Nova Scotia

Halifax’s booming population puts a squeeze on performance venues

A shortage of venues in the Halifax area to put on smaller concerts and other events is summed up well by what Stefano Andriani recently encountered.

He helps manage the Sanctuary Arts Centre in Dartmouth, N.S., a century-old church that now serves as a space for things like concerts and comedy shows. Last month, the venue even hosted a wrestling show and Cantonese opera on different nights.

“There aren’t a lot of venues for people to go to, so the fact that the wrestling show and the Cantonese opera are back-to-back is because this was the venue that was going to work for both of them and there wasn’t another spot to go,” said Andriani.

While a wrestling event is nothing new to Halifax, the Cantonese opera could be viewed as a reflection of a more diverse Halifax.

“This population of immigrants, refugees that we have coming to the city, they want to see shows too and they are also filling up the venue calendar, I can attest to that,” said Andriani. “And it’s fantastic, but what it means is as you add more people you need to add more stages.”

Stefano Andriani helps run the Sanctuary Arts Centre in Dartmouth, N.S. He says there’s a big appetite for more venues in the city as performers are having a hard time to book shows. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

The number of people living in the province has risen by over 100,000 since 2015, pushing the population past one million, with about half of those people living in the Halifax area.

The Sanctuary’s main level can accommodate anywhere from 220 to 350 people. It also has a room in the basement meant for audiences of up to 60 people.

New spaces

In recent years, there have been some additions to venues, notably the Light House Arts Centre in the former World Trade and Convention Centre, as well as the Joseph Strug Concert Hall on the Dalhousie University campus.

Musician Leanne Hoffman, who has been playing live shows in Halifax for the past decade, said there are fewer venues, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s less of a wide range of places that can support emerging artists and middle … ground artists,” said Hoffman.

A woman with long, dark brown hair looks at a reporter.
Musician Leanne Hoffman says she’s noticed there are fewer venues for emerging musicians to play shows in the Halifax area. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

One thing she’s noticed is different genres of artists performing together in a single event, such as art shows mixed with live music or poetry.

Hoffman said one of the reasons she thinks this is happening is because of venue availability.

“I think mixing different types of media in different spaces is going to be really important,” she said.

A clean-shaven man wearing a hoodie is shown inside the bar he owns.
Victor Syperek owns live music venues such as the Marquee Ballroom and the Seahorse Tavern. He’d like to see the city have a concert hall that could seat around 3,000 people. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Victor Syperek, the owner of Halifax bars such as the Marquee Ballroom and the Seahorse Tavern, said another thing missing in the city is a space with a larger capacity.

“We need a proper concert hall, let’s say 2,500, 3,000 people with one or two balconies,” he said. “It could be used for a lot of things, not just music. That’s the main lack.”

Syperek said there are always ebbs and flows in the live music scene. While the shutdown of live shows when the COVID-19 pandemic hit resulted in him mortgaging his house to keep the business alive, things have rebounded.

“People have been coming out in droves again and we’ve had a lot of sold-out shows,” he said. “This winter, I think it’s the best winter we’ve ever had since I opened the place, just sold-out show after sold-out show.”

Halifax in need of more performance spaces

As Halifax’s population continues to grow, so does its music scene. But people in the local entertainment industry say the number of performance spaces aren’t keeping pace. Richard Woodbury has the story.

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