Morin Heights: a lively musical heritage
It was no surprise when Air Miles chose Morin Heights as one of its five top small musical communities in Canada in 2016. The famous recording studio Le Studio brought world-renowned artists here to record.
Rose’s Cantina was a popular folk music venue in the 1970s. Morin Heights is home to many musical stars—Penny Lang, Jesse Winchester and Wade Hemsworth in earlier days, and Robert Charlebois, Ian Kelly and Ryan Kennedy more recently.
The town’s musical heritage, of course, goes back to the 1920s, when the famous CP ski trains brought music-loving Montrealers every weekend for skiing and partying. They slept in one of the dozen boarding houses and small hotels in the village.
Many local hotels in the 1940s featured an orchestra for dancing, while others held regular square dances with a live band.
Rock and roll arrived in Morin Heights in the 1960s, and it arrived with a bang. Most of the larger hotels hosted Montreal-area rock bands.
There was live music at the Bellevue, Carriage House, Rockcliffe, and, of course, the most famous of them all, the Commons. The whole town celebrated with carnivals every winter; most evenings during carnival week there was an event with live music.
Rose’s Cantina was one of Canada’s well-known little coffee houses in the 1970s with concerts every weekend featuring some of the country’s best folksingers. Penny Rose still lives in Morin Heights and regularly hosts small house concerts. Jesse Winchester, Penny Lang, Chris Rawlings, Bill Russell, Karen Young, Michael Jerome Browne, Stephen Barry Band, Colin Linden, and Lorne Elliott were a few of the performers in the intimate venue.
The big time arrived in Morin Heights when André Perry opened Le Studio, at the time the most exciting and up-to-date recording studio anywhere. It’s still legendary and revered by musical fans of groups such as Rush who recorded there numerous times. But Le Studio also brought to Morin Heights some of the biggest names in music at the time: Cat Stevens, Ritchie Havens, Chicago, The Police, the BeeGees, Sting, Corey Hart, David Bowie, Gilles Vigneault, Felix LeClerc, Billy and Nanette Workman and many more.
The tradition of recording studios in Morin Heights didn’t end with the closure of Le Studio. Sara McLaughlin, for example, was one of many stars who recorded at Pierre Marchand’s studio off the 4th Range road.
While the Commons was a successful bar with live music for decades, it really peaked in the 80s and 90s as a showbar that featured big name acts. Here’s a few: Blue Rodeo, Levon Helms, Ronnie Hawkins, Tres Hombres, Jeff Healey, Honeymoon Suite, Dutch Mason, Rare Earth, Long John Baldry, Edgar Winter, Blushing Brides, James Cotton, Corey Hart, Downchild Blues Band, Minglewood, Barb and Barband. A smaller downstairs bar that operated under various names over the years—Cabaret du Nord, Buddy’s, and William’s Pub—also offered live music on a regular basis. As William’s Pub, it featured some of the big-name Irish-Canadian bands around the turn of the century.
Music festivals have been a part of the Morin Heights scene since the mid-70s, when Rose’s Cantina hosted an annual “Showdown” weekend featuring outdoor performances and a musical parade.
Canada Day festivities always featured great music; the most memorable was a 2005 performance by Robert Charlebois.
Shawna Dunbar revived the festival tradition in the ‘90s with the Wild Roots festival held at the Ski Morin Heights site.
In 2017 Ian Kelly launched “Superfolk,” a free two-day event that attracted 2000 people. Performances by Martha Wainwright and Bobby Bazini as well as many other up-and-coming professional musical groups wowed the crowd. More recently the Legion has been hosting regular live music nights featuring great rock and blues bands from the region; the music encourages locals to dance just like the old days at the Commons.
Morin-Heights, the best musical city in the country?
The five towns that were short-listed to host the DETOUR concert were Nelson, BC, Moose Jaw, SK, Mulmur , ON, Morin-Heights, QC and Port Hawkesbury, NS. All these towns were chosen because of their rich musical history. For participation and second place finish in the Air Miles Detour Contest, Morin-Heights received an electric guitar autographed by Meghan Trainor.
May 3, 2016
Black Box Productions
“When Air Miles’ agency, Notch Video, approached us to shoot a micro documentary about the music scene in Morin-Heights, we found ourselves discovering a small town with a rich musical history. The Air Miles’ Detour campaign is a contest among five small towns across Canada where the winner will be rewarded with a Meghan Trainor concert. While working on the documentary, we discovered that Morin-Heights had hosted many iconic rock legends. Cat Stevens, Rush, The Police and David Bowie all recorded at the renowned Le Studio. One of our favorite anecdotes was about the time when Keith Richards passed out in front of the studio, which caused a panicked cleaning lady to call the police. During the two days of filming, we captured the rich and diverse culture and the eventful musical history at Morin-Heights with a series of bilingual interviews and some inspiring performances by local artists.” Watch the video.