The Carleton as we know it today - as a restaurant and live music venue - may have been established as recently as 2008, but the building itself dates all the way back to 1760, making it one of the oldest buildings in Nova Scotia. Located at 1685 Argyle St, it was home to the “Father of the province,” Sir Richard Bulkely, the Dublin native who oversaw the settlement and founding of Nova Scotia. The building (which is rumoured to have been made from the ruins of Fort Louisbourg) became known as The Carleton in 1786, in honour of Guy Carlton, who, upon his visit to Halifax the same year, became Governor General for all of British North America.
Today, the Carleton continues to make history. As a live music venue, it has racked up the East Coast Music Association’s “Music Venue Of The Year” award five times between 2012 and 2018; and Music Nova Scotia has awarded the Carleton with the same title no fewer than ten times. Clearly, the critics love the venue - as does the public. Facebook user Gary Constantine says that the venue is “intimate with great sight lines from all seats,” and has an “excellent sound system” (2016). Victoria Bell, also writing on Facebook, reports that “The Carleton is the best live music venue in Halifax, hands down” (2019).
One of the reasons that The Carleton attracts such acclaim from both critics and casual concert-goers is the quality and character of the premises. The building may be over 250 years old, but the interior is modern, upscale, and classy. Between the hardwood floors, top-shelf cocktails, and extremely well-thought decor, the Carleton’s atmosphere is more swanky than casual (the fact that their menu won the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia’s “Judges’ Choice” award in 2019 helps contribute to this atmosphere).
The Carleton may offer classy - if not bougie - vibes, drinks, and food; but that doesn’t mean that they’ve lost sight of what being a music venue is all about. Their technical setup is adequate for both small, solo sets and larger (and louder) rock acts. The Carleton utilizes a Crown Amplifier-powered array system that incorporates 14 Proficient Audio Systems AW650 speakers that are evenly spaced throughout the room - used in conjunction with a couple of well-placed placed subwoofers - to ensure “sensational coverage regardless of where you sit in the club” (thecarleton.ca).
But the Carleton isn’t a great music venue just because of sound quality and gear. Their mandate is to ensure that local talent is truly heard and nurtured (thecarleton.ca), and they ensure this mandate is met by way of a “listening room” policy: that is, during a ticketed singer/songwriter performance, patrons must remain quiet. This policy ensures that when people pay to see an artist sing an acoustic set, they get the chance to properly hear that artist without interruption or compromise. But don’t worry, you can still be loud during the full-band, more rock-esque shows that take place Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Many of these “full-band” shows are put on by recurring acts: The Carleton has their own house rock band band, The Carleton Collective (featuring rotating members/ringers), who play almost every Saturday; and “Maximum Overdrive,” an 80’s dance hit cover band, are frequenters of the Carleton’s stage.
The venue also brings in local and/or touring acts such as The Dreamboats, Craig Cardiff, Evangeline Gentle, Còig, Coco Love Alcorn, Daniel Champagne, Don Ross, Catherine MacLellan, and July Talk. In addition, The Carleton hosts the Halifax Urban Folk Festival, a celebration of local singing, songwriting, and storytelling that began in 2009.