Exciting renovations in the works for Lunenburg Opera House



(Illustration: Erin Philp)

Music lovers, thespians, and film buffs alike can look forward to exciting updates to the Lunenburg Opera House.

The first concert to be held at the Lunenburg Opera House was over 100 years ago, in 1909.

Now, the Opera House hosts dozens of events each year, including concerts with the Folk Harbour Festival and film screenings with the Lunenburg Doc Fest. In the coming years, the Opera House plans to become even more of a cultural centre for music, theatre, film, conferences, and more.

(An original plan for the Lunenburg Opera House by Lesley Fairn, 1907. Credit: Nova Scotia Archives)

Like the Old Confidence Lodge in Riverport, the Opera House started as an Oddfellows headquarters. Over the years, groups such as the Lutheran Dramatic Players and the Lilliputian Opera took to its stage.

In the 1930s, the building became the Capitol Theatre, which showed films. Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, founded in 1986, is now the primary group to use the space from March to October each year (the building does not currently have adequate heating to be used in the winter months). 

Though the building has multiple floors and rooms, most are not currently accessible to the public. Those familiar with the venue will know of the performance space, which has a main floor and a balcony. Those particularly in the know might have heard of the unofficially named “Wow Room” upstairs.

(The “Wow Room” in its current state. Photo contributed)

“Everyone who goes into it says, ‘Oh, wow,’” Tom McFall explains of the room’s name.

McFall is the Chair of the Opera House team and the Vice-president of the Folk Harbour Society. The Wow Room is an open-concept room that arguably boasts one of the best views in Lunenburg.  

Beyond the Wow Room, there are also plans to renovate the cellar and the attic. In the schematics design report, completed by Fathom Studio architecture firm alongside multiple consultants, the Cellar is described as “Cozy – mysterious – intimate.”

The Cellar will have speakeasy vibes and is set to function as an intimate performance space and a bar.   

(Fathom Studio’s rendering for the Opera House’s new Cellar. Photo contributed)

The attic’s potential uses are more up in the air. McFall explains that a few different possibilities could occur if the attic were renovated. It could function as an office space, a commercial space to be rented, among other ideas. 


(Fathom Studio’s rendering of the Opera House’s top floor. Photo contributed)

With these improvements, the Opera House could conceivably become one of the most prominent arts venues in the province. McFall mentioned that several groups already reached out to express interest in using the new and improved venue in the future.

Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival will continue to use the space, as well as the Lunenburg Doc Fest. “The rough goal is to have five or more resident organizations,” McFall says. 

Naturally, with such ambitious renovations, the timeline might be hard to swallow for arts enthusiasts excited to use the space.

“Realistically, we’re probably looking at five years to re-open,” McFall says. He is unsure whether the Opera House could still operate during renovations. Like many factors in this large-scale project, this is yet to be determined.

Currently, the building’s capacity is 300 guests. With the renovations of new spaces, McFall says the capacity could double.


Fathom Studio’s rendering of the Opera House’s lobby.

When renovating such a historical building, preserving heritage features is obviously a concern. McFall says their team will meet with Town Hall staff to discuss certain renovations. Furthermore, the heritage integrity of many of the building’s aspects will be preserved. “It will look more Edwardian than it does now,” says McFall of the building’s main hall.

(Fathom Studio’s rendering of the Opera House’s exterior. Photo contributed)

Renovations have not yet begun, so locals can still look forward to attending concerts this year. Folk Harbour’s spring concert series begins in March. The festival’s annual summer events will take place from August 8th – August 11th. Tickets can be purchased at www.folkharbour.com.


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