The Ramones. Teenage Head. The Tragically Hip. Louis Armstrong. Sounds like the kind of eclectic roster you’d find at a large music venue that holds upwards of 15,000 people. It sounds like a big-city venue for the likes of Toronto or London. What if I told you all of these bands have once played at a tiny little dance hall that holds about 900 people in the small town of Bala, ON.?You could drive up in your boat if you really wanted to.
The Kee to Bala in the heart of Ontario’s Muskoka region has been a favourite amongst Canadian cottagers for years. While their website boasts that they’ve been “a summer concert tradition since 1942”, the real history actually started in the 1930s when Gerry Dunn purchased and built it into a dance hall for live bands (and more specifically orchestras). He changed the building over from a drugstore and ice cream parlour to one of Ontario’s most prized music venues. At this time it was called Dunn’s Pavillon. The name was changed to KEE to Bala in the 60s.
In the late 1930s, Dunn had the concert hall torn down and started new, designing his own venue (no architect involved) to host bigger audiences. This was done in 1942 which is why the website has that date instead of 1930. During this time, people would dress up and come out for nights of dancing. It was a truly formal affair!
In the 1960s, the building was purchased by Ray Cockburn and a major shift would happen in the wake of rock and roll. The name was changed and Ray who owned a music venue in Orillia was able to promise bands a night to play at two locations (hence why they were willing to travel so far north of the GTA).
Another new owner took over in the 1980s, Joe Kondyjowski bought the Kee and owned it until 1990, doing major restoration until it was bought by Sanober Patel and finally by Stephen Wylie who took over with other partners in 1995. He has begun a new era of historical remembrance for the venue combined with its modern twist and love for rock and roll. It was repainted to original colours, big band music was brought back and rock and roll was (and is) more prevalent than ever.
If you ever get a chance, you should definitely check out KEE to Bala. They bring in fantastic Canadian bands all the time, the building still feels like a dance hall (hello Dirty Dancing fans) and the whole place has a special vibe to it for sure.
Peace, love and history.
PS. For anyone looking for an awesome stop to eat along your way, Pie is delicious