Over 50 years in, Fred Schulz, Coordinator for Gravenhurst’s Music on the Barge, isn’t ready to give up his 12-hour Sunday workdays.
His Sundays start at 8 AM when he arrives at Gull Lake Rotary Park. He spends an hour or two checking the park for vandalism and making sure the barge is in good condition. The music equipment arrives shortly after lunchtime and the soundcheck is not too long after. Once that finishes, Schulz says he takes a break for a few hours before returning to the barge in time for the concert to start at 7:30 PM. “I love every minute of it,” he says proudly.
“It has been something I’ve become so accustomed to do for 50 years,” Schulz says.
The 2022 season marked the return of the concert series after it was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year was more than just the return of the series: it was Schulz’s 50th year in charge. The season began with Mayor Paul Kelly and other councillors honouring Schulz for his decades of service and it ended with the walkway to the barge being named in his honour.
“It certainly was a shock,” Schulz says of the walkway being named after him. “I couldn’t have been happier. I’m so pleased to be recognized by the naming of the walkway [at Gull Lake Rotary Park].”
Schulz started working at the barge in 1972 as the person in charge of collecting donations from the large crowds that would attend the weekly concerts. It was in 1985 that he became coordinator. Wanda Miller, the first woman to be elected mayor of Gravenhurst, was the brains behind Music on the Barge for many years. Before her death in ’85, Schulz says she had told town staff that he should be the one to take over her duties for the concert series. “I had some great people with me, some volunteers that had worked with Wanda, brought on some of my own folks, and away we went,” Schulz says.
While three concerts had to be cancelled this year because of poor weather, Schulz says he was so happy to see large crowds for the other six. “I couldn’t have been happier with how this past season went,” he says, adding volunteers picked up where they left off.
From 1959 to now, Schulz says a lot has changed with how performances are put on. “Technology with the performances, particularly the sound, has changed greatly. In fact, it’s mind-boggling,” he says. “We would carry soundboards that were the size of freezers up the hill and run giant cables to speakers and now a sound technician can be on the shore with a laptop or a tablet and control all of the activity on the barge.”
The barge structure was the idea of Stan White Jr. who devised the plan for it in 1958. It was opened on July 4, 1959, and the opening concert
was attended by special guests: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. “I can remember the Queen coming up the highway with the motorcade and coming into Gravenhurst and the barge and the park was a stop along the way,” Schulz explains. He says there were over 5,000 people around the park that day. “It couldn’t have been any more exciting,” he says.
“I was way, way back,” he says, so he wasn’t close enough to see the Queen. However, Schulz adds just seeing her drive by in an open-top convertible was an incredible experience. “What a moment in history for Gravenhurst.”
Schulz says what keeps him coming back every year is the stories he hears from people that attend. His favourite stories are the ones from people whose families have been attending concerts for generations. “As children, they came to the barge, their grandparents brought them to the barge, and now they’re bringing their kids to the barge,” he says. Schulz says knowing the concert series has become engrained in the community makes him proud.
Over five decades in, Schulz has no plans on stopping. “That’s something I’ll never tire from because if you get a beautiful Sunday night, you got some great music playing, the backdrop is a gorgeous shoreline on the other side, the boats that are there, kids swimming at the beach area, it’s everything you could ever imagine for a Sunday summer night,” Schulz says.
Schulz thanks the many volunteers he’s worked with over the years, who he credits for his longevity. “I’ve always had wonderful volunteers,” he says, adding town staff have also been very supportive.
The latest Music on the Barge season wrapped up on Aug. 21. Schulz says planning is already underway for next year. “We’re always looking,” he says with a smile.
Next year will be an important one for the barge. The Rotary Club of Gravenhurst was given the thumbs up by town council in Feb. to install amphitheatre-style seating on the shoreline in front of the barge stage. “The shoreline is quite a steep bank so people have not really been able to use that shoreline,” Schulz explains, adding the project will “enhance the park and shoreline for everything that happens in the park.”