The historic St. Mary’s Church has been home to the world-famous Indian River Festival since 1996. The church, located in Indian River, Prince Edward Island, has a rich history which began in 1902 when it was built by Island architect, William Critchlow Harris. The Harris trademark, a rib-vaulted or groined ceiling, enhances the quality of sound which is also achieved with the use of fir, pine, spruce, maple and birch which you will see throughout the building.
In the 1970’s and ’80’s, the church was in serious disrepair. At that time, suggestions were made to tear down the church as the parish alone could not afford to undertake the expensive renovations. Instead, the “Save St. Mary’s” campaign was launched in 1987.
Due to an overwhelming response from area churches, businesses, individuals, families and other groups, the necessary renovations were paid for and completed within three years. One of the campaign initiatives was the “Sundays in the Summer” concert series proved to be extremely popular and a secure source of revenue; however, the volunteer core behind the series became stretched to its capacity. In order to evolve to the next level, a dedicated focus was required to become a separate entity and permanent event.
Consequently, in 1996 the Indian River Festival Association Inc. was formed as an incorporated, non-profit body for the presentation of fine music, and to aid in the continuing upkeep and restoration of St. Mary’s Church and the “Sundays in the Summer” concert series morphed into the Indian River Festival who proudly celebrates their 25th Anniversary in 2020.
In 2009, the church was deconsecrated by the Roman Catholic Diocese and subsequently purchased in 2010 by the Association. In July of 2012, the church became a designated heritage place in recognition of its cultural and historical significance to Prince Edward Island. Together, the Association and the Friends of St. Mary’s work in partnership to support the restoration and preservation of this historic building.
In 2015, the Association and the Friends of St. Mary’s embarked on a large successful infrastructure project to renovate artist green rooms, public washrooms as well as replacing an outdoor tent with a permanent pavilion. Over $650,000.00 was raised through government support, fundraising and individual donations. A true testament to how well regarded the festival is.
Since incorporation, the festival has been bringing the very best in classical, traditional, folk, jazz and world music to St. Mary’s Church. An annual destination event for tourists and locals alike, it continues to facilitate restoration projects to preserve this beloved venue while maintaining a busy concert schedule from June-September each year.
Over its 24 year history, the festival has received many accolades: a 2012 Music PEI Award for Achievement in Classical Music, several ECMA nominations for event and venue of the year, twice named in the Globe and Mail as one of the best small summer classical music festivals in Canada, and most recently, it was listed as one of the top summer classical music festival’s in Canada by CBC Music.
Each year, the festival continues to depend upon financial support from individual donors in order cover operating costs, renovations to the church and special programming including a three-part Family Series which will be introduced in the summer of 2020. The Family Series will take place one Sunday a month for June, July and August with a focus on classical music. The goal of this program is to educate and inspire our youth through quality arts performances and workshops and to inspire the future generation of classical music audiences and performers. Our goal for this year is to raise $20,000.00 to support these initiatives.