Canadian Artists Remember Their Best, Worst and Most Mortifying Day Jobs
Featuring Sum 41, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Arkells, City and Colour and more
Published Nov 09, 2020It wasn't always Netflix shows, sold-out venues and Twitter stans for these talented Canadians; once upon a time, they merely blended in with a crowd and lugged themselves over to their day jobs.
Like most of us, these Canadian stars have some amusing — and a few horrifying — stories regarding their jobs from way back when. From a factory gig that left a Canadian artist with virtually no right hand to a clown working at a flower shop (yes, you read that correctly), these Canadian stars have definitely had some humbling experiences in the workplace.
Taking a dip into the Exclaim! Questionnaire archives, we found some of our favourite former day jobs of these well-known artists — some wholesome stories that just feel so Canadian, some that are sure to make you laugh, and some that sure to make you cringe.
Here are the former day jobs of some pretty cool Canadians:
Arkells' Max Kerman:
I worked at an ice cream parlour in Toronto when I was a teenager, and I gave away so much free ice cream. If you were nice to me, I'd go "Ah, just take it." Greg, the owner, did not like me [laughs]. We were supposed to play classical music during the day over a little stereo, and jazz in the evening, but I never did. I played the Weakerthans and early Max Kerman demos.
I worked at a physiotherapist's office for a bunch of summers as a receptionist, and for some reason I was also given the task of removing acupuncture needles from clients. Sometimes there were bleeders, so I'd have to deal with bleeding people while answering phones and making appointments. It was a real up and down experience.
Born Ruffians' Luke Lalonde:
I worked at store called Sports Excellence in Midland for a guy named James Steward. I was a little brat and he would yell at me a lot, and that probably helped me stop being an emotional, moody little shithead [laughs].
I worked at a community centre — an after-school care program in Vancouver at a place called Douglas Park Community Centre. I just really enjoyed it there. It was the last job that I had before I pursued music full-time, and they were just so great with my schedule because I started to get busy with touring. I just really loved the vibe there and loved working with kids. I learned how to play chess there.
I worked as a surfing instructor in Nova Scotia and that was probably my best job on many, many levels.
Working at a call centre that contacted pipe fitters and steamfitters about safety on the job and training for apprentices in the field. These were the most depressed dudes in the world.
Sum 41's Deryck Whibley:
My first real job was a clown. I had to stand out on the street holding a sign that said: "Roses $9.99." You know those guys that have to advertise a store on the side of a busy street? Well, I did that. I don't know why I was a clown. It was a flower shop in Ajax. The weirdest thing about it was that the job was famous on that street because people would always egg the clown or throw stuff at the clown or honk at the clown — and then I ended up becoming the clown. I was the guy that used to throw stuff at the clown before that. And then I got eggs thrown at me. I never got hit, but I was also like 13, so I didn't care either. I thought I was getting rich. It was five bucks an hour, it was a five-hour day and I thought it was pretty awesome.
Alexisonfire/City and Colour's Dallas Green:
I used to work at a movie theatre in St. Catharines at the Penn Centre. It was great because I got to see movies for free and eat popcorn. Yeah, it was great.
Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew:
I PA'ed a lot on film sets and I worked for just a couple of people who enjoyed me and I enjoyed them. So when You Forgot It In People was finished, I turned to one of the companies and said, "I'll just do the WWE gigs." So I got to do a lot of these wrestling gigs and meet a lot of wrestlers and I loved it. I had a great time.
Carly Rae Jepsen:
I worked as a coffee barista and pastry chef assistant at Trees Organic Coffee in Vancouver. I took over for Sabine when she went to chase her Internet lover in Norway.
Kid's In The Hall's Scott Thompson:
I was a rickshaw driver in Toronto. I only lasted one day because on my second day I hit a car with the rickshaw and the guy got out and yelled at me and I realized I'd damaged the car, so I just dropped the rickshaw and ran away and never answered my phone for the next three days. I abandoned the rickshaw and just never went back to work. It was hard; you're an animal. You have to be strong for that. It's a good workout, I'll tell you.
I worked in a factory when I was 16 and a machine ate most of my right hand. They put it all back together, but my index finger still has a big scar from where they sewed it back up. My guitar playing career would have been pretty different if I didn't have these sweet fingers, so that was pretty memorable I guess.
I was working in a laundry and dry-cleaning plant as a driver, working for my dad. He ran a plant and there were summer jobs available. I said I wanted to earn a wage. I was 14. "Okay, here's a job. Get in there."
Operators' Dan Boeckner:
It definitely would have to be the telemarketing jobs. I worked a ton of them, because they're real fly-by-night operations. Back in the early 2000s, if you were an Anglophone and moved to Montreal, like so many people did, telemarketers would hire literally anyone. As long as you could speak coherently and read a script and leave the moral part of your brain behind for six to eight hours a day, you had a job.
A lot of these companies would go through these huge booms and busts, where they would be making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, and then you would go to work one morning and there would be nothing but a soda machine and wires hanging out of the wall. They would just pick up shop and leave.
I guess the best-slash-worst one I had was that I worked for a company called Pi Global Com Dot Com. It was the project of this Montreal failed son. He came from a fairly wealthy family, and his parents were clearly like, "You need to do something with your life, start a business." So, he started this bullshit scam operation where he had a floor of telemarketers and they would call small businesses in the United States — like a mom and pop gas station in Bowling Green, Ohio — and be like, "You need to be on the internet. We can help you get on the internet." But really what it was is, they would pay out a yearly fee of like $600 to have a book sent to them that had a list of other businesses that had been scammed by this guy. It was the Pi Global Com Dot Com Internet Directory book.
Raine Maida & Chantal Kreviazuk:
Maida: I worked construction every summer. I don't know if it was memorable. Pretty brutal mornings and long days. The thing about it was that I got to write lyrics and write songs. It was labour, so you've got a lot of time in your own head.
Kreviazuk: I don't think I loved any of the jobs before I completely got into music professionally.
Maida: Red Lobster? Kreviazuk: [Laughs] I was a server. Also, the Tom Tom Club in Winnipeg, I was a cocktail waitress and that was great tips. And the best gin and tonic at the end of the night.
I've been lucky enough not to have too many day jobs. For a year I worked for What Magazine, which was a Toronto-based lit mag in the '80s. That was fun and informative, but not quite as memorable as when I worked at the Kingswood Music Theatre [at Canada's Wonderland]. All the shows I saw as a teenager were basically there. And I worked there from like 16 to 18 or 19. I started out by doing day maintenance, which was cleaning up after the previous night's concert. That was everything from picking cigarette butts to cleaning up nacho cheese sauce from the lawn to picking up pieces of lawn if Kim Mitchell had played the night before. Or cleaning up vomit. If you cleaned up vomit, then you got free tickets to the next concert. That was one of those jobs that you didn't want, but you did want if the next concert was a good one. So I got free Depeche Mode tickets because I did that. And then I got to play there a bunch of times in the early '90s, so that was kind of sweet revenge.
I worked at a photo lab. I had great bosses who treated me really well — they let me do studio portrait photography. I thought it was just cool to see people's vacation pictures of places that I have never been to. Also, some people were pretty artsy with their own photography skills. Every once in a while, you'd see somebody dressed up as KISS, but naked.
Prozzäk's Simon and Milo:
Simon: Brickyard back in the old neighbourhood. You had to bang bricks together all day and if they made a ding you put them in a neat pile and if they made a thud you tossed them in a bin. I was really too small to keep up with the rest of the chaps. I can still smell the brick dust and feel the orange gunk coming out of my nose in the middle of the night while I shook in fear at the sadistic treatment I'd receive the next day from the other angry teens at work.
Milo: Baking strudel in the Naschmarkt in Vienna.
Whitehorse's Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland:
Doucet: I haven't had many day jobs. I worked at Greenpeace for a few months and that was probably the most memorable. If you think busking is soul-destroying, try knocking on people's doors and asking them for money when you work for Greenpeace when you are 16. If my 15-year-old self knocked on my door now and started delivering the Greenpeace spiel, I think I would send him away with a smack on the back of the head. And I would probably initially applaud him for his commitment to cleaning up our world.
McClelland: I packed Hustler magazines into boxes in a factory in Oakville. It was the most entertaining/boring job of all time. It was actually right before I met Luke, right before he produced my first record, Stranded In Suburbia. That was my last day job.
White Lung's Mish Way:
I worked at a dry-cleaning place when I was a teenager. I loved it. My boss was a chain-smoking British woman who introduced me to Judge Judy. She used to rig this mirror in the corner of the shop, so that when Judge Judy came on TV every weekday at 4 p.m., we could watch the show uninterrupted by the dinging of the motion alarm (which let us know if customers were at the shop). From our chairs in front of the TV, we could check the mirror and see if someone was actually there before getting up and missing Judge Judy for a false alarm. I could have worked there for the rest of my life.
I've only had three day jobs, all while I was a teenager: At age 14 I was the worst waitress ever, for a week; at 15 I sold cosmetics at a little drug store one summer; then at 16, I worked as a counter girl in a fantastic bakery that used real ingredients.
After the Constantines stopped playing I worked in Montreal in demolition and construction. Just a two-person operation with this guy, Jean, who was a carpenter and an amazing human being, just a really wonderful guy who should be teaching carpentry or something. I didn't know all that much when I got into it, but he was great. It was really therapeutic at the time. I think I didn't know what to do with myself otherwise and I was feeling restless and uncertain about how to create things anymore. Working in demolition was very therapeutic, and then the actual act of learning how to build something with my hands was really helpful mentally at the time. Jean was just incredibly supportive and I'm just really grateful he was patient with me while we were working together.
My most memorable day job was working as a lunch lady at Terrace Road Elementary School [in Calgary]. I got to skateboard to work, because I only lived three or four blocks away, show up at 11:30, throw out a bunch of Ritalin down the drain behind the teachers' backs and eat, like, half eaten pizza pops for breakfast and play the most intense floor hockey you've ever witnessed. Like, full bleeding. I had two child sticks duct taped together so it was big enough.
I worked in a bleach factory. That was a shit job, man. That was one of the worst jobs you could ever imagine. I worked on the assembly line basically, and they couldn't open the windows, because when you make bleach you create a gas that if it were to leak out into the environment would kill half of the population of the city. So they had to keep the place sealed up. Middle of the summer in Montreal — it's like 40 degrees in there. I had to wear goggles because of the fumes and the goggles would fill up with sweat and then you'd have to dump them from time to time. Bleach was splashing all over your clothes; I went through a pair of pants every couple of days because it would just corrode through the front of your pants. Meanwhile, I'm working with these ladies who are in their 50s and they were lightning fast and I would be struggling. I'd have to hit the emergency button to stop the machine. Then one day I got so nauseous from the fumes — I'd already been reamed out umpteen times by the boss; told me I wasn't cut out for this line of work — and I hit that panic button again and I went into the bathroom, barfed my brains out, took off my apron and walked out the door. And that was it. That was the first, but a close second was delivering furniture. That was pretty bad too.
I've only had one. Working at the public archives in Nova Scotia, dubbing all the analogue reel-to-reel holdings for CBC Halifax from the 1950s to 1980 or something. I transferred all the recordings from the Springhill mining disasters. The best part of the whole job was Max Ferguson's Rawhide comedy show. He was this guy from London, Ontario who moved to Halifax and created this character named Rawhide. The show played country music, and he was a classical music guy so he basically made up a country and western character to make fun of what he had to play. He developed this character that became more popular than the music that he was playing, and this went on for years and years.
Dave: I was a parkskeeper in the neighbourhood where I grew up on Saturdays and Sundays, and all I did was sit, watch girls tan and kick little hasidic kids off of their bicycles. And P [Patrick] came and would hang out for the whole shift, which was 13 hours.
Patrick: Working for and with my family at a grocery store.
I had so many day jobs... Probably an insurance investigator for Hooper Holmes.
I had a paper route when I was 12. The world is super quiet at five in the morning. I'd make enough to buy a couple of records every week. Those were the days. Sort of.
Probably working as a "pool attendant" at a swimming pool in a hotel. I wasn't the lifeguard because I couldn't and still can't swim, so it was pretty ridiculous that I had this job. I basically just sat by the pool and that was kinda it. Maybe once a day, I'd put half a jug of chlorine in the pool or something but I really didn't do anything except sit there. People behave strangely at hotels and extra strangely by the pool. I saw some really weird things. You'd see a lot of sexual activity in the pool. I mean, I'd sit there for long stretches where no one would use the pool but then, I mean people in hotels tend to think they can get away with anything. They'd just behave in wildly inappropriate ways and lose their inhibitions. You'd also get some weird traveller who'd either flirt with me or act strange. I dunno. I have a feeling if you got people who worked in pools and hotels together, they'd have a lot of weird stories. I never had a job where so many weird things happened.
The most obvious one is when I was in college, I got a job through my cousin on the CP Rail steel gang, basically working on a railroad gang where I had to swing a spike maul and a sledgehammer. For four and a half months, I basically slowly travelled from BC to Saskatchewan, changing rail as we went. The funny thing about that is that I worked one shift there and I thought, "This is hell on earth." Because there were no other college students there. And then my second shift there, this Pakistani guy started working who I started talking to. And I thought, "Wow, this guy's pretty cool, he's from Montreal." And that was how I met Suroosh Alvi who started VICE Magazine. I remember thinking at the time that he was a friend sent from God. You know, when you're in this environment and there's nobody you have anything in common with, it was cool to find somebody you could talk to about Soul Asylum and the Replacements. Just so you were anchored in your life, you remembered that you had another life once, with interests and things that made you happy.
Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning:
I worked at Scotia Bank at King and Bay on the 18th floor in the file room. I was a mail guy, not like a basement mail guy but like an executive floor mail guy so it's a slightly different tier. Good naps, I was able to squeeze in three a day. Can't expect me to wake up at quarter to 7 without taking a couple naps.
Working harvest — that was an awesome job. Hard, but fun. I liked the idea of harvest, I love the work ethic of farmers, and being outside, and the smell of fresh cut wheat was beautiful. It was hard physical labour, I liked that.
My first job when I was 14, I was a ski-tech. It was really funny because people would come in and they'd want their skis waxed or bindings adjusted or whatever else before the weekend. And I worked with a group of guys who were all in their 20s, so they used to have this deal with people: "If you want your skis done on time, bring me a case of beer. So I'm getting off of school, taking the bus all the way to the other side of town to work in this place where, on Friday nights they would be sitting there with this 14-year-old nothing, throwing back beers.
Nardwuar the Human Serviette:
I think it was working construction for one day and I was so bad at it. Right off the bat I was sent to McDonald's on the hour to get food for the crew. They just laughed at me. I thought I could do a good job, I felt tough and strong and I went there and within five minutes they'd sized me up as the guy who's gonna go to McDonald's to pick up the burgs and not the guy who'll use the hammer, jackhammer or whatever the hell it was. My buddies continued on and I got not really invited back.
Blue Rodeo's Greg Keelor:
I worked as a timber cruiser, walking through the woods all day evaluating trees. The others were working on a Great Lakes freighter, and at a lodge in Lake Louise where I learned how to play guitar.
Doing construction. At one point I had to clean out a closet of diapers. People live in weird situations sometimes