Not much has changed inside the red barn at 344 Salmon Point Road over the last forty-plus years, but when Shawn Creamer, Shannon Kohlmeier and Trish Cook bought The Hayloft Dancehall in January 2015, they realized they’d have to make one big update: a stage large enough to hold Blue Rodeo.
The rock icons haven’t played here — yet — but Creamer, who owns Toronto’s Dakota Tavern along with his wife, Kohlmeier, and has worked with Blue Rodeo before, knew that if they wanted this rustic bar to host some of the biggest names in Canadian music, they’d need a good stage to support them.
The three also knew, of course, that they’d need patron support to keep the barn doors open. But with acts like 54-40, Corb Lund, Elliott Brood and, wait for it, Fred Penner on the 2015 lineup, getting that support wasn’t too much trouble. On some nights during that first summer, this 197-capacity venue was packed to the exposed wood rafters, young and old spilling out onto the grass lawn just a stone’s throw from the Sandbanks.
1973 – 2015: The Hayloft’s Lively Past
Even with those big names, maybe it’s surprising to hear that a small barn bar out on the southwestern tip of Prince Edward County could draw those crowds, but since the very beginning it’s done just that. “The farmer who used to work here and have cattle in here, he would have people over for beers,” says Trish Cook, “so it was just a natural progression from there.”
That farmer turned it into a bar in 1973, and soon after that a visit to The Hayloft became a rite of passage for young Countyites (myself included). And no wonder. Compared to bigger centres, Prince Edward County has never had much of a late-night life, so when The Hayloft opened, originally under the name “McConnell’s Barn” after the family that operated it, people welcomed it with open mouths. At one point it even had a dining area above the bar with exposed ceilings.
Throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, local bands would play the barn — many of the country and western persuasion — and then towards the end of the 90s and into the 00s, under new ownership, The Hayloft became the place to dance your face off to whatever DJs chose to spin. The rustic charm was still there in the 00s, but it was somewhat tempered with modern frills like beer posters on the panelled walls.
2015 – ?: A Promising Future in Prince Edward County
When Creamer, Kohlmeier and Cook moved in during early 2015, those beer posters were one of the first things to go. “Structurally, everything was awesome. The room speaks for itself, and we just wanted to bring it back to its rustic, original quality,” says Cook, who used to manage The Dakota.
They brought it right back to its cattle days, in fact, finding an old milking machine on the property and having it restored and installed as the beer taps (don’t worry, germaphobes, there’s a new protective lining inside). Other than the Blue-Rodeo-sized stage, they also put in another subfloor in the hayloft area so that people can now see the stage perfectly, instead of wood beams.
And to make sure those people get home safely, the new owners started a yellow school bus shuttle service that makes stops in Wellington, Bloomfield, Isaiah Tubbs, Picton and Cherry Valley.
As for the future, a barn quilt might appear on the outside along with more insulation on the inside. Plus, there’ll be big changes to the food lineup. Creamer recently spent time in Georgia to get schooled on all things southern barbecue, and this summer he’ll be putting what he learned into practice on The Hayloft’s fire, serving up everything from pulled pork to brisket. There will be a takeout window, too, for those not sticking around for a show.
But really, you should stick around for a show. Where else can you rock out with Hey Rosetta!, Yukon Blonde and The Sadies, and then hang out with them in a rustic barn over barbecue and a beer?
“Here you can just reach out and touch the stage,” says Cook, adding that this place is for anyone. “It’s not just the destination point to come and get really wasted anymore. You can still totally do that, but it’s also for people who just want to see a good show, have a few beers and eat good food.”
Summer 2016 Music Lineup
More shows will be added. Stay tuned to thehayloftdancehall.com/calendar for up-to-date listings.
July 1: The Skydiggers with Eight Miles High
July 2: DJ Dave Hurst
July 8: Yukon Blonde
July 9: DJ Duarte Da Silva – A night of Britpop/Indie/Motown/Retro
July 12: Hey Rosetta! with Charlotte Cornfield
July 14: 54-40
July 15: Dwayne Gretzky
July 16: Dwayne Gretzky
July 23: Vintage Soul
July 30: DJ Dave Hurst
August 5: The Sadies
August 26: Vintage Soul
September 4: Annual 80s DJ Dance Party
Need More County Barn?
Then check out Fields on West Lake, which sometimes hosts bands. The Sadies, for example, have played there the last few years. Found just east of Wellington, the venue features a beautifully restored 1860s barn with 40-foot ceilings, a professional stage, a dance floor and two bars. fieldsonwestlake.com