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People & Culture

Favourite music venues in Canada

The best places to enjoy live music, according to the editors of Canadian Geographic

  • Jul 06, 2016
  • 801 words
  • 4 minutes
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For many, music is as much about a sense of place as it is about anything else. The curators at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, in Calgary, of course, recognized that, too, and one of the most engaging exhibits (“Where music lives”) in the new facility is dedicated to legendary Canadian music venues.

In honour of the NMC’s grand opening on July 1, 2016, the editors of Canadian Geographic have shared their favourite concert halls in Canada. Share your own favourites with us by tweeting @CanGeo.

Aaron Kylie, editor – Lee’s Palace, Toronto, Ont.

Lee’s Palace in the Annex neighbourhood on Bloor Street West in Toronto is tops for me. The standing-room-only alternative rock hot spot is known for its great acoustics and its intimacy (you can see the autograph-covered wall of the dressing room stage left from the back wall). It provided me many personal music highlights, not the least of which was a memorable 20th birthday when I had my first date with the lady I married.

Harry Wilson, senior editor – Metcalfe Centre, Maxville, Ont.

I know, I know — they don’t quite have the ring of Zaphod Beeblebrox, the Horseshoe TavernClub Soda or any of Canada’s other renowned music venues, but for my money, nothing beats a night in Maxville, Ontario’s Metcalfe Centre or the beer tents during the Glengarry Highland Games. Sure, you’ve only got three nights out of the whole year to catch the superb Celtic music acts that play the Games (which also happen to be the home of the North American Pipe Band Championships), but those three nights are an uplifting whirl of tradition, fun and melodious excellence. Slàinte!

Nick Walker, managing editor – The Black Sheep Inn, Wakefield, Que.

The Black Sheep Inn, a little pub in Wakefield, Que., about 30 minutes from Ottawa on the Gatineau River, reportedly started “as a logger’s tavern and roadhouse back in 1928,” and has gained something of a legendary status among folk and indie rock musicians Canada-wide — and possibly the country’s most enthusiastic, respectful crowds. Ottawa-based favourite Jim Bryson, an oft-associate of Kathleen Edwards and The Weakerthans, plays an annual Christmas show, and the place has long been a must-stop for top-shelf Canadian and international bands passing through eastern Ontario and Quebec, from Montreal’s Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra to Edmonton’s Mac DeMarco and Vancouver’s bluesy Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer.

Michela Rosano, associate editor – House of Targ, Ottawa, Ont.

At House of Targ on Bank Street in downtown Ottawa, you may come for the music, but you’ll stay for the perogies and pinball. The intimate venue (it’s about the size of a three-bedroom apartment) features local bands that play among classic pinball and arcade games, and serves up pints of beer alongside delicious homemade perogies. Bring your earplugs — and plenty of quarters.    

Sabrina Doyle, new media editor – National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Ont.

The National Arts Centre in Ottawa may not seem like the hippest of venues to choose as a favourite — the plush seats in Southam Hall’s ornate amphitheatre don’t exactly scream “cool underground rock concert” — but the National Arts Centre is so much more than its froufrou image. It has its world-class orchestra, sure, but the NAC also features musical performances from every genre: from Aboriginal throat singer Tanya Tagaq to folk-rock band Great Lake Swimmers. But the thing that secured my early and lasting affection for the NAC is their LiveRush program, which allows students to get extremely cheap tickets to almost all of their shows. This dedication to exposing young audiences to a variety of musical tastes is a big part of what makes it one of the best places in Canada to see live music.

Alexandra Pope, social media editor – The Opera House, Toronto, Ont.
There’s something about rocking out in a piece of iconic Toronto history that makes The Opera House one of the most special live music venues in a city filled with storied concert halls. Built in 1909, the Opera House originally operated as a Vaudeville theatre that catered to the working-class community of Riverside in the city’s east end. Since the 1990s, legendary acts such as Nirvana and Eminem have performed under its soaring proscenium arch, and when not hosting the best metal, punk and hard rock bands in the world, the Opera House is frequently rented out for offbeat weddings and parties.

Vanessa Hrvatin, editorial intern – Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, B.C.
The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver is one of my favourite music venues. It hosts some of the best live music in the city and it’s on Granville Street — the main street in Vancouver’s downtown hub. It always delivers a great night. 


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This story is from the July/August 2016 Issue

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