Ottawa Valley church-turned-concert hall draws performers from across North America

130-year-old Baptist church converted into Batstone’s Northern Ramble
Dean Batstone
Dean Batstone in front of the former Baptist church (Photo by Sherry Haaima)

After a 30-year career touring throughout Canada and the U.S., Dean Batstone felt it was time to settle down.

The career musician dreamed of establishing a new concert venue and set upon a search for a building with great acoustics, comfortable seating and an inviting ambience that he could repurpose.

After a dozen tours through basements and coffee shops, Batstone landed in the town of Renfrew, at the old Baptist church.

“I fell in love with the building,” says Batstone. “It was all built by local craftsmen.”

From the metal on the pews to the stonework in the church’s foundation, the 130-year-old building stands as a testament to the region’s history in the skilled trades.

For Batstone, it also stood as a great opportunity: An intimate venue, designed with acoustics in mind, in the heart of the music-loving Ottawa Valley.

In January of 2017, he opened Batstone’s Northern Ramble, a concert venue with a capacity for 85 people in the former church.

Renfrew is open for business

Prior to purchasing the building, Batstone’s connection to Renfrew County was limited to having played shows there over the course of his career.

“I ended up in Renfrew because of the building,” says Batstone. But the benefits of opening a business in the town quickly became apparent when he got to work converting the former church, as he found support from both municipal officials and the surrounding business community.

Batstone had to rezone the property for commercial and residential use, having built himself an apartment in the basement of the space. From the get-go, the municipality of Renfrew was supportive, helping the new business owner with the necessary applications and answering questions as they arose. Even the town’s mayor, Don Eady, stopped in and is now one of Batstone’s loyal patrons.

Support has also come from the wider business community.

“Businesses here in the Ottawa Valley – much more than you might see in the city – seem less competitive (with one another),” says Batstone. Fellow business owners are committed to  cross-pollinating,” he explains, expanding services that complement other local businesses as a way to attract and retain new clients to the area.

Valdy performs at the venue
Valdy performs at Batstone's Northern Ramble. (Photo by Bruce McIntyre)

Appetite for the arts

While there are plenty of opportunities to see live music in the region’s bars and restaurants, there are no other local businesses that brand themselves as concert halls first.

“I don’t really want to compete with other local businesses. I want to offer something a little bit different,” says Batstone.

The venue doesn’t serve alcohol or food, an intentional choice on Batstone’s part. Concertgoers enjoy the show uninterrupted, with no servers circulating to take or deliver orders.

And since opening last year, word has spread quickly in the music scene about the Ottawa Valley performance space.

“I’m getting musicians from the U.S., and from Vancouver to St. John’s who are coming through, know about the room and want to play there,” Batstone says.

The venue accepts acts of any genre, but most commonly sees bluegrass and folk performers roll through.

Bring your business to the Ottawa Valley. Head to countyofrenfrew.on.ca for more info.