25th Anniversary History

The following is a summary of the history of the
Petawawa Legion Community Band,
written for our 25th Anniversary celebration in 2003:

"Hey, look at ME, World - I'm a MUSICIAN!"

by Verlie Whitlock

"January 25, 1978; ....the weather was mild....the High School Teachers' strike vote was 83.6% for....the Petawawa Legion Band School (15 starters) and Community Band (25 turned up) were launched with great success...." - thus the birthday of the Petawawa Legion Community Band is modestly recorded in the diary of Dr. James M. Gayfer, the Band's first Director, but for many people who had worked behind the scenes, it was the culmination of many months of hard work, and the realisation of a great dream. The diary goes on to note that the very first piece of music rehearsed was the Quick March: "Liberty Bell", which soon became the traditional opening selection for many of the Band's concerts.

The dream had finally come true for a small group of Legion Members who had formed a committee nearly a year before, under the leadership of the Legion president, Gordon Strathy: its mandate was to explore the logistics inherent to the establishment of a band which could serve the needs of the Legion during its military parades and various other functions. This Committee had directed its efforts towards inviting other community organisations to join the Legion in providing the financial support necessary to get the project under way, and "bricks" were later sold at set prices to Legion Members interested in helping to "build" their band.

During a door-to-door campaign for donations from the community at large, it was discovered that living amongst us in the Village was a retired Military Director of Music who was now teaching Music at Champlain High School in Pembroke. Dr. Gayfer was invited to become the Director of the proposed Legion Band, and he drew up a list of instruments and related equipment needed to outfit a beginning band, thereby giving the Legion a financial goal towards which they might aim.

The Village and Township Councils and the Rotary Club added their contributions to those of the Legion and the general public, then the Wintario Lottery Corporation matched all donations dollar-for-dollar; thus, the words "Legion" and "Community" in the Band's title acknowledge the determined effort and community spirit to which the Band owes its very existence. The name also recognises the Band's obligation to the Legion and surrounding Community in matters of performance.

The Petawawa Legion Community Band's first appearance in public was a concert in the Legion Hall on June 28, 1978, featuring performances by members of the Band School and the Band proper. At that first concert the Band welcomed as guest performers the Pembroke Sesquicentennial Choir, which was also under Dr. Gayfer's direction at the time, and those present during that memorable evening may remember seeing in the audience the former Director of the Pembroke Legion Band, Doug Lowe, who died later that year.

November brought Remembrance Day, and the Parade to the Cenotaph was led for the first time by the new Legion Band: seeing "their" Band marching down the main street in Petawawa filled the same small group of dedicated Legion Members with the determination that the Band members' pleasure in performing together should be matched by a pride in their own appearance when under public scrutiny. Another campaign was launched within the Legion to raise the necessary funds to purchase uniforms for the Band, though nearly another year would pass before the result of their efforts would be seen.

Our first concert outside the Legion Hall came in September, 1979, when we were invited to perform at the C.F.B. Petawawa Leisure Recreation Show in Dundonald Hall, and this was to be the last time we would be seen in public dressed "casually" for many years. The Band made its first appearance in the new uniform at a concert on November 7 to celebrate Legion Week, then later that same week the uniform received more public attention during two Remembrance Day Parades, one with our parent Legion and the second with the Legion in Eganville - the latter being our very first parade away from "home".

In June of the following year, we played our first concert at the Petawawa Civic Centre to help celebrate the opening of the new outdoor recreational facilities, but it was a somewhat sombre occasion for the Band, since it would be our last concert under the baton of Dr. Gayfer, who was leaving to take up the Directorship of the Kinsmen Band in Lindsay, Ontario.

1980 also saw the Band become a year-round operation, and Tom Overton, a "local boy" home on vacation from his musical studies at Windsor University, filled in as Director for what developed into quite a hectic summer for us, including: our first open-air concert at the Military Engineers' Reunion on the banks of Brennan Lake; our performing as the "pit orchestra" during a pageant marking the 75th Anniversary of the founding of "Camp Petawawa"; and an appearance at the 10th Annual Petawawa Steam Show.

That summer's busy and varied schedule provided the catalyst that brought about a subtle change in the development of the Band's confidence in its own ability; at last we saw ourselves as an organisation that was now able to take its place with pride within the Community. We were, perhaps, finally ready to echo - with all due modesty! - Dr. Gayfer's words which give this short history of the Band its title; he was always urging us to think that way during our early years, when we were in danger of crumpling under the stress of a forthcoming public appearance.

The infant band was now on its feet, and although it would always remain under the watchful eye of its parent Legion, it began moving towards a certain amount of autonomy with the election in September of that year of its first official Executive, and the drawing-up of a Band Constitution and set of By-laws.

In that same September Arthur van Winckle, who had taken over Dr Gayfer's position teaching Music at Champlain High School, also stepped into his shoes as our new Band Director, and under his guidance we embarked upon a new round of what were fast becoming familiar annual parades and concerts, adding to this list the first Civic Centre Day Parade in June, 1981.

Tom Overton returned to direct us through a comparatively quiet summer, then Art resumed his Directing duties in the Fall; also that Fall, Renfrew County School Board decided that Remembrance Day would no longer be a school holiday, and the Band has performed that Parade without most of its younger members ever since.

During January, 1982, Kazimier Samujlo, the Music Teacher at Fellowes' High School, took up the reins of Directorship and during his first year of tenure, the Band received its very own March: "Petawawa Legion Five Seventeen" commissioned by the Legion from our original Director, Dr. Gayfer; in June, we gave "our" March its first public airing under the baton of its composer, who was Guest Conductor at our annual concert in the Civic Centre. (Civic Centre "Day" had expanded to encompass several days, hence the change in its title.)

With Kaz at the helm, the long years of experience in public performing earned the Band a certain maturity and the confidence to tackle any new situation. Our activities then settled into a familiar routine for the most part, though we were called upon to perform in a completely different setting several times during the year:

  • at the end of 1982, we were invited to play during the official opening of the new extension to the Petawawa Union Library;

  • in July, 1983, we provided the music for the 2nd Service Battalion Change of Command Parade;

  • we went on our first "road trip" in July, 1984, to spend a weekend performing during the Ontario BiCentennial celebrations on the Isle of Quinte on Lake Ontario;

  • 1985 took us to Arnprior for the St. John Ambulance Annual Inspection, to Huntsville for a weekend of concerts, and to Beachburg for the Village's SesquiCentennial Parade;

  • in 1986, we played at two "Strawberry Socials" - one at the Champlain Trail Museum in Pembroke and the other at the Old Mill in Wakefield, Quebec, which provided us with the excuse for a road trip;

  • 1987 saw our first performances in connection with the "Irish Play" in Pembroke and the Legion Zone Command Summer Picnic at Lake Dore, and both these events became annual fixtures for a while.

These were just a few of our appearances away from home base as time passed, in addition to a full slate of local annual commitments including: the Royal Canadian Army Cadets' Annual Inspection; Remembrance Day Parades; Santa Claus Parades; the O.P.P. Auxiliary Annual Inspection; the Korean Veterans' Parade; the 702 Communications' Squadron Mess Dinner - the list seemed endless!

In our Tenth Anniversary Year of 1988, we reached a level of performance that gave the Band a certain maturity which we worked hard to maintain throughout the ensuing years. A special challenge we faced for the first time in February of that year brought the realisation that we were no longer a "developing" Band - we had arrived! Our participation at that time in the Kiwanis Festival of Music, Community Bands' section, gave us the confidence that we could now consider ourselves ready to compete with all-comers. We have taken part in this Festival every year since and have been invited to perform in the Festival of Stars' Concert as best band in the competitions on several occasions.

In June of that same year, we were invited to join the large parade held in connection with the Legion Dominion Command Convention which took place in Ottawa. We marched with Bands, Legion Delegates and Colour Parties from all over Canada, from the Supreme Court Building, along Wellington Street past the Parliament Buildings to the Cenotaph at the top of Elgin Street. This was a very proud, memorable occasion for the Band, particularly as many people in the crowds that filled the sidewalks were from a Military background and had been posted at some time to CFB Petawawa. On recognising, from the shoulder flashes on our uniforms, that we were from this special place in their hearts, they gave our Band great vocal support - providing a very emotional atmosphere for our members, who were already riding high on a wave of intense pride in having been invited to take part in an event of such great moment.

In the following August, we performed alongside the RCA Band as part of the "Warriors' Day" celebrations held on CFB Petawawa. That we were considered adequate to the task of joining such a renowned, professional Band at this event, bolstered the Band's confidence that we were finally moving into the "big league" - almost enough to overcome the trepidation with which we approached this assignment! This event also saw the first performance with the Band of a couple who had recently come to live in Deep River from Manitoba; Lawrence and Anne Dickson became regular members from that time, and three years later Anne became our Director.

During the next few years, we were invited to perform at several events new to us, some of which have become annual duties for the Band:

  • we performed twice at Rafters in Beachburg as part of the entertainment for the AECL employees' annual picnic - once, under the direction of guest conductor Fred Leadston, who was formerly a member of the now-defunct RCA Band;

  • on several occasions, we paraded and played concerts at the Beachburg Fair in June of each year;

  • twice, we led the opening parade of contestants for the Annual Schools' Track Meet at the Petawawa Civic Centre;

  • on many different occasions, we have given concerts in all of the Pembroke Senior Citizens' Residences;

  • we have established a regular tradition of travelling to Barry's Bay each year to join the Legion in its Remembrance Day Parade and Ceremony, after which we are invited to partake of the local hospitality with a pleasant meal and afternoon of social intercourse. We cherish this connection with a fellow Legion.

1990 brought a different kind of maturity to the Band; one of our trombonists, Wes Smith, who had been a member since the formation of the Band, died following a long illness. Wes was quite a popular character and had spent many years working upon the Executive. He constructed the wardrobe we use for our uniforms, and painted the picture of Tennant's Rock which we presented to Tom Overton upon his departure for a teaching post in northern Ontario.

The Labour Day weekend of that year saw us visiting Mitchell, Ontario, on the first stage of a "Band Exchange" with the Legion Band there. Two years later, on the August long weekend of 1992, the Michell Legion Band visited Petawawa on the second leg of this exchange, and the combined Bands performed at the Deep River Summerfest.

Two events in 1991 brought more sadness to the Band. First, another of our long-time members, clarinettist Stan McMullen died; Stan hailed from Westmeath and was a very private "gentlemanly" type of man, well-loved in his home community and known for his voluntary performance on the "fiddle" at many local social events and at senior citizens' residences.

Later that year, after almost ten years as our Director, Kaz left for a teaching post in Ottawa; since his departure, Kaz has returned on several occasions during the summer to sit in on rehearsals with the Band. He brought wife, Monique, to celebrate with us at our Twentieth Anniversary Banquet, held on January 24, 1998, and joined the Band in the short concert that followed the dinner, playing his trumpet and serving as Guest Conductor for a memorial rendition of "Liberty Bell", which was, as mentioned earlier, the first piece ever performed by the Band at its very first rehearsal in 1978.

Upon Kaz's departure, Anne Dickson took over the reins and has very successfully maintained the level of performance to which we hope we have become accustomed!

In 1992, for the third year in succession, one of our players finally succumbed following a lengthy illness; Carol Thomsett had not been very active in the band during her illness, but she is well-remembered by our long-time members as a quiet, gentle lady and a very accomplished flautist and piccolo-player.

In 1994, the Band returned to Huntsville for a weekend of concerts under the sponsorship of the Legion there. That same year Branch 517 Legion provided weather-resistant nylon "shells" for our use during winter parades. These have now been accepted as our "winter uniform" from November until spring, and are to be used at other times of the year during inclement weather. These shells are much appreciated by the band, since it is possible to wear a greater amount of warm clothing beneath them - a very welcome change for those among us who remember the many cold parades when we had to choose between the comfort of warm but mis-matched outerwear and the agony of freezing together in only our uniforms!

The Band took part in several area 50th Anniversary celebrations of D-Day in 1994 and VE-Day in 1995. Also in 1995, our usual Civic Centre Days' Concert was played under the newly-extended roof of the Kinhut on Civic Centre grounds. This new roof, which now forms part of a large, covered patio providing some protection during inclement weather, is a welcome improvement for the musicians invited to perform there.

1997 was a bleak year for those of us who remember the early days of the Band. April saw the passing of our original Director, Dr. James Gayfer. Dr. Gayfer was a prolific composer of band, piano, choral and orchestral music, and much of his music has yet to be published. His military background and knowledge of protocol, combined with his great musicianship and love of "showbiz", served to provide a perfect basis for the Band's early progress, and one upon which successive Directors have been able to build our pride, our musicianship and ultimately our confidence in ourselves as an able performing unit.

In the Fall of that year, two more icons left us...

Frank van Hoof, to whose vision the Band owes its very existence, was the Manager of the Band for many, many years, and was a loving supporter right to the end. His was the idea that got the original group of band-builders moving, and his was the faith that drove the project forward and maintained the interest during the dark, early days of fund-raising and the inevitable hold-ups and disappointments. His, also, was the joy of seeing the project finally come to fruition with the birth of "his" Band - yes, in the early days, we were known to many local people as "Frank's Band"!

Dave Trimble was a long-time member of our baritone section and, well into his seventh decade, was regularly travelling from his home in Beachburg for rehearsals and concerts, though he was no longer able to parade with us. There is some mystery surrounding his death, simply because, in the end, he was a very private man and wished that his passing would not be heralded publicly. Those of us who knew and loved him are grateful that we were afforded an opportunity a few years ago to demonstrate to him the high regard in which he was held. Several local organisations with which he was connected joined together in hosting a celebration in his honour. This provided a perfect example of how much better it is to honour our friends while they are still with us, than it is to send flowers when it's too late...

1997 provided some less-solemn occasions, however: under Anne's direction, we launched a new series of summer and Christmas concerts, which will inevitably raise our profile in the area. We spent the whole month of July in travelling around the different communities, performing for appreciative audiences who brought their own seating and enjoyed with us the making of music in the open air, in beautiful, riverside locations. December saw us perform weekly Christmas concerts around the area, mostly for seniors; we all look forward to continuing these series' in the years to come.

The summer of 1998 brought another change for the Band when Anne, our Director for seven years, decided to leave in order to follow other musical pursuits. At that time, there was no-one in the immediate area who was able to step into Anne's shoes, but a long-time friend of the Band, Fred Leadston, who had helped us out several times in the past by stepping in at short notice when our regular Director was unavailable, came to our aid again. Fred was willing to commute every week from his home in Kingston to stand in as Interim Director, in order to rehearse the Band and keep the musical spirit alive. Fred kept us going for the two years it took for us to find a new Director, travelling up to the Valley in every kind of weather. His tour of duty with the Band is remembered with affection by all members - Fred was a "real trouper" who managed to keep the Band going through what was a tough time for us.

During this period, the Legion decided to appoint an Assistant Director who could step in and take over Fred's conducting duties whenever Fred was unable, through sickness or adverse weather conditions, to attend the weekly rehearsal. This position was filled by clarinet player Jeremy Whitlock, a longtime member who is the only person in the present Band who was actually present on that first day in 1978 when Doc Gayfer directed the Band's first rehearsal; Jeremy took time out from the Band to attend University, but would return to play in concerts and parades with us during the summers of his eleven years away.

Our long search for a new, permanent Director ended in 2000, when a young teacher at "l'Équinoxe", the new French public elementary school in Pembroke, accepted the offer to join our ranks. Eric Tanguay, originally from Kapuskasing, took over the baton from Fred during the concert which the Band played to mark Legion Week in September of that year, and has remained at the helm ever since.

Over the years, we have welcomed members from as far afield as Beachburg and Point Alexander, from all age-groups and all walks of life. Our situation in Petawawa with its large and necessarily-transient military population, plus the fact that many of our members are students who eventually leave home to pursue further education, results in a continuing, unpredictable turnover in membership. There is, however, a sufficiently-large core of veterans to keep alive the spirit of camaraderie that forms the particular character of Petawawa Legion Community Band - indeed, there are those among us who regard our friends in the Band almost as members of our extended family. A shared love of music brings its own harmony to organisations such as ours, and with it an intimacy which forges lasting friendships within our ranks - long may this continue to be so for the Petawawa Legion Community Band!

Happy 25th Anniversary, Band!

Verlie Whitlock
January 25, 2003

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