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Vance Cooper: The Cambridge Club's Gentleman of the Year

This year, for the first time ever, the Cambridge Club crowned Vance Cooper “Cambridge Club Gentleman of the Year” – an accolade bestowed upon a Member that best exemplifies what the Cambridge Club is all about. For those of you who don’t know Vance, and for those of you who want to learn a little bit more about the man behind our phenomenal Vancestock Unplugged events, we sat down with Vance to chat about his experience at the Cambridge, being named Gentleman of the Year, and the reason he began Vancestock.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today! Let’s start at the beginning, how long have you been a Member at the Cambridge Club? And what led you to the Cambridge in the first place?

I joined in 1991. I had been working downtown since 1983 and was playing squash at a club on Lombard Street. After it was ruined by a fire, I was looking for a new home. I needed to find a place close to my office so that I would have to go out of my way to avoid working out. At the time, I thought the Cambridge Club was out of my league from a price perspective. As it turns out, joining was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Can you speak to your community at the Cambridge Club?

The Cambridge Club is unique in that it is really several communities or Clubs in one. There are people who come at lunch only. Others attend after work. I am part of an informal group known as the Morning Boys. There are a surprising number of enthusiastic Members who show up to play squash or do their workouts from 6:00am until about 8:00am. It is very social and very supportive. Most of all, it’s fun.

What is your favourite part of being a Member at the Cambridge Club?

I think the Cambridge Club is truly an oasis. Whether I am in the gym early in the morning, meeting a friend or client for lunch, or stopping in later in the day for the proverbial executive workout a.k.a. the Tribathalon [steam, hot tub, and shower], it is welcoming and as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. It reminds me of the old TV show “Cheers” where everybody knows your name.

You were named this year’s Cambridge Club Gentleman of the Year, what does that mean to you? Were you expecting that?

I was very honoured and very flattered. I do what I do to make me happy - whether that is sponsoring the Canada Cup, putting on my annual charity fundraiser [Vancestock], or putting on singer-songwriter shows in the Oak Room [Vancestock Unplugged]. The fact that people found those activities to be beneficial to others is very rewarding but certainly not the primary driver behind what I do.

[For those who don’t know, the criteria for the Cambridge Club Gentleman of the Year award are:

  • This Member is a regular at the Club, known by fellow Members and staff.
  • Exemplifies what the Cambridge Club is about: Culture, History, Respect, Comradery, etc.
  • Involved in every department and aspect of the Club. Regularly uses the Oak Room for dining and involved in Member events, supporting the Club’s efforts to develop events to bring Members together. Uses the gym and fitness offerings in the Club.
  • This individual’s presence and demeanor makes the Club a better place.
  •  “If he died tomorrow the Club would be diminished.”
  • This individual has been a Member of the Club for an extended period of time (10+ years).]

You are also the mastermind behind Vancestock. What’s the story behind the creation of Vancestock?

In the summer of 1983, I started work in downtown Toronto as an articling student. There was a legal assistant who asked me if I would come out to listen to her brother-in-law’s band. They were playing some bar on Queen Street West and, as she put it, they needed to put bodies in seats. I was happy to come out and support the effort. There were not a lot of people there to be sure. Her brother-in-law was Jim Cuddy and the band was Blue Rodeo.

Years later, a friend’s son was a drummer in a band, Great Bloomers, playing original material. I saw them at the El Mocambo on a Friday night with barely 50 people in the room. They were fresh faced young kids with great talent playing songs they had written to an audience that was barely indifferent. I thought to myself that if I could somehow introduce this band to a new audience, they might gain some traction and be the next Blue Rodeo. I thought there was an opportunity to put on a show featuring “undiscovered” musicians and invite my friends, family, colleagues and clients to attend the show.

The final piece to the puzzle was the charity aspect. I am always happy to give to anyone walking, rowing, swimming, riding a bike, playing tennis or hockey or doing thing else to raise money for charity.  I decided that I would cover all of the expenses of the evening - room, food and musical talent - and ask those who wanted to attend the event to make a donation in the amount of their choosing to a specified charity in order to gain admission to the event.  I wanted the charity to be connected to kids and camping.  I discovered Trails Youth Initiative and they couldn’t be more deserving of support. There isn’t enough space in this piece to discuss the work and success of Trails. Briefly, Trails takes at-risk inner-city youth at age 12 and provides them with a four-year program which literally turns these kids around. 90% of the graduates attend postsecondary education compared to 10% percent of their peer group. Indeed, Trails was just recognized by Maclean’s magazine as one of the best Canadian charities for 2020.

And, thus, Vancestock was born. The first Vancestock was help in September 2012 and has continued to grow every year since. The upcoming Vancestock IX, currently scheduled for Thursday, October 22, 2020, will return to its original roots and will feature undiscovered musical acts without a cover band or tribute act. I’m excited this tradition continues to be popular as we approach our 10th anniversary in 2021. We have raised over $260,000 for Trails in 8 years, met, supported and befriended many musicians and bands along the way and enjoyed a great party with friends, family, clients and colleagues.

That’s truly incredible! And now you also host Vancestock Unplugged at the Cambridge Club.

I do! After a trip to Nashville to visit the Bluebird Café – famously both Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift played here before they were discovered – and attending a number of shows at Songbird North in Toronto, I decided I wanted to create a similar style of acoustic show in a more intimate location.

I approached Clive Caldwell about bringing this style of show to CGOC members and their guests. He couldn’t have been more supportive. With the aid of Paul Hudson, GM at the Cambridge Club, and Christina De Bartolo, Food and Beverage Manager at the Cambridge Club, the Oak Room is transformed into an intimate listening room for singer songwriters and those who appreciate an intimate and interactive musical listening experience for Vancestock Unplugged. It has been nothing short of magical.

We put on 3 shows in the first half of 2019. In the 2019 – 2020 season, we have ambitiously planned for 5 shows. Two have been held, to rave reviews by those in attendance, and 3 shows are scheduled in the first half of 2020 - Thursday, January 30th, Wednesday, April 1st, and Thursday, May 28th. For me, it has been an absolute labour of love and an opportunity to share my love of music with friends, family, and like-minded people.

 What three words best describe Vancestock?

Labour of love. Another three might be “F’ing good time!!”

When is the next Vancestock and Vancestock Unplugged?

The next Vancestock charity event is Vancestock IX. At the moment, it is scheduled for Thursday, October 22nd, 2020 at Radio @ Adelaide Hall, located at the corner of Adelaide and Duncan.

The next Vancestock Unplugged event will be held in the Cambridge Club’s Oak Room on Thursday, January 30th. If you are interested in attending, please contact the Cambridge Club Front Desk for details.

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