Weird Canada operates from its covert Waterloo location at the corner of King and Erb Streets. MATT SMITH PHOTO EDITOR

Canadian Music Collective In Uptown

This article was updated Feb. 9 at 4:42 PM to better reflect distinctions between Weird Canada and the Wyrd Arts Initiative.

Jamieson Cox

No one would blame you for missing it — it’s hiding in plain sight, nondescript, above an uptown bike shop — but one of Canada’s most vital and celebrated underground collectives calls Waterloo home.

Founded in Edmonton in 2009 by Aaron Levin and Marie LeBlanc Flanagan, Weird Canada’s mission is to “encourage, connect, and document creative expression across Canada,” as per their website; they do so by promoting community, amplifying marginalized voices, and serving as an accessible entry point for people around the country interested in supporting and making experimental, non-traditional art.

It’s a mission that’s been helped along by a few major pieces of recognition: its online incarnation was named “Best Canadian Music Site” by CBC Radio 3 in 2011, and won a $50,000 FACTOR grant in early 2013. The grant was used to fund the establishment of the Wyrd Distro, a nonprofit online store that gives fans the chance to buy physical copies of Canadian music like the kind featured on the main site.

After an intermediate period spent running Weird Canada from Toronto, Levin and Flanagan now use Waterloo as the organization’s headquarters; many of its major components are based here, from editing the website to shipping out product associated with the Distro. And despite changes to Weird Canada’s scale and prominence as a Canadian music institution, Flanagan maintains that their core vision hasn’t shifted much.

“Our vision has been consistent since the beginning, and I can’t imagine anything that would sway or deter us.”

Though Weird Canada has served as a launching pad for a few artists now receiving international critical acclaim, the most rewarding part of Flanagan’s work is the measurable impact of her actions, whether on tiny artists who stretch every dollar or the hundreds of community members who believe in the site’s mission and support its operation. And with those artists and members spread across thousands of kilometers and every province and territory, it takes a ton of coordination and clarity to keep Weird Canada running effectively.

“I have learned to be incredibly organized and disciplined, and to consider the user above all else,” she explained.

Despite those challenges, Flanagan finds herself inspired and encouraged by the vitality and creative potential of our community.

“Kitchener-Waterloo is an incredible place to be right now… Pay attention to show posters and events, and start exploring. This city is full of secrets.”

I'm a University of Waterloo graduate and employee, and in my spare time I write music criticism for publications like TIME, Billboard, and Pitchfork. When I'm not writing, I like running, hot yoga, playing video games, and watching the NBA.