10 hot spots in Canada for live music

Tunes, culture and history are on offer at these venues

By Corinne Whiting,

There are few better ways to connect with a city than by immersing yourself in its thriving arts scene. While exploring each of Canada's wonderfully distinctive provinces, consider frequenting venues where locals flock and talents take the stage night after night. 

From coast to coast, Canada offers alluring spaces in which to enjoy live music – from Prince Edward Island's lively ceilidhs (think fiddles, bagpipes, guitars and lots of dancing) to Vancouver Island hot spots like Copper Owl, a vintage venue with an old-school Vegas-meets-glam vibe. Here are 10 gems you won't want to miss.

Studio Bell | Calgary

The massive Studio Bell — Photo courtesy of Brandon Wallis/Travel Alberta

Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, can be found along Calgary’s Music Mile. Inside this must-see hub of history (and live music events, too), five floors tell the story of music in Canada with highlights like the historic King Eddy Hotel and the famed Rolling Stones Mobile Studio.

The venue's overall aim: "What if a visit to the museum was as exciting as going to a music festival?" 

Split Crow Pub | Halifax. N.S.

Split Crow Pub holds many memories for Halifax music lovers — Photo courtesy of Split Crow Pub

Known as "Nova Scotia’s original tavern," Split Crow Pub is the oldest such venue in the province, where they proudly serve both locals and global travelers "a welcoming smile, generous mugs of grog, fantastic food and, of course, toe-tapping music."

The inviting space offers live tunes seven nights a week (starting at 9 pm) plus a matinee every Saturday at 3:30 pm. Staff members work hard to promote local bands from around the province – in genres from rock and pop to traditional maritime music and country pub tunes.

Métropolis | Montreal

Métropolis has a long history in the arts — Photo courtesy of Victor Diaz Lamich/Metropolis

Located on Ste. Catherine St. W. in the heart of Montreal's entertainment district, Métropolis has served a number of purposes over the years, such as an opera house, playhouse, movie theater, dance club – even an ice skating rink. Today, it's one of the top live music venues in the world that has hosted the biggest artists, from David Bowie to Adele, from Coldplay to Green Day.

Massey Hall | Toronto

Enjoy live music in Toronto's Garden District — Photo courtesy of Tourism Toronto

While in Ontario, be sure to visit Massey Hall, a renowned performing arts theatre in the Garden District of downtown Toronto that's internationally recognized as one of Canada's most important venues for concerts. Since 1894, it's attracted some of the world's leading celebrities while also hosting events from boxing matches and beauty contests to political rallies and chess tournaments. 

Originally designed to seat 3,500 patrons, the venue underwent extensive renovations in the 1940s and now seats up to 2,765. And for this into music history, it was here, in 1953, that a famous one-night-only gig brought together Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach on one stage.

Commodore Ballroom | Vancouver

Commodore Ballroom has been regarded as Vancouver's best concert venue since 1929 — Photo courtesy of Rebecca Blissett

A Vancouver hot spot, the Commodore Ballroom offers general admission tickets with limited table seating. Having long been regarded as Vancouver's go-to music venue, this rockin' nightclub (with sprung dance floor) has played host to Lady Gaga, Talking Heads, Dizzy Gillespie, Tom Waits, The Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam and Snoop Doog, among other national and international stars.

You can even grab a stellar meal at this venue that offers a full menu prepared onsite by chefs Dan Tigchelaar and Derek Bothwell.  It features items like veggie samosas, mushroom flatbreads and fish and chips.

Alix Goolden Performance Hall | Victoria, B.C.

Alix Goolden Performance Hall has also hosted readings by world-renowned authors — Photo courtesy of Simon DesRochers

When visiting Vancouver Island's welcoming Victoria, catch an intimate performance inside a former church sanctuary at Alix Goolden Performance Hall. Today, this 800-seat venue – with outstanding acoustics, carved wooden pews and exquisite stained glass windows – plays host to well-known performers from around the globe, like Moshe Hammer, the Nylons and Ani DiFranco. 

House of Targ | Ottawa

Pinball, peorgies and hard-core music acts rule the night at Ottawa's House of Targ — Photo courtesy of Petr Maur/House of TARG

This one-of-a-kind spot features "the best in live music, pinball, old-school arcade games and a delicious menu of handmade perogies." Established by Ottawa musicians Paul ‘yogi’ Granger, Mark McHale and Kevin Birger, the House of TARG shows off Ottawa's thriving music scene while spotlighting the best international rock, metal, punk bands and DJs around. 

Winspear Centre | Edmonton, Alta.

Musicians rave about the acoustics of Edmonton's Winspear Centre — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Sabrina Hill/Travel Alberta

Notably one of the best music venues in Canada (just ask any musician who's played there), the Winspear Centre boasts sensational acoustics inside a stunning building. Located in the heart of downtown, this venue serves as the home of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the the grand Davis Concert Organ, which was installed in 2002.

Mission Hill Family Estate | Kelowna, B.C.

Take in tunes at this B.C. winery's scenic outdoor amphitheatre — Photo courtesy of Mission Hill Family Estate

Summertime in British Columbia means sun-kissed, alfresco concerts at Mission Hill Family Estate in Kelowna. For artists who typically command much larger venues, this small-capacity amphitheatre – set against a breathtaking backdrop – provides a rare treat for musicians and spectators alike.

Artists having played this stage in the past include Tony Bennett, Chris Isaak, Melissa Etheridge and Martina McBride. The 2017 roster welcomes Cowboy Junkies, Michael Bolton, Jewel and Chris Botti.

Foufounes Éléctriques | Montreal

Foufounes Electriques is huge, with 3 concert halls and 2 art galleries — Photo courtesy of Charles F Marquis

Open seven days a week (from 3 pm to 3 am), Foufounes Éléctriques is the oldest alternative rock venue in Montreal (since 1983) and one of the best places for metal and punk rock fans to catch a show. Over the years, the space has helped foster a sense of community among music fans seeking the region's best underground music and eclectic mix of performance styles. According to the venue, cheap beer, awesome bands and a good time are always guaranteed.