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The Kee to Bala – Muskoka’s historic concert venue

August 2022

Any music lover in the Muskoka District of southern Ontario knows of The Kee to Bala; more commonly known simply as “The Kee.” The historic concert venue has been entertaining music lovers and those who love to dance to music since opening in 1930. Over the decades, it has played host to some of the biggest musical acts in the music business, ranging from Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo, the Dorsey Brothers and Louis Armstrong Jr. to Rush, Arkells, Blue Rodeo and the Tragically Hip. Even American acts like Aerosmith, The Ramones and The New York Dolls have played The Kee.

Canadian music icon Kim Mitchell and The Sam Roberts Band are regular performers at the historic venue.

Situated in the picturesque Muskoka village of Bala, the popular concert venue was originally named Dunn’s Pavilion, after owner Gerry Dunn. Billing itself as the place “Where All of Muskoka Dances,” it hosted many of the popular big band orchestras of the day.

When Dunn purchased the waterfront property on Bala Bay in 1929, the building operated as an ice cream parlour and drug store, run by William and Margaret Langdon, who also operated an outdoor dance hall, which was converted to a skating rink in the winter. The following year, he completely renovated the building as a concert venue, with Jerry Richardson and the Varsity Collegians and Carl Mueller’s Varsity Entertainers as the first two acts booked.

Between 1939 and 1942, Dunn and a 14-person work crew had demolished the old building and erected the current structure; a larger wooden building that provided more room for bigger bands and a bigger dancefloor, tripling the size from 35 feet to 100 feet. The stage backdrop was built to resemble the fa├žade of an actual small cottage.

Dressing up in their best clothes, patrons from as far away as Toronto, would dance 6 nights each week to small house bands, with popular Big Band orchestras appearing once a week in the summer months. As most venues were unable to obtain the very expensive alcohol permits required after prohibition was repealed, including Dunn’s Pavilion, patrons would have to bring their own alcohol.

In 1963, Gerry Dunn sold Dunn’s Pavilion to Ray Cockburn, owner of a similar concert and dancing venue in Orillia, named “The Pavalon.” Cockburn renamed the venue “The Kee to Bala,” a play on it being the “Key” to entertainment in the Muskoka area, and transformed it into a rock and roll venue. Many of the bands that Cockburn booked would play both The Pavilion and The Kee on back-to-back nights.

Cockburn sold The Kee in the 1970s to the Perry family, who built a new stage and a bar, and finally obtained a liquor licence. The Parry family were just one in a line of owners who would buy and sell the the historic concert and dance hall over the next several decades.

Joe Kondyjowski bought The Kee in the 1980s, bringing in bigger and bigger rock and roll crowds. This enabled him to spruce up the old wooden building, including installing a new roof and a new deck on the side facing Bala Bay, along with a parking lot, a new kitchen and re-painting the building in a Cape Cod-style colour scheme.

In 1990, new owner Sanober Patel, with assistance from her son Jim, hosted a weekly comedy night in order to provide a greater variety of entertainment to their patrons.

In 1995, a group of partners, headed by Stephen Wylie, assumed ownership of The Kee. Wylie brought the historic venue full-circle, repainting it in the original colours and even booked some Big Band orchestras, along with popular rock and roll acts.

Since 2006, The Kee has been owned by Rob Segal, Chris McGlynn and Oliver Bock, all Muskoka cottage owners and successful entrepreneurs in the entertainment business.

Weekly theme nights, like “Resort Night,” are held each Monday in the summer, with DJs spinning tunes for enthusiastic college-age crowds to dance the night away.

The Kee is also available for special private events, like weddings.

sources: The KEE to Bala – Wikipedia, The Kee to Bala | A Summer Concert Tradition since 1942, New owners at the Kee (muskokaregion.com).

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-kee-to-bala-muskokas-historic-concert-venue/

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