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Construction of the Lunenburg Opera House began in 1908 by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) who used the upper floor for their meetings. The IOOF, founded in 1819 and still active, is a non-political, non-sectarian international fraternal order whose aim is to provide charitable works, aid, and assistance in the community. In 19th century England, it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and of pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind, Those who belonged to such organizations were called “Odd Fellows·. Odd also means “extraordinary”.
The first concert was held in 1909. With its excellent acoustics and structural design fashioned after an old European Music Hall, with shipbuilding influences, the building is an important part of Lunenburgs’ musical and cultural heritage.
The ground floor (auditorium/theatre) was used as a Vaudeville concert hall and live theatre until the 1940s when it became a cinema, the Capitol Theatre, and was used for that purpose to the 1970s.
The second (top) floor, with its magnificent view of Lunenburg harbor, was the IOOF meeting hall. Upon reaching that level from the stairwell, you will notice two ante–rooms before entering the main hall.
There are slots in the doors with sliding covers. The IOOF was a “secret society” with passwords! The interior rooms with customized wooden cabinets were to store the robes and other paraphernalia. The floor, a typical dance hall floor of that period, is suspended or “floating”.
The building was bought by Jack Sheriff in the early 1970s. He was a long–time performing arts promoter (and Professor at Acadia University) who revitalized its use as a performance space. He also lived in the building. It became known popularly as the Lunenburg Opera House (LOH). By the early 2000’s, the second floor (Upper Hall), contained a recording studio. The building had deteriorated over the years and attempts to renovate and operate it had limited success.
In 2005, following the death of Mr. Sheriff, a local community arts cooperative that included the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Society, launched a campaign to buy, restore and operate the building. However, It was purchased by Farley Blackman in 2006 who operated it as a private venture as Lunenburg Opera House Ltd. He invested considerable funds and energy into the project and the building’s exterior shell is sound, as is the electrical system. The concert hall (auditorium) and lobby is restored (floors, walls, stage) and for the past few years has been rented out for concerts, films and special events.
On April 25th 2019 the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Society (LFHS), with a generous grant of $433,800 from the Fordi Foundation and assistance in covering the closing costs from a local donor, purchased the building. The LFHS now holds a $300,000 mortgage liability so is now seeking additional funding from federal, provincial and municipal sources as well as interested community members to support the renovation and operation of this important heritage structure in the heart of Old town Lunenburg.
While the grant from the Fordi Family Foundation provided about 60% of the purchase price, the remaining balance of $300,000 plus interest presents a significant liability and is a real threat to the Folk Harbour Society. With your help, we’ll eliminate that liability, and apply any excess funds toward making the Opera House an even better community space. Renovation priorities in our 5-year business plan include adding washrooms, expanding our off-stage area (to facilitate theatre productions), and restoring the 3rd floor.