The Golden Age of Community Bands in Greater Vancouver – A stepping stone to a pro music career!

In the 1930s through the 1960s, no less than six community bands in Greater Vancouver offered training and a place to play for young people. They were the Kitsilano Boys Band under Arthur Delamont, the Vancouver Junior Band aka B.C. Beefeaters Band under Gordon Olson, the North Vancouver Youth Band under Art Smith, the Kerrisdale Kiwanis Band under Bud Kellett and Bobby Hales, the West Vancouver Youth Band under a succession of leaders and the New Westminster Boys and Girls Band under Fred Turner. They also offered a stepping stone for those talented enough to go on to a pro music career. If you were a young person and wanted to learn to play a band instrument, this is where you went. It wasn’t until the early 1960s, that instrumental music got on to the curriculum in public schools in B.C. In the 1920s, consensus was that young people between the ages of twelve and eighteen could not sit still long enough to play anything decent. Arthur Delamont proved this wrong in the 1930s. He showed that young people of that age could play just as well and even better than adults, if given the right training and a place to play.

Throughout the 1930s and some of the 1940s, Delamont had the youth band world all to himself in Great Vancouver. He had seven community bands under his baton in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Grandview, New Westminster, Point Grey, the Vancouver Girl’s Band and his Kitsie Boys. It was very brave of Gordon Olson, I feel, to start a junior band in 1944, right under Delamont’s nose. However, he didn’t compete with Delamont for players from the community; that would come later. Instead, he developed his band from the school population of Vancouver College, a private school where he taught in Vancouver. Four years later, they were good enough to take on a band trip all the way to Southern California and across the border to Tiquana.

Delamont himself was off on another tour of England and the continent in 1950, his longest tour ever, five months. He had been forced to keep a low profile in the 1940s due to the war and didn’t make any major trips. This might have been one reason Olson saw the opportunity to come in under his radar. When preparation meets opportunity, you seize the day and make your own luck and he was lucky, it worked! Delamont wasn’t interested in touring the U.S. except for visiting world fairs if one came along, such as Chicago in 1933, New York in 1939 and Seattle in 1962. That left Olson with a place to travel with his band and nurture it along on many trips without the usual comparisons with Delamont, which he took full advantage of starting in 1950.

By 1953, Delamont was forced to relinquish control of his North Vancouver Boys and Girls Band to Art Smith, due to politics. He wasn’t happy but he turned around in 1954 and hired Art as his lead trombone player for his newly formed Arthur Delamont Concert Band so he couldn’t have taken it personally. The man in charge of bringing the Commonwealth Games to Vancouver for the first time in 1954, Stan Smith, asked Delamont to form a pro band to play at the Games. Stan was one of the original members of Delamont’s band. Musical connections were everything, especially in those days. In 1958, after winning double gold medals at the Kerkrade International Band Festival, Delamont walked away from his West Vancouver Boys and Girls Band which he had directed and built up successfully over twenty years. His parent’s organization gave him a hard time over something quite trivial so he quit his most lucrative band gig of them all. Over the following years, they went through a succession of directors. Today, only one of the six community bands from the Golden Age of Community Bands has survived.  Douglas MacCauley is doing a marvelous job carrying on the Delamont legacy with his West Vancouver Youth Band. Delamont’s focus shifted a little in the 1950s towards his pro bands. By the 1960s, all he had left were his Kitsie Boys.

All six bands I have mentioned in the Golden Age of Community bands provided excellent training for young musicians. They all traveled, although some more than others. If you told someone you played in one of these bands, right away they knew a lot about you. They knew you were reliable. They knew you had reached a certain level of musicianship. They knew you were dependable. They knew you could be trusted and counted on and they knew you knew how to work as part of a group to get the job done. These are all very important personality traits to instill in young people.

By 1960, all six bands were in full swing. The Kerrisdale Kiwanis Band had started up by then. Delamont was playing everywhere with his pro band and about to embark on another European Tour in 1962 with his Kitsie Boys. Olson had been around for a decade with his Vancouver Junior Band and had just embarked on the second phase of his band career with the formation of his B.C. Beefeater Band and an illustrious association with the B.C. Lion’s Football Club, playing their halftime show. Both the West Van and North Van Youth bands were planning trips to Europe, as was the New Westminster Boys and Girls Band.

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ABOVE: The Kerrisdale Kiwanis Band, 1960s.

There was a lot happening in the band world in Vancouver in the 1960s. UBC graduated its first instrumental music major in 1962. His name was Ted Lazenby. There are lots of stories about Ted. The one that fits this post the best is when the Kits Band was on tour in Europe in 1958, [Ted played first trombone in the Kits Band], at a concert in Germany, Ted played the piece, Scenes That Are Brightest. It is a euphonium solo but he may have played it on his trombone, he was that good. The concert was recorded and it was played nationally on a radio station. After the band arrived home, some talent scouts from the Berlin Philharmonic heard the recording and traveled to Canada in search of Ted. Long story short, he was asked to audition for the Berlin Philharmonic which he did and got a one year contract for the following season. You see what I mean by a stepping stone to a pro music career. But it didn’t end well. The regiment was so strict and the other players so unfriendly that he didn’t stay after the end of his contract. He spent the next year getting drunk in Spain, trying to forget the whole experience. Ted was a character. Anyway, he came back to Vancouver and was UBC s first instrumental music graduate in 1962.

Another very big thing that happened in music circles in the early 1960s was instrumental music became an accredited course in public schools in B.C. thanks to the hard work of several music educators from across the province. Now, in addition to these community bands offering somewhere for the youth of Vancouver to play, you had bands turning up in high schools all over Greater Vancouver. There was a band at John Oliver under Ron Pajala, another one at Kitsilano under George Wardrup, one at Killarney, which also had a marching band, a big one at Gladstone, not to mention three or four of them in North Vancouver at Handsworth, Argyle and Carson Graham. There were also music supervisors in every district whose job it was to set up band programs in the schools and then coordinate them within their district. Fred Turner was the first music supervisor for Vancouver. He hired Ron Pajala, Earl Hobson for Prince of Wales and Pete Stigings for Lord Byng.

The community bands and the school bands nurtured each other along. Ron Pajala was very happy when he started his first band at Jayo and found out half the band played in the Beefeater’s and the other half played in Delamont’s band. But it worked both ways as well. Many of the school band directors had come through one of the community bands. Earl Hobson and Dennis Tupman both played in Delamont’s band. Later on, Rodger Owens and Keith Woodward both played in Olson’s band. Mark Kowalenko played in the New West Boys and Girls Band. If Delamont needed players for an upcoming trip, he  was not shy at approaching his former boys who were now directing high school bands. In 1955, he needed three good players for his summer tour of England.  Howard Denike of the Victoria Boys Band sent him Donny Clark, Earl Hobson and Dennis Tupman. Fred Turner sent him Arnie Chycoski.

Not everyone in a community band could expect to be chased down by talent scouts from the Berlin Philharmonic. But with such a wealth of musical talent that just one of these community bands nurtured over the years, many found themselves playing in the big leagues in Vancouver’s pro music circles. Delamont always filled the ranks of his pro bands over the years from past members of his Kitsie Boys. Others found themselves playing in the clubs of downtown Vancouver for Bobby Hales, who had the house band at the Cave Supper Club. Many Las Vegas performers such as Mitzi Gaynor, broke in their new acts each season in the clubs of Vancouver before taking them on to Las Vegas. As a result, Vancouver had a thriving live music club scene in those decades. Or, you may have caught the ear of Dal Richards who might have asked you to play in his P.N.E/ Parade Band or his pro Lion’s Band, like Blaine Tringham did or Art Tusvik or Arnie Chycoski and later Wayne Pettie.

Everybody knew everybody. Once word got out that there was a hot shot trumpet player around town or clarinet player or trombone, word caught on like wild fire. The directors of the six community bands were all professional musicians or had played in a military band during the war. They knew what to look for in talent. They were all very loyal to those they had nurtured over the years. Still, the music world was small and while it was competitive, all the directors helped each other when needed. The same is true that if you came up through someone’s band, you stayed with them for life. You were always a Delamont kid, or an Olson kid or a Fred Turner kid or an Art Smith kid. Loyalty was everything!

Art Smith & Arthur Delamont at Q E Theatre 1

ABOVE: Art Smith and Arthur Delamont.

Besides offering a wealth of talent for the pro bands around town, community bands were also a breeding ground for a new phenomenon that swept the airwaves in the late 1950s and 1960s, garage bands. Every community band had its one record wonder garage band. Bob Buckley from the Kits band, went on to be a founding member of the rock band Spring, in the 1960s. Bruce Fairburne turned the Prince of Wales pep band into the successful rock band Spectre. Whenever a garage band needed a horn player, they came from one of the community bands because they were visible and everybody knew everybody. Dave Calder came out of the Kits Band and played in several garage bands. Many of those I just mentioned went on to distinguished careers in the music business but they all met in a community band.

It was always easy to find a horn player or two but what if you needed a horn section? There was only one community band that you would go to if you needed a big horn section, especially when rhythm & blues came onto the scene, the incomparable Beefeater Band. Why you ask? Olson’s bands had marched all over the world by the end of 1980. His band members knew how to play outside and project a big sound to the audience. They were also versatile at playing inside in a regular concert format. Bands like Soul Unlimited and The Night Train Revue, their horn sections were all from Olson’s Vancouver Junior Band.

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ABOVE: Soul Unlimited 1966, Al Lynch on trumpet.

In 2020, the pro music scene no longer exists in Metro Vancouver like it did in this time period, for many reasons. Watch for another blog that may explore the reasons.