Iconic live music venues in Ontario
From local indie bands performing at your favourite pub to big name stars entertaining throngs of cheering fans, the scope of great live music experiences demonstrates our love for the arts.
And naturally, Ontario is home to large-scale, state-of-the-art concert venues like the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Hamilton’s FirstOntario Concert Hall, Southam Hall in Ottawa and Fallsview Casino Entertainment Centre in Niagara Falls.
But there are also more intimate historic theatres and stages brimming with so much fabled past and personality that they have become legendary. Ardent music lovers and performers alike will attest to the unmeasurable magic these music venues add to a live show.
From Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, the list of greats who have played Massey Hall is staggering. Located in downtown Toronto, this historic 1894 red brick building recently completed a significant three-year renovation to revitalize its auditorium, acoustics and amenities and finally opened its doors again for performers and music lovers.
Location: 178 Victoria Street, Toronto
The Danforth Music Hall
Surprisingly, this beloved music venue was not originally intended to host concerts. The Danforth Music Hall was constructed in 1919 for the purpose of showing movies to the roaring 20s crowds. It wasn’t until the 70s that the Danforth started hosting live music, and even later, in 2011, when it officially earned its current name.
Still, the century for which it’s been in action has made the Danforth one of Toronto’s most iconic music venues, and one that has seen such high-profile names as Lorde, St. Vincent and Rihanna grace the stage.
Location: 147 Danforth Avenue, Toronto
With its eye-catching colourful mosaic, Lee’s Palace is a landmark on Bloor Street West in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. This intimate rock concert hall and dance floor is one of Toronto’s most memorable music venues.
The building, however, dates back to the early 1900s, and has served as a shoe factory, a bank, a silent film and movie theatre and a cabaret among other things before it became a concert venue in 1985. Since then, Lee’s Palace has hosted hundreds of live shows by Canadian icons like Barenaked Ladies and the Tragically Hip.
Location: 529 Bloor Street West, Toronto
The El Mocambo
The large neon palm tree sign is a very familiar sight on downtown Toronto’s Spadina Avenue. Although the site was constructed in 1910, it wasn’t until 1948 when, armed with one of the city’s first liquor licences, it served as an entertainment venue and music hall.
Since then, the "El Mo" has been a key player in Toronto's bourgeoning music scene, and famously hosted The Rolling Stones in 1977. The El Mo has undergone several incarnations in the last few decades but has recently been reborn and revitalized as a live music venue.
Location: 464 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
The Horseshoe Tavern
The doors of this unpretentious Queen Street tavern first opened in 1947, and over the next few years it grew into the local go-to for country and bluegrass. As the back room live stage started seeing more big-name acts—including Willie Nelson and Hank Williams—the Horseshoe began to earn its reputation as a significant live music venue for local Canadian talent, too.
This reputation was solidified when Stompin’ Tom Connors played sold out shows and even recorded his first live album at the Horseshoe. Today it’s an institution, and has hosted the likes of Brian Adams, The Tragically Hip, Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene.
Location: 370 Queen Street West, Toronto
This music and arts event venue is a gorgeous Victorian-style heritage building in London.
First constructed in 1882 as a town hall for the then independent village of London East, the building served various other roles after the community amalgamated with the city of London three years later: a fire station, a hardware manufacturing company, a library and a telegraphy school.
In 1968, the building was used as a temporary concert hall for local chamber music after the original Aeolian Hall was destroyed by fire. But the move eventually turned into a permanent one, and by 2004 the hall had transformed into a multi-genre music and arts facility. It has since won several awards and accolades as one of Canada’s best live venues.
Location: 795 Dundas Street, London
The Capitol Centre
Initially opened as a Famous Players cinema in 1929, the Capitol Theatre was fitted with all the bells and whistles of the time. Throughout the following years, many local businesses set up shop in the building, including a dentistry and a bowling alley.
The Capitol returned to its original purpose as an arts centre in 1970 and was finally purchased by the North Bay Theatre and Arts Community Centre in 1985. Since then, this venue has transformed through several renovations into a modern performance facility, yet still retains its heritage beauty. And it has hosted A-list entertainers like Tom Cochrane, Blue Rodeo and the Barenaked Ladies.
Location: 150 Main Street East, North Bay
The Townehouse Tavern, Sudbury
Over the past three decades, this odd, wedge-shaped building with its retro black-and-white marquee has become the hub for live music in Northern Ontario, welcoming every genre of music to its stage—from rock to folk, reggae and funk. Past performers include Feist, Our Lady Peace and the Sadies. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also one of the best burger joints around.
Location: 206 Elgin Street, Sudbury
Last updated: March 11, 2023