For lovers of all types of music in Prince Edward Island, summer would not be the same without taking in one or more concerts at historic St. Mary’s Church in Indian River, home of the aptly named Under the Spire Music Festival. Formerly known as the Indian River Festival, this concert series presents the very best in classical, traditional, folk, jazz, world, pop, and more.
The decommissioned church has proven to be an ideal location for a concert series because of its brilliant acoustics. The festival was formed as an incorporated non-profit organization for the presentation of fine music and to aid in the continual upkeep and restoration of the church.
Celebrated Island architect William Critchlow Harris designed the historic church to replicate the structure of a violin, helping to make it an ideal space for experiencing music in its purest acoustic form. Harris, one of Atlantic Canada’s most prolific and well-known historical architects, spent most of his life on P.E.I., designing numerous buildings. Work to construct his design of St. Mary’s began in 1900 under builder Nathan MacFarlane.
The entire community was involved with the project, hauling stones and cutting lumber for the building, which cost $20,000 to build (about $700,000 today). Exterior elements of the building include a circular corner spire featuring niches for each apostle. The body of the building has alternating shingle patterns, drilled hole bargeboards, and an array of pointed arch Gothic windows. The interior design featured five different kinds of wood, all chosen for their acoustic properties, an original altar designed by Harris, and over 110 pews. The acoustic quality has earned the building multiple Best Venue of the Year awards.
St. Mary’s is now owned solely by the festival, which facilitates restoration projects to preserve this beloved venue and to ensure that it and its architect, both with rich histories and memories, remain for future generations. A core part of the Festival’s mandate is to celebrate and preserve one of Harris’ final projects, so there are ongoing plans to develop a long-term restoration project.
For all these reasons, the Under the Spire Festival has been chosen to receive the Irene Rogers Award.