10 famous Fredericton all-ages venues from years past.
There was once a thriving all-ages music scene in Fredericton. Back when bands in bars played covers and couples danced together to their favourite songs, the basements of church halls and service club HQs were alive with a new generation of music lovers. More often than not, the sounds were ugly, edgy and noisy, a sonic interpretation of those on stage and the audiences they attracted. Misfits and odd balls who would sneak a beer in the parking lot before paying their $5 to enjoy live music of a type not yet welcomed on stage in any local drinking establishment.
Much like other communities throughout the Atlantic region, all-ages venues in Fredericton have existed in a constant state of flux, their survival based on shifting audience demographics and the narrow relationship between venue managers and often inexperienced promoters motivated solely by the desire to make live music experiences accessible to everyone.
Over the past decade the scope of these performances has declined as promoters struggle to find spaces willing to open their doors and floors to a swarming mass of strangers and the fringe sounds they crave. As a result, many all-ages shows today are happening after hours in makeshift venues like clothing stores and coffee shops. The crowds may be smaller than in years gone by but the music is no less vital and important to everyone involved.
With businesses like Bellwether (and consignment clothing shop) and Read’s Newsstand now offering a space for local and touring acts alike to perform in Fredericton, and Saint John’s Taco Pica carrying on a similar role, we thought it would be fun to look back and the various stages that once played a vital part in Fredericton’s music history.
#1 The Elks Club
One of four service club buildings that played a major role in Fredericton’s all-ages scene, The Elks Club hosted performances off and on for the better part of two decades. While metal bands would rage away upstairs, the organization’s last remaining members would sit quietly in the basement bar smoking cigarettes, watching hockey and playing cards. And when the local punks learned they were welcome to drink cheap beer and hangout in the member’s lounge, between-band breaks took on a completely different feel. Eventually the club became non-smoking resulting in fewer Elks hanging around during shows. Like many other service groups, dwindling numbers and rising property taxes eventually led to the club’s closing in 2015. The original building was eventually torn down. The property is now home to a luxury condo unit.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) Hall on the corner of Carleton and Brunswick Streets is now an independent church, but served as a venue for two different eras of Fredericton underground music. The first wave took place in the mid-late 80s when the hall hosted performances from many of the city’s early punk/hardcore/underground luminaries including Neighbourhood Watch, The Exploding Meet, and Guilt Parade as well as touring acts like The Nils from Montreal. The venue’s second tenure took place in the mid 90s (presumably under a new caretaker) with shows by several local and touring acts including Gob, Submission Hold, Fun With Chainsaw, Render Useless, Spinoza and others. There was even an all-ages performance that included a chicken dinner, cooked and served by one of the artists on the evening’s bill. Eventually the I.O.O.F. sold the building to a church group and shows of an unruly nature were put to an end. The hall still stands today.
#3 St. Charbel’s Hall
One of the most popular venues in the 90s, St. Charbel’s Hall was the go-to for many promoters and bands looking to the play the city from the early to mid 90s. SNFU, The Mexican Power Authority, Problem Children, Insult to Injury, Bad Luck #13, NFA, The Asexuals, Chixdiggit and dozens of local bands including Catch-23, Sciolism, Liquid Light 28, Roach and Army Vs. Navy played shows there until the management put a stop to these “teen dances”.
#4 Monsignor Boyd Family Centre
Although you’d never know by looking, this place was once a popular venue for all kinds of performances and events in the late 80s. Probably one of the earliest ‘larger’ venue spaces for all-ages shows (along with the Capital Exhibit Centre and Memorial Hall), the Monsignor Boyd Family Centre hosted some of the first Fredericton performances by legendary Canadian punk outfits like SNFU, D.O.A. and Nomeansno as well as several community-friendly events like First Night, Fredericton’s once popular New Year’s Eve festival that included live performances throughout the downtown core from all genres of music. Since undergoing renovations back around the turn of the millennium, its role as a live music venue now exists only in the memories of those fortunate enough to have been there all those years ago.
#5 Knights of Columbus
A tiny room in a tiny building, the Knight’s of Columbus Hall on George Street played host to several shows in the late 90s and early 2000s. Home to many shows organized by Deleted Scene, a small group of dedicated music lovers who worked to put New Brunswick underground music on the national stage, the venue could also be credited for inspiring a wave of musicians still making music in the city today. Members of Kill Chicago and Versus played some of their earliest shows there in bands like The Missing and Dionisus. A number of promoters used the space over the years before the inevitable shut-down, possibly attributed to unintended damage or management burnout. Both likely causes. The venue is now home to a youth group associated with the Baptist church who purchased the property to support their expanding congregation.
#6 The Pyramid Warehouse
A dirty, dusty warehouse in the middle of the city’s industrial park, The Pyramid Warehouse was once a series of divided spaces that could be rented for next to nothing. The property manager at the time (early 90s) was known to have a stack of porno videos on his desk, which made booking space for a show uncomfortable to some. As a result of the cheap rent and the lack of neighbours, a permanent venue was established, complete with a stage built out of scrap wood and carpet stolen out of the dumpster of a local retailer. The space went on to host shows by many popular bands at the time including SNFU, Good Riddance, D.O.A, Die Cheerleader, GOB, The Real Mackenzies, The Doughboys, Lizard, Render Useless and a ton of local acts before being shut down by the fire inspector. The build was eventually taken over by a scrap metal dealer and would eventually collapse under the weight of heavy snow in 2015. The building was rebuilt and continues to serve the city’s scrap metal needs.
#7 The Mega Spot
One of the most important gone-but-not-forgotten venues, The Mega Spot was an arcade on Queen Street. One of two known retail outlets for the business (the other was in Oromocto), The Mega Spot started hosting all-ages shows in the late 80s with bands like System Overload (Halifax), Next of Kin ( Fredericton), Guild Parade (originally from Fredericton but later relocated to Toronto) and Toronto hardcore/metal band Sudden Impact. Though short-lived, the venue’s role was no less important. The space is now home to one of several downtown yoga studios.
#8 Kinsmen Centre
The city’s North Side has never really been successful in hosting all-ages shows. Aside from one-off shows at the Marysville Bowling Lanes (now a U-Haul rental depo), The Marysville Community Centre and the short lived venue/retail/rehearsal space Musiplex, The Kinsmen Centre at 141 School Street is most likely the neighbourhood’s longest running all-ages venue. Although all-ages shows at the location are few and far between these days, several shows have taken place there over the years including performances by Moneen, Protest The Hero and Cancer Bats to name a few.
#9 Gallery Connexion
Tucked away behind the Justice Building, smack dab in the heart of the city, Gallery Connexion (now Connexion ARC) was an artist run centre that offered studio and exhibition space to contemporary artists from across the region and touring shows from across the country. The space also welcomed a lot of live music with many shows put on by the local college radio station CHSR FM. The venue hosted shows by many seminal Fredericton acts at the time including People In Trees, Mona, Skald Craft, Karen Foster, The Druids, and The Exploding Meet as well as Moncton’s Eric’s Trip, Bad Luck #13, and Earth AD. The venue was destroyed by a flood in 2008 and has remained vacant since. The gallery relocated to several locations in the years following the flood and remained active in the all-ages music scene until recently.
#10 New Maryland Rec. Centre
Although this out of town venue hosted far fewer shows when compared to many downtown venues, it has the distinct status of hosting a memorable performance by legendary Washington DC band, Fugazi, on July 24, 1998 as part of the band’s only eastern Canadian tour. It also welcomed local shows for a brief period including performances by All and All, Roach, The Monoxides and a handful of others. Today, its limited live music calendar is mainly local country artists and gospel musicians.
Thanks to John Whalen, Grant Forsythe and Dan Hayward for their help in putting this piece together.