MORRISBURG – A huge piece of Morrisburg’s pre-Seaway history is being lovingly preserved and given new life at a performance venue thanks to Colleen Brock and Stone Crop Acres Winery.
The most important artifact from The Morrisburg Music Hall, which occupied the third floor of the pre-Seaway Morrisburg Merkley building – its Weber grand piano was moved last week to Stone Crop Acres Winery’s events hall.
Saturday, before the first event at the winery since the piano’s arrival, a Juli Fashion show, in front of a crowd of 50 people, Norene Hyatt-Gervais, who owns and operates Stone Crop Acres with her husband Marc Gervais, did a short public unveiling of the 1874-built Weber Semi Concert Grand Piano.
Brock, who with her family is responsible for the preservation of this important piece of local history, was Gervais’ special guest at the event.
Brock, who has had the piano in her Morrisburg home for more than 25 years, chose to donate it to Stone Crop Acres Winery and Vineyard.
The piano was purchased by Brock’s brother Pat Anderson from the town of Morrisburg in late 1993.
Pat was part of the town works crew and when he learned that they were planning to move it from the Morrisburg Civic Centre stage where it had been stored for years, destroy it, and take it to landfill, he offered to purchase the stunningly beautiful grand piano.
“He purchased it for the princely sum of $200,” said Brock.
As a result of that purchase, the piano has been in Brock’s home ever since.
Brock said that her brother purchased the piano, firstly because it was a beautiful piano, but also because of its historical importance. Colleen said that their mother Verna Anderson loved pianos and loved to play.
While their family is not originally from this area, Brock said that she loves history, and wants to see this important artifact preserved for a long time.
Brock has been searching for a new home for this piano for a couple of years, without much success. Her offers were turned down by Upper Canada Village, the Lost Villages, Dundas County Archives and St. James Anglican Church, each citing reasons that it would not be suitable for their collections or plans.
“I was looking for a home where the piano would be kept, not destroyed, not done away with or mistreated,” Brock told The Leader.
On a visit to the winery, she noticed they had a piano, so she told them that she was looking for a home for her very special piano.
“When I said it’s the grand piano from the Morrisburg Music Hall, Noreen said ‘I’ll take it! I want it!”
According to Morrisburg A History by Jim Jordan, The Morrisburg Music Hall had a large stage with two private entrances. It had seven sets of scenery, six dressing rooms and this Weber grand piano graced the stage.
The main floor of the music hall could accommodate 800 patrons, comfortably seated in individual, leather-covered chairs. A balcony above and on three sides of the stage contained three tiers of bench-like seats that could accommodate another 200-300 patrons.
The Music Hall’s original purpose was a place of theatre (both professional and amateur). “Just as importantly, it became a common place where people could meet and communicate with each other,” said Jordan in Morrisburg A History.
“I would have loved to have been in the music hall for one of the performances. I’m pretty passionate about music, and live music,” said Gervais. “We do a lot of concerts here at Stone Crop Acres. Listening to live music in a communal way brings us all together and makes us happy and positive and who doesn’t need that in these times.”
Brock wanted the piano to have a home somewhere where it could be enjoyed by the public and be in a place where music is shared.
“We are hugely indebted to her because this will now live at Stone Crop Acres,” said Gervais. “Not only is it a beautiful piece of furniture, but it’s going to get used. I’ve already talked to Jan Fox of Harmony Concerts and we’re going to be booking pianists to play this. Once again the Morrisburg Music Hall piano will be played for the public,” said Gervais. “I want to publicly thank Colleen for her very, very generous and kind gift, and share with you how excited we are that you’ll get to enjoy it here sooner or later.”
“I’m not from here, but I’ve lived here for 30 years,” said Gervais. “As soon as I moved to Morrisburg, I started devouring the history about Morrisburg and the Seaway and pre-Seaway. I just loved learning the history and was fascinated that something like that could happen and learning about the losses this area endured. So when Colleen approached me, I thought we could actually have a piece of Morrisburg history. I can live vicariously through this piano by having it here where it can be celebrated and enjoyed by people who come to the winery. We can share it with tourists and tell them a bit about the history of the area.”
Gervais plans to install plaques around the piano explaining its history to bring it to people’s attention.
“I plan to put it to use,” said Gervais. “I love that it’s friendly and informal and used. It’s been used and enjoyed – it’s not this pristine piece of black ebony that we’re going to have to tiptoe around. This thing has life in it. I’m just thrilled to have it here.”
Brock is equally thrilled with her piano’s new home.
“It’s such a beautiful thing. It is such a treasure. As far as I know it’s the only artifact from the Music Hall. I’m delighted that Norene and Marc have agreed to take it on,” said Brock.
Marc and Norene previously had a grand piano in their home as their children all played, so they know about ownership and maintenance of a grand piano and what it involves.
Part of the prep for any potential performances will involve frequent tuning of the piano and Jan of Harmony Concerts is aware of that.
“I’m definitely committed to keeping it safe,” said Gervais, adding that if the winery ever changes hands they will make sure it’s looked after.
“That’s marvellous!” said Colleen. “I’m just thrilled.”
Marc and Norene see this donation as the beginning of a learning opportunity.
“In order to expand our understanding of the history behind this beautiful piece of Morrisburg past, we would love to hear stories from the community about people’s own experiences with the dance hall and the piano,” said Gervais.
Anyone with a story to tell can contact Norene at 613-330-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org