The iconically wedge-shaped building on Elgin St. has been pivotal to the Sudbury community for well over 100 years. First erected in 1902, the premises has served as a livery stable, a post-war centre, an unemployment centre, a pharmacy, and has housed a substantial share of restaurants and pubs. But when the building was taken over by the Towne House Tavern in 1986, owner Maurice Desjardins did more than simply occupy a central point in Sudbury’s cultural scene - he catalyzed the expansion of this scene.
Today, Elgin Street is home to Sudbury’s favourite guitar store (Cosmic Dave’s), Sudbury’s School of Architecture, the Theatre Centre, and an eclectic array of music shops, cafes, restaurants, book stores, and arts/crafts galleries. The explosion of Bohemian culture that took place on Elgin Street can be traced back to 1991, when Desjardins got the then-popular Toronto band The Corndogs to play a set at the Towne House. One of the only Sudbury establishments at the time to have its own PA, it became evident that this small tavern was the casual yet quality venue that Sudbury needed. Having filled this niche, the Towne House Tavern began building its musical CV: since 1993, it has served as an off-site host to (and sponsor of) the Northern Lights Festival Boreal, and over the years it would see the likes of Nickelback, Yukon Blonde, The Tea Party, Born Ruffians, Sarah Harmer, Alexisonfire, Our Lady Peace, Sloan, Tokyo Police Club, The Trews, Finger Eleven, Swollen Members, Headstones, Corb Lund, and Mother Mother.
Currently, the Towne House puts on 363 nights of live music every year, with singer/songwriter acts coming in on weeknights and full bands rocking the house on weekends. Plus, In 2004, part of a movie about Shania Twain's early years was shot in Sudbury, and several scenes were filmed outside The Townhouse Tavern. So when the venue’s webpage makes claim to being “ground zero … the place where it all started,” you know it’s not an overstatement.
Considering its impressive history, you might be slightly underwhelmed when you actually walk the doors: it has a low ceiling, moderately sized stage, around half a dozen stage lights, and a horribly 70’s wood panel theme going on. But there’s still some cues that the joint really is serious about music. To make sure bands can hear themselves play, the house offers two side fill monitors, a centre stage monitor, and a separate drums monitor. Artists can also make use of the house’s grand piano, drum set, array of mics (vocal, condenser, and drum), and five digital interface boxes. The Towne House projects their bands’ music to the crowd via four Renkus Heinz speakers - which, for a small room, is more than enough to ensure that this small venue can deliver “the best live music in town” (Sam JA Mer on Facebook, 2019).
The Towne House puts on regular events like “Music At Sundown,” a weekly night of free live music that takes place every Thursday; “Hugh Jazz” night, a celebration of early 20th century swing jazz that happens on first Wednesday of every month; “Bluegrass Brunch Sundays” - which is exactly what it sounds like - and of course, Tuesday Night Trivia. What’s more, the Townhouse fosters meaningful connections with the Sudbury community beyond the realm of music and entertainment: for example, this family-run business hosts the Elgin Street Beer Festival, sponsors both a local hockey team (the “Towne House Tavaneers”) and the Sudbury Ultimate Frisbee Club, and runs the Grey Street Ball Hockey League.