having said that, we've had the pleasure of working with some amazing folks on this job. But no matter who they are, when they give you a timeline, double it.
Some late night route setting.
What was the biggest surprise and disappointment that you encountered during the build?
I would say the biggest disappoint, which I'm sure quite a few Torontonians share with me, is that we couldn't include the bouldering feature in the initial scope. We had the budget to include either the bouldering feature or more full-height climbing, and we had to choose full-height climbing. Expanding to include a bouldering feature isn't too difficult. Expanding to build more full-height climbing walls in the middle of the main hall would mean shutting down the gym for around a month. This way we can expand while keeping our doors open. Having said all that, we do have a great training area that includes a full system wall, a campus board, hang boards, rings and other upper body training equipment.
I think the biggest surprise has been the response we've had from the community. Our successful Kickstarter campaign, the daily phone calls of eager climbers asking if we're open, and even all the media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive.
Any unexpected construction changes that you had to implement along the way?
One of the biggest (and best) changes was the removal of the mezzanine wall. On the initial drawings, the second-floor area was supposed to have a full height wall and be sectioned off from the main gym. This original construction had a few benefits, but the moment the original dividing wall came down, I did everything in my power to have it converted to a railing/mezzanine. Not only does this change create a much more open training area, but it also allows you to stay connected with the other climbers in the main climbing space.
One of the large climbing walls at Basecamp Climbing.
What's the local response been to the gym from the area residents, businesses, and climbers?
The reception has been absolutely amazing. For the past few months, we've received daily calls from climbers asking when we're going to be open and telling us how excited they are about the gym. With all of the construction craziness going on it's just nice to hear how many people are behind this project. I've also had a number of conversations with long-time area residents who told me how they used to go to the theatre (before it turned seedy) and pay 5 cents to watch Kung Fu movies all night. Super cool.
How close are you to opening your doors?
I've had this question every single day for the past few months. It seems every time I give an expected opening date, a whirlwind of chaos gets thrown into my lap usually in the form of new permits and additional work. These types of setbacks have obviously delayed our opening date, but I can tell you that the end is in sight! We've just finished all the drywall and painting on the mezzanine and this morning we installed the HVAC units on the roof. The staircase guys are nearing completion and we are waiting to install the front and back doors. After that, we need to do some more drywall and finishing work. So, at this point, we're looking at a soft opening around January somewhere between the 9th and the 16th (barring any unforeseen craziness) and a grand opening later in January (probably around the 23rd).
The construction is almost done.
Any special events planned for the grand opening?
We decided that mid-January would be the best time for the grand opening because of all the current Christmas parties and holiday craziness. We're hoping that by January 16 people will have recovered from New Years and be ready for the full Basecamp experience. For our opening party, we'll have live music (DJ) some delicious food as well as some climbing and a silks performance by one of our staff members. At some point in the evening, we'll close off the climbing and start serving drinks!
The marquee has been a big focal point for the gym - at least from an outsider's perspective. Tell us how that has turned out and how you plan to use it in the future.
The marquee is definitely something we fought hard to keep. It turned out to be a lot more expensive and more time consuming than we'd originally anticipated. The permits are currently still sitting somewhere in the city of Toronto permit office waiting to be approved. The big reason for keeping the marquee was that it's a piece of heritage that has become iconic with the Bloor and Bathurst area. When you look around the city, especially with Honest Ed's coming down, you don't see too much that’s more than 80 years old, so we thought it was important to preserve the history. Also, it will be fantastic to display our classes, courses, competitions and featured climbers!
A shot of the dramatic prow feature.
What will your gym offer that will set it apart from the many other gyms in Toronto?
We've been talking a lot about this recently during staff training. Our main goal is to be a community hub for everything climbing related. Some of the ideas we're considering include outdoor trips, technique classes, anchor building, even having a geologist come in to discuss the pros and cons of the different types of southern Ontario rock. Basically, if it's feasible, we're going to do it. We also have Mark Smith working with us, and he's got some incredible ideas that we'll implement over the next few months.
Also, due to our location and open space we've had ideas/requests for hosting things like art exhibits, live bands and movie nights.
Offerings aside, however, I think the biggest difference people will notice about Basecamp is the gym's positive atmosphere. We want to create one of the most welcoming, friendly and positive spaces in the entire city.
How do you see the gym fitting into the broader SO climbing scene?
One big thing we're going to try and do is get people outdoors. We feel there's a pretty big gap between learning how to clip draws in a gym and being able to safely and respectfully climb outdoors. So we're going to put a pretty big emphasis on that type of instruction. Also, as I'm living with one of the founders of Parkbus
(a bus service that connects people from Toronto to outdoor destinations across the province), I think we can find some way to use that service to help climbers that don't have a car get outdoors.
Perhaps it's a bit too early to ask this question, but are you planning any updates or changes to the gym after it's open?
This is something that we discuss a lot. In terms of construction, we will be expanding to include a bouldering feature and more full height climbing walls as soon as it's financially possible. In terms of operation updates, I would say that sometime within the first two years we will implement a number of new courses and programs. Many of our staff have already suggested projects that they would like to introduce in the gym. This is essentially going to be a platform for people to pursue their passions and create their own projects within Basecamp.
Another shot of the prow feature.
Finally, do you have any upcoming climbing trips?
In my mind. In my mind. My climbing has plummeted over the past six months (one of the unexpected drawbacks of opening a climbing gym) and after forerunning a route the other night I was definitely noticing a lack of fitness. I don't really see myself being able to get away for a while, but that's all right. I currently spend between 12-19 hours at the gym and even though it's a construction site, I still enjoy coming to this place. Being around all these incredible people and watching this thing take off, has been an incredible journey.
Having said that, if I can get out to red rocks again in the next year or so, I'll be a happy man!
Basecamp Climbing is a just a three minute walk from Christie subway station.
Gus Alexandropoulos is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid 80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.