Article featured in Canadian Winds – Vents Canadiens, Fall, 2006, Vol. 5. No. 1.
Kitsilano Boys Band
by Gordon Laird
ABOVE: Gordon Laird played clarinet in the 1950 Kits Band trip to the British Isles and Holland. He has continued to play clarinet and saxophone ever since, and has led a twenty-piece swing band in Vancouver. Gordon retired 14 years ago as a United Church minister.
Meeting “Mr. D”
“I was sitting in my home room class at Point Grey Junior High School in Vancouver one day in 1944 when our teacher invited us to listen to a stranger who had a shock of white hair and a trumpet under his arm. He told us he was forming a band at the school and was looking for interested students. Only two of us put up our hands, Glenn Startup, my best friend, and I. We were instructed to come to a room in the basement after class. I had never heard of Arthur W. Delamont but he would soon change my life. Six years later I was a member of a thirty-nine piece award-winning band, playing in the first clarinet section on the stage of the Golders Green Hippodrome in London, on a bill with Harry Secombe [not ‘Lauder’ gl], the comedian later knighted by the Queen.
How did this happen and what magic did Delamont have to transform very ordinary young boys into musical champions? Most of what I learned from Mr. D was by watching his example. Sometimes it took years to consider what I saw him do and realize his motivation for doing it. For instance, a few weeks after we first touched our instruments, he took the fledgling Point Grey Junior High band onstage for a school event. There was but a single row of us with our clarinets and trumpets as we played in public for the first time. I now conclude from that event that Mr. D. wanted us to get accustomed to playing in public. We were being introduced to the concept of “deportment”, that is, sitting up straight, dressing appropriately, wearing black shoes and socks, feet on the floor, legs uncrossed.
Who was Arthur Delamont?
Arthur Delamont, born in Hereford, England, immigrated with his family to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1910. The family was involved with the Salvation Army and its bands. They planned to attend a Salvation Army reunion in England in 1914 but a tragedy occurred as the Empress of Ireland departed for Liverpool. Their ship collided with a coal freighter in the St. Lawrence River near Rimouski, Quebec with great loss of life. Arthur, his sister, and their father and mother were saved, but his older brother, Leonard Samuel Delamont, a fine musician, perished.
When they moved to Vancouver, the family lived in Kitsilano in a house that adjoined the grounds of General Gordon School. A story Arthur told on many occasions provides the background to his calling as a band director: “I was looking out my window and saw some boys hanging around the school grounds. I thought, ‘I could teach these boys to play instruments!’” Another version of the story had the boys playing harmonicas in the streets. Soon Arthur was encouraging parents to buy instruments for their boys and he had organized his first band in Vancouver.
A 1929 photo shows the General Gordon School Band arrayed on the front steps of the school, an impressive group of 33 musicians complete with a good selection of instruments. They have dark pants, white shirts with bow ties, and a military style hat. This may have been the band that made its debut in 1928 playing ‘O Canada’ to welcome the Olympic gold medalist, Percy Williams, on his triumphant return to Vancouver.
In 1930 Arthur’s student musicians were graduating to Kitsilano High School. Rehearsals continued twice a week in the basement of the General Gordon School but the band now became the Kitsilano High School Band. The name “Kitsilano” remained attached to the band for the forty-four years of the life of this famous ensemble, evolving into The Kitsilano Boys Band along the way. Kitsilano, named for a local Indian Chief, is known throughout Canada as one of the “laid-back” areas of Vancouver, to the south of Kits Beach. It is filled with beautiful old homes and some renovated cottages, and is considered a very desirable, (in some parts “funky”) neighbourhood of Vancouver.
To accompany the name change, Delamont designed a new uniform for the band which would become well-known through the next decades: black highly-polished shoes, black socks, black pants with a fine red stripe on the outside of each leg and white long-sleeved shirt. The crowning glory was a cape over the shoulders fastened back to reveal a shiny crimson lining. A forty-piece band of boys dressed in this uniform dazzled the audiences. Arthur himself carefully managed his professionally tailored military-style trousers and jacket. He often wore a matching cap.
Delamont began immediately to market the Kitsilano Boys Band in places of prominence. His pattern was always to have a trip in prospect because of his belief in the value of performance. It also maintained the interest and excitement of the boys, and helped channel their energies into improving both individually and collectively.
The 1931 headline read: “Kitsilano Band Takes First Place in its Class at Canadian National Exhibition Band Concerts.” Somehow Arthur had convinced the boys’ parents to help fund their first trip, across Canada by train. A local newspaper was enlisted to give partial support for the trip. Other newspapers of the same chain stepped in to help in Winnipeg and Hamilton, as this was the depths of the “Great Depression”.
Today, Toronto; tomorrow the USA
In 1933, when the Band was less than five years old, Arthur took them to the Chicago World’s Fair, where their list of achievements began to build: against seven accomplished bands at Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition, the Kitsilano Boys Band won the competition with 225 points of a possible 240. The runner-up was the Chicago Boys’ Band, with 201½ points. Arthur had set a standard for the band, which he never relinquished. Fifteen years later he would challenge us with the exploits of previous Kits Bands, and it was clear he expected as much or more from us.
Today, North America; tomorrow England
Arthur was keen to advance his band to further travel and greater glory. He set his sights on England, home of some of the greatest bands in the world. England had a long-established tradition of brass bands, many of whom were sponsored by coal mines: the colliery bands. The members of these bands had jobs in the coal mines with time off, as needed, for rehearsing and performing. The bands were financed by large grants from the collieries and yet the members were considered to be “non-professional.”
In 1934, after arranging help from local businesses and the boys’ parents, Arthur succeeded in financing a trip for the Kitsilano Boys Band (known as the Vancouver Kitsilano Boys Band or the Vancouver Boys Band overseas) from the farthest reaches of Canada to England, the mecca of bands. The Vancouver Kitsilano Boys Band earned “First in Deportment”, twenty-one bands competing. The Band also made its first professional recording in the BBC studios.
Think of the achievement: in the middle of the Great Depression Arthur Delamont had taken a band across Canada and the Atlantic Ocean to England, and this band which was only 6 years old, took a first place. It was this same attention to deportment I was learning in our first public performance on the stage of Point Grey Junior High a decade later. The pattern of overseas travel Arthur established in 1934 continued in 1936. At the Crystal Palace in England, the band won the “Class A Junior Shield” competing against 33 adult bands (called “Junior” by the prevailing system of categorization).
Where did he find his players?
Arthur recruited new players from all over Vancouver, from his “farm team” bands and other bands. Norm Mullins, now Q. C., was recruited from a Grade 4 class in Laura Secord Elementary, into the Grandview Band, which met in the Grandview School of Commerce.
Jimmy Pattison, the remarkable businessman from Vancouver who is renowned throughout North America, had played in the Vancouver Junior Symphony and at John Oliver High School when he brought his trumpet into the “Kits Band”.
Ray Smith, another noted Vancouver businessman, Chairman of McMillan Bloedel, played for the Kits Band and also in Dal Richards’s band.
Brian Bolam, now a retired Chief Training Officer with the Vancouver Fire Department, was recruited from the North Vancouver Schools Band, as was Bill Good, who became a percussionist for the Vancouver Symphony.
Ron Collagrosso, who adopted the stage name “Ron Collier” came into the “Kits Band” from Vancouver Tech in east Vancouver. Ron moved to Toronto to study with Gordon Delamont, Arthur’s son, himself a Kits Band alumnus, who had become a fine musical arranger, teacher and writer. Ron’s career of playing trombone and teaching music and arranging in the Toronto area was capped by his collaboration with Duke Ellington.
Arthur Delamont created a host of good citizens, remarkable businessmen, actors, politicians, diplomats, theatrical producers, commercial artists, school teachers, architects and religious leaders. None of us can easily say what we “owe” Arthur Delamont, but undoubtedly each of our careers was affected by his example: at the very least we learned punctuality, discipline, presentation and “deportment” and ambition to achieve the best in our field. We learned to have confidence to dream big dreams and make them happen.
He also created some fine musicians. Arthur conscripted Dal Richards into the band in time for the 1934 and 1936 trips. Dal most completely followed in Arthur’s pattern and became “Canada’s King of Swing”.
The 1939 trip presented its own special challenge. The forty-eight boys and one girl (Vera Delamont, Arthur’s daughter) followed the pattern of those in the 1934 and 1936 band in that they took the train across Canada and a Cunard ship across the Atlantic. However they stopped in New York for the World’s Fair and played for a week on the bandstand sponsored by the Swift Company.
They were featured on “In Town Tonight” in London, which had also become standard for these trips, and the band continued on to play in a number of seaside resorts in England and Wales. They visited an aircraft bomber factory and noticed that arrangements were being made for ARP, the air raid warning system. It was when the band was scheduled to play in Great Yarmouth in late August that rumors of impending war reached their climax. An order came from the Canadian Embassy for the band to rush to their ship and leave for home. Great Yarmouth witnessed the last performance in England of the Vancouver Kitsilano Boys Band, and it was cut short in dramatic fashion.
Their trip to their ship became a drama, the details of which are still the subject of debate. They were scheduled to sail on the Athenia from Glasgow, but the two buses which were sent for them were redirected to Southampton, where the Empress of Britain was docked. The Empress of Britain was a much larger and faster ship, which may have persuaded Arthur to demand a change of ships.
The first incident of the U-boat war occurred just hours after the declaration of hostilities between Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, when a German U-boat sank the Athenia, a 13,500 ton passenger liner carrying 1,103 civilians. 112 were killed, 93 of them passengers, either in the initial explosion or died later as a result of the sinking. Newspapers in Vancouver reported erroneously that the Band had been on the Athenia when it sank!
The Kits Band has escaped the tragedy but now were onboard the Empress of Britain made famous a few months earlier by transporting the King and Queen back from Canada. They set sail from Southampton September 2nd and, taking a more southerly route, zigzagged across the Atlantic to a safe arrival in Quebec City. The parents of the boys were relieved to welcome the Band back at the Vancouver C. P. R. station from that most eventful trip.
During the war years Arthur and the Kits Band did their part by taking concerts to army barracks and playing in aid of the Red Cross. Arthur established the 111th Squadron Air Cadet Band with players “conscripted” from all his bands. But when the war concluded in 1946, Arthur began planning for the European trip again.
It wasn’t until 1950 that another trip was possible, and even then our ship, the S. S. Samaria, was still fitted out for wartime, so the rooms we slept in had metal walls with tiers of bunks and hammocks. But the food was wonderful!
Britain was still suffering from austerity and most foods were rationed. But something happened that summer that outshone even appearance in London, Edinburgh and many seaside resorts.
Surely on each major trip the Kits Band brought glory and achievement which reflected well on their city and their country. The term “ambassadors” had been used as early as 1936 on the Band’s triumphant return to Vancouver. But it took on a special meaning in 1950 which none of us will ever forget.
Saturday, 24 June, 1950 the band boarded the Dutch ship, Konigen Emma for a trip across the English Channel to the Hook of Holland. In prospect was a nine-day holiday away from the oppressive food rationing in England and indeed, the lavish offering of milk, cream and fresh eggs in Holland was welcome. We were there, to bring them our usual musical program and to take part in one music festival, or so we anticipated.
The surprise came early: just off the boat train, in the tiny town of Hillegom, there was a band waiting to greet some VIP’s (so we thought). However we were the VIP’s! Stepping down to the cheers of the people, we were led by the village band to the town’s concert hall. After our concert, we were presented with a flag in commemoration of the liberation of their town by Canadian troops in World War II. This was fresh in the memories of the townsfolk as it had happened only five years before, in 1945.
None of us had been in the armed forces but Hillegom had not had a chance to thank the Canadian troops who liberated them and we were the first official Canadian visitors to their town since. They poured the thanks from thousands of hearts upon the boys of the band from Vancouver. It was a humbling experience. We had to learn quickly what it meant to be “ambassadors”, representing our country and our soldiers.
The flag we were presented that night said it all, “Hillegom (Holland) dankt Kanada” (Hillegom thanks Canada). This ovation was repeated in each of the towns we visited. The Burgemeister of Amersfoort, Holland described us as: “music-making ambassadors”. Holland, for many of us, was the high-point of our five month trip!
The 1953 trip to England paralleled the one in 1950 in that it was by train and ship, and the boys visited many of the locations as in 1950. The 1955 trip to England was similar and included some remarkable musicians who would make their mark in concert bands and jazz bands throughout Vancouver and North America. Among the many fine musicians who went overseas with the Kits Band were trumpeters: Arnie Chycoski and Don Clark. Many of the other members later served as backbone to bands and orchestras throughout Vancouver and across Canada.
Decades later, in whatever band they were in, Kits Boys were immediately recognizable by their “deportment” – the black shoes and stockings, the feet together, sitting up straight without slouching, and their instruments rested in the position Arthur Delamont prescribed.
From 1958 onward Arthur took bands to Europe, in one case flying back east, then boarded ship through the Panama Canal. Gradually air travel won out over train and ship. The Band continued its award-winning ways and even performed in Paris, France and in Russia.
The Kits Band ceased its activities in 1974 with its last trip, but Arthur was not finished with traveling. In 1979 he assembled a group of former band members to travel to England, and made a point of “finishing” the concert program in Great Yarmouth, where the concert in 1939 had been unceremoniously interrupted by the War.
These achievements happened over forty-six years beginning in 1928. Roy Johnson, a band member since 1928, wrote an article entitled “Unforgettable Mr. D” for theReader’s Digest (May, 1983). Roy continues to attend all reunions! The next few years saw Arthur recognized in various ways for the enormous contribution he made to Vancouver and to Canada. For example, a park in Kitsilano was named after him and he received the Order of Canada.
When Arthur Delamont died in 1982 at age 90, Roy Johnson was called up to provide the eulogy at his funeral service. Brian Bolam played “The Lost Chord” on Arthur’s trumpet and then was surrounded by many of the fine Kits Band trumpeters on the last chorus. Every one of them wore black shocks and shoes.
Even the disbanding of the Kits Band and the death of Arthur Delamont could not break the ties among band members, formed over those long trips by train and boat. Some of the “boys” get together in reunions based on the year of “their trip”. One group even has a “Tontine” put away in the form of bottles of champagne to be drunk as a toast by the last surviving members.” There have been three Reunion Concerts staged, appropriately at the “Kits Showboat” in Kitsilano Beach. For those who could not travel to the reunions, accounts of the concerts complete with photos can be found on the Kits Band Home Page on the World Wide Web: http://www.kitsband.com
We will never forget Arthur W. Delamont, or what he taught us and inspired us to accomplish.
Can we measure the results of one man’s inspiration?
Arthur’s “boys” took many different career paths. Arthur Delamont became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1980 “in recognition of the dedication he has shown in providing a musical education for thousands of boys”. James “Jimmy” Allen Pattison became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1986 in recognition of his community service and for “the smooth running and success of EXPO 86”. William Millerd (drums, Kits Band 1956-60) became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1993, for “his passion for the theatre [which] has helped the Vancouver performing arts community to thrive.”
Dal Richards (clarinet, Kits Band, 1933-1937) became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1994: “…he has spent a lifetime entertaining people with his dance band music, not only in British Columbia but throughout Canada.” Bing Wing Thom (clarinet, Kits Band 1955 trip), became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1996, a noted Vancouver architect who designed, among other structures, the Canada Pavilion at Expo ’92 in Seville, Spain. Ron Collier (Trombone, Kits Band, 1946-1952) became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2003, for having “shared his gift for composition and orchestration with students, he also led several stage band to victory at national competitions.”
Most communities in Canada benefited from the services of members of the Kits Band. There were band directors: Cliff Bryson, Ken Sotvedt, Richard Van Slyke, Earl Hobson and many more. The schools in British Columbia were filled with musicians, including Dennis Tupman, Performing Arts District Principal for the Vancouver School Board. Many of the school bands, orchestras, and jazz bands were touched by the inspiration of former Kits Band members. Community bands and orchestras in Vancouver and across Canada were replete with talented former Kits Band members. Don Radelet of the 1939 band, for example, continues to play his Baritone with different bands each night of the week. Some of Arthur Delamont’s “Boys” became professional musicians across North America. Some of us brought our musical ability and Deportment to hundreds of local bands and orchestras. Every one of us brought a professional approach to our chosen filed which was accompanied by a love of music. We all met and traveled with “boys” who became lifelong friends and colleagues. We became good citizens of our Country. For all of this, we thank you, Arthur Delamont!
Updated: February 2016