Filmmaker John Scoles (R) and musician Grant Siemens, who scored the film, at the Wagon Wheel. (John Scoles)
For more than 50 years, The Wagon Wheel dished out its famous clubhouse sandwiches for hungry diners.
Freshly roasted turkey made the downtown diner a popular destination for sandwich lovers, including filmmaker John Scoles. Just before the restaurant closed its doors in July to make way for a new hotel development and parking lot, Scoles and Mike Maryniuk decided to document its final days.
The resulting film, Packing Up the Wagon: Last Days of Wagon Wheel Lunch screens at Toronto's Hot Docs festival on May 2.
For Scoles, wanting to capture and preserve a bit of its history made sense. "To me, a place like Wagon Wheel Lunch represents traditional values, respect for history, a sense of perspective, an awareness of one's humble place in the grand scheme of things. And it was my afternoon hangout joint for many years," he said.
Scoles, who now runs Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, had a connection to the place that ran deeper than its food. "The guy who started the Wagon Wheel, William Mathez, had his first restaurant at the corner of Main and St. Mary, in the location of what is now Times Change(d). His son, Louis, who ran the place right up until he died, was a good friend and a mentor to me."
This isn't the first time Scoles and Maryniuk have shot a documentary together. Their first film was The Yodeling Farmer, about 80-year-old world champion yodeler and Manitoba farmer Stew Clayton. That film debuted at TIFF and won Best Short at the Gimli Film Festival last year.
For Scoles, part of the appeal of taking films to events like Hot Docs is getting exposure for characters he loves. "I remember bringing The Yodeling Farmer to the European Media Arts Festival in Germany last year. We fairly well charmed the pants off those folks. It means a lot to me to see people being delighted by people and places that I've been blessed to live alongside."