Local History: Instilling a love for all things musical

The Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts on Chebucto Road. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Dorothy Grant explores the evolution of the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts

Recently I researched the history of the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts, and was astonished to realize what an extraordinary impact it has had on Halifax.

Rev. Robert Laing, in conjunction with the Halifax Ladies’ College, founded it as the Halifax Conservatory of Music in 1887; in 1954 it amalgamated with the Maritime Academy of Music and became the Maritime Conservatory of Music. 

Robert Laing founded the conservatory in 1887. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The conservatory moved at least seven times, sharing and renting space until 1996 when it settled in the Chebucto School, a landmark dating back to 1910 in the West End. The site has a varied history: once home to a Barnum & Bailey circus, and used as a morgue in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion.

As part of a deal to buy the former school from the municipality for $1, conservatory leadership agreed to spend almost $500,000 on renovations, and it became a dedicated arts space. In 1998, it took its current name — the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts — reflecting its move to diverse forms of performance, instrumental and vocal music, education and theory, group and ensemble music, and dance. In 1999, it added musical theatre to the list.

Today, the conservatory offers a variety of dance and music programs, instructing students from beginner to expert. In 2018, the school registered as a private career college, and now offers  a two-year advanced diploma for dance instructors.

The programming is vastly different from when the conservatory opened, but its mission of instilling a love of the arts remains the same.

“The Maritime Conservatory has played a big part in my growth as a musician,” says one student testimonial. “I have improved a lot since beginning lessons. I love having lessons … and plan to continue to learn and grow.”

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