September 24, 2013


When you’re running a non-business event, finding a free venue is a challenge. We’re using Toronto as the example but the ideas apply elsewhere too.

You’d think you could get free space at taxpayer-funded locations like libraries or community centres. Unfortunately, the nice ones often charge user fees. In Toronto, nonprofit and charitable groups can get free space if sponsored by a city councillor.

If your group doesn’t qualify, you can meet at a coffee shop but you’re not guaranteed seating. Some locations are large or have a separate room. Just don’t count on getting a whiteboard, privacy or silence.

You might get space in a restaurant or bar if your group makes minimum purchases. I was once invited to debate in a semi-private restaurant room on a slow evening. The attendance was great (50+) but there was a party at tables nearby and we didn’t have microphones. Good for the restaurant. Not so good for us.

Thompson Block - ING DIRECT Cafe in Downtown TorontoCorporate Space

You might be able to get free space at an ING DIRECT Cafe (might change now that Scotiabank bought them).
“The Thompson Block as well as the ING DIRECT CafĂ© space are available at no charge to community groups for public meetings and events every day of the week.”
What if you’re not a community group? What if you want to hold regular meetings?

Nontraditional Ideas

Can you meet in the evening? There’s lots of space in cafeterias and food courts outside of lunch time. I wouldn’t pick the mall food court but a nonprofit like a university, college or hospital may work. If they’re large, they are likely relatively quiet.

Maybe you can commandeer a study room or lecture hall at a university or college. Again, evenings are best. Unless they check ID or have overzealous security, this might work. Advertising the location may be a problem. The gathering group could attract questions.

If you don’t want to be a trespasser, the safer option is to pay for reserved space. You don’t need to ask for permission. You’ve got a guaranteed spot.

Rent a room at the Toronto Public Library (click to enlarge)Affordable

If you’re part of a real nonprofit, you may be able to get lower rates. For instance, the Toronto Public Library rents rooms starting at
  • $20.40/hour for nonprofit groups
  • $122.40/hour for commercial use
If you’re an insider or can connect with insiders, you might get lower rates (or even free space). For instance, the University of Toronto rents rooms starting at
  • $8/hour for internal groups including audio-visual equipment (seats 80)
  • $26/hour for external groups plus audio visual equipment (seats 25)
Rent a room at the University of Toronto (click to enlarge)Ryerson University has a history of hosting many free community-based events like Podcamp Toronto. However, their normal rates look pricey (minimum half-day plus setup fee).


I’ve been looking for a proper spot for a campus for Krypton Community College (see a genuine innovation in free lifelong education). Here “proper” means a room with tables, a whiteboard and a door.

Overall, the University of Toronto looks like the best place after work. The classrooms are affordable (under $10 a week based on 10 attendees). There’s subway access (north/south and west/east lines). Parking is plentiful and relatively cheap. The environment feels right. There’s lots of space outside the room. Perfect.

Picking the right venue helps attract the right people. Maybe they're the ones willing to pay for the room?


PS Do you know of amazing free or low cost venues?

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