Photo courtesy of Brent Fitzmaurice
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Muskoka Post Staff
Back in the 1930s the slogan for the concert hall was, "Where All of Muskoka Dances." The name wasn't switched to The KEE to Bala, or The KEE as it is often called, until the late 1960s after changing ownership twice.
Gerry Patrick Dunn purchased the property in 1929 when there was only a small ice cream shop and drugstore on the lot. Dunn started renovating the buildings in the second year of ownership in order to be able to host orchestras as an attraction in the small town. The first two bands to play in the renovated building were Jerry Richardson and the Varsity Collegians, and Carl Mueller's Varsity Entertainers.
At the end of the 1930s, Dunn decided to tear down the old building in order to be able to host the bigger bands he desired, and provide more room for people to dance. The expansion was built by Dunn himself, as well as 14 additional workers. It is said that while the construction was taking place you could often see him sitting on the roof, anchoring down the supports. 'I designed the pavilion myself – no architect was involved,' said Dunn, who at 97 in 1998 still spent his summers at his Bala home.
The new building was completed in the summer of 1942; built with the stage backdrop to be a façade of an actual small cottage. Dunn renovated the dance floor and was expanded from 35 feet to 100 feet. The KEE hosted small house bands and dancing 6 nights a week, and big bands once a week throughout the summer months. People would dress up in their finest attire and make a night of dancing. Customers would have to bring their own alcohol after the prohibition and during the depression years because most venues didn't have licenses to sell it because the license was very expensive to obtain. On the nights of the Big Bands, Dunn would try to attract people from the cities and towns surrounding Bala, as well as attracting people from Toronto who would enjoy a weekend away.
Louis Armstrong played the venue in the 1940’s and in recent history Drake, The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo and more.
During the 75th anniversary and celebration of the venue in 2016 Blue Rodeo said “We’re proud to be part of the long list of entertainers who have performed at this glorious dance hall over the last 75 years. The Kee to Bala is truly one of a kind”
With files from Wikipedia and Explorers’ Edge.