New home for Bluesfest School of Music and Art

By Anita Grace –

The former Westboro United Church may no longer be filled with parishioners singing hymns, but the 100 year-old building will ring with music once again. This spring it will house the Bluesfest School of Music and Art.

 Wellington West’s Keith McCuaig will be teaching guitar and ukulele classes at the Bluesfest School of Music and Art. Photo by Anita Grace.
Wellington West’s Keith McCuaig will be teaching guitar and ukulele classes at the Bluesfest School of Music and Art. Photo by Anita Grace.

“We are planning on being an arts hub for the community,” explains Mark Monahan, Executive Director of RBC Bluesfest. “We’re really talking about being a place where people can come for music lessons, art lessons, and performances.

“It’s just generally a place to come and congregate with arts.”

The brick building on the corner of Churchill and Ravenhill Avenues began as a Presbyterian church in 1914. In 1926, it became home to members of Westboro United. In 2008, the church was closed for services when the congregation moved to Kitchissippi United Church on Island Park Drive. For the next four years, community groups such as the Kiwanis Music Festival and Churchill Carling Daycare occupied the space.

In the spring of 2014, the renovated building will be reborn as Festival House. The ground floor and mezzanine will be a hub for several local festivals, including RBC Bluesfest and the Ottawa Film Festival.

On the lower level, Kitchissippi Hall will host the Bluesfest School. Music and visual arts programming for individuals, families, and groups is being organized through a collaboration between Dovercourt Recreation Centre and Bluesfest.

“We have had a lot of requests over the years for more arts and music programming,” says Geoff Cass, Dovercourt’s Program Director. He is happy that this facility will enable Dovercourt to meet this demand. Kitchissippi Hall will include four private studios, large programming spaces for group lessons, and a small performance stage.

“It will be nice to have this dedicated arts community centre, to bring things under one roof,” says Keith McCuaig. The Wellington West guitarist is one of many local musicians and experienced teachers who will be teaching classes in the new venue.

Like many people in Westboro, McCuaig has fond memories of the building; he used to rehearse in the church basement as part of Nepean High School’s Children’s Theatre.

This archival photo is of a processional of the WUC Junior Choir in 1954. Now Bluesfest and Dovercourt will be bringing music back to this building in a new way. Photo courtesy of Kitchissippi United.
This archival photo is of a processional of the WUC Junior Choir in 1954. Now Bluesfest and Dovercourt will be bringing music back to this building in a new way. Photo courtesy of Kitchissippi United.

“This church has always been a community gathering place,” said Arnold Midgley at the decommissioning ceremony in 2012. He recalled dances every Saturday night and meetings of community groups such as the Scouts and Girl Guides. So it seems fitting that the space will once again be a gathering space in Westboro.

“We would love it to be a hub where people can come by and hang out and perhaps jam with other musicians,” says Cass. He is also really excited about the stage. “We will be able to do performances and small community events where musicians can demonstrate what they’ve learned and friends and family can come and hear them play.”

“Bluesfest for over 10 years now has produced ‘Blues in the Schools’, and more recently ‘Be in the Band’,” notes Monahan. “Both those programs have been in the community working with youth and children, teaching music to them and just broadening their perspective on music.”

While Bluesfest will continue their programs in schools, Kitchissippi Hall will house additional programs and provide spaces for youth performances. There will also be opportunities for new classes, like electronic music and DJing.

“We’ve been doing a number of focus groups with young people about what interests them,” says Monahan. Program directors have also met with local artists and music teachers to find out “what they feel they can deliver, what will be interesting.”

Registration will start on March 1, with programs scheduled to begin in late April. Visit ottawabluesfest.ca or dovercourt.org for more information. 

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