A crowd congregates at The Bell Tower to enjoy one of the many events held at the arts and entertainment complex.
Photo: The Bell Tower
From the moment he walked into The Bell Tower for the first time, Noel Leboeuf had a vision for the arts and entertainment complex that has evolved into a community hub in the heart of Fort Erie.
“Although it needed a lot of tender loving care, I felt a connection immediately upon seeing it,” remembers Leboeuf, who first started to discover potential in The Bell Tower a few years ago. Just recouping after a family tragedy, he was selling his house in Niagara Falls and looking for a change of pace. He had a real estate friend take him to see a church being shown in Fort Erie.
Today, The Bell Tower strives to “create and maintain an exciting and inclusive space by offering art, music and social events that all members of the community will feel welcomed to attend.” Although friends and family were skeptical at first, Leboeuf insisted on bringing them to see the property, and they soon discovered the community needed his vision. “Once we started looking at the community around us, it was evident that we could be a help in this community as we had been in other communities. We have always been very active in different communities, but now we had a hub to work out from,” says Leboeuf.
After opening in August 2016, The Bell Tower soon formed a number of partnerships with local community groups to allow them to use their community space free of charge in return for donating their time. It hosted a children’s Halloween party for the Historic Bridgeburg Districts and a holiday meal for needy families who attended the Salvation Army and COPE food banks. COPE is now The Bell Tower’s local charity of choice and receives a weekly donation of clothing or food from the Tower.
The organization has worked closely with the Niagara Regional Health Bus, hosting a flu immunization clinic for local children as well as school booster shots.
“We have had countless individuals take us aside and thank us for offering a safer place for everyone regardless of what background they come from. The neighbourhood that we are located in is one of the most generous areas I have ever lived in and are always there to give a hand up to each other,” said Leboeuf.
One of 2017’s most successful events was the Kink, Drinks and Drag Murder Mystery Show. The audience tipped performers with canned food, which was in turn donated to a local food bank. This year’s two-night circus-themed show sold out weeks before the event and raised $2,000, along with 865 pounds of food for COPE, and $1,032 for mental health. The 2019 show is in production.
The art gallery at The Bell Tower.
Photo: The Bell Tower
To host this number and caliber of local events, you need ample space and The Tower doesn’t disappoint - it features a community space free of charge to those who give back with their time, along with three separate event spaces available for rent. They include:
A main lounge that opens for lunch at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. It features homemade food, cheesecakes and bread. Its modern wine list, which currently features Mary Nissen and Trius Wines, will be expanding with a more robust selection when The Bell Tower Cellars opens in spring of 2020.
Main event room
This room hosts the Kink, Drinks and Drag Show and paid concert events.
- Seats 100 at tables
- 24 x 16-foot stage, with over 50 stage and dance lights
- Smoke machine
- 10 x 10 (100 square-foot) video screen
This is a former church sanctuary. The room houses a 60+-year-old pipe organ that has been refurbished over the past 10 months and is almost ready for its public debut. Community members are striving to keep the history of the Great Hall alive while making it a functional space for weddings and receptions. The most recent events hosted here were the Chamber of Commerce Bursary Awards and a Celebration of Life for a much-loved local resident.
The Hall was also used to record and film the videos for local tribute artist Neo Young. Their artistry was offset by the beautiful 40-foot stained glass windows, gleaming on a brilliantly sunny day. Check out the videos on Neo Young’s Facebook page.
The Bell Tower’s contributions to the community haven’t gone unnoticed. In fact, its owners were awarded the CHCH silver medal for Best Live Venue and Business That Gives Back in 2018. The organization often supports local businesses, from making sure they shop local whenever possible to helping out with the Bridgeburg Halloween, Christmas Parade, Bunny Hop and other children’s events. There are also several partnerships with local community groups.
The Great Hall at The Bell Tower
Photo: The Bell Tower
Current partnerships include:
- Hosting Positive Living Niagara’s women’s group meetings and annual Burlesque community awareness show (produced by The Bell Tower Family);
- No Excuse Moms’ group meetings - a group for moms to gather in a safer space with their children to exercise and keep an eye on the kids, free of charge;
- Girl Talk - a mentorship program in which senior high school girls mentor younger ones and give them a heads up on what to expect in their senior years of high school (the girls raised a laundry basket full of food for COPE and repurposing 16 purses to fill with makeup, beauty and hygiene products).
Current ongoing events include:
- Free Kids Karaoke in the Main event room every Friday night from 6 to 8 p.m. Children must be accompanied by an adult (a great opportunity for family time!);
- Free Adult Karaoke every Friday from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.;
- Paid concert events. Past local and international music acts to take the stage include a Johnny Cash tribute show that tours across North America; Neo Young, Fort Erie’s home-grown Neil Young tribute band; and the BAFA Hip Hop and Rap Show;
- Comedy Night every three months hosted by David Green, who brings in popular national comedic acts
- Drag shows, Elvis impersonators and single acts - truly something for everyone!
Each of these activities and events provides Fort Erie’s diverse local community with many potential social opportunities. In the future, Leboeuf predicts those opportunities will grow as repairs and upgrades to the building are completed, such as a washroom expansion and a bid to improve accessibility to the building.
Within the next five years, the co-owners want to open a wine grotto called The Bell Tower Cellars, which will offer selections from local and international wineries.
How you can help
- An upcoming Neo Young benefit concert will raise money for a fire enunciation system. Experienced installers and individuals licensed for this work to help them along.
- To help raise money for building repairs and upgrades, Leboeuf is looking for a community partner to sponsor its VIP room, which looks over the Main event space. There’s a big wall just waiting for a lucky sponsor’s logo.
- Community members with ideas that will benefit both the Tower and the community can visit The Bell Tower at 575 Central Avenue in Fort Erie. Contact The Tower at (289) 320-9968.
July 7 and 8
Niagara Essential Oils & Blends, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A day of everything lavender. Explore a tasting tent full of culinary delights like lavender ice cream, lavender pizza, lavender lemonade and more. Roam the flowering lavender field and pick your own lavender. Shop and eat in the marketplace with many unique vendors. tour the facility and see how essential oils are made with the NEOB Niagara distillery. Join cooking and baking demos on how to cook with lavender and its culinary uses.
Every year, the organizers of this festival add something new - indulge in the NEOB Niagara experience!
July and August
The Foster Festival’s mission is to showcase the heart and humour of playwright Norm Foster’s writing in a dedicated environment,
The festival is thrilled to be back for a third season as they continue to deliver their trademark Humour with Heart in the heart of Niagara. This season’s amazing shows will keep you laughing all summer long and include: Wrong For Each Other, Come Down From Up River and Renovations For Six.
Photo: The Foster Festival
July 20 to 22
Now in its 8th year, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) is held every July in the heart of Niagara wine country in Ontario, Canada. 62 wineries from 10 countries come together to celebrate one cool grape for three amazing days. A yearly pilgrimage for wine lovers, media and producers of the world’s best cool climate Chardonnay brings together Ontarians and visitors from around the globe for this one‐of‐a‐kind celebration featuring 24 local Ontario VQA wineries.
See these and more photos of this month's events on our Facebook page, and be sure to 'Like' us! Get out and enjoy all Niagara has to offer!
Photos: Allison Smith
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