In the 1930s every ethnicity in Greater Vancouver had a class system even the Caucasians. The Canadian Chinese who were born in Canada looked down on the China boy who was born in China. They looked down even more on the China boy if he was a Village boy rather than a city boy. In the Jewish community, Orthodox Jews couldn’t marry a Jewish person who was not Orthodox. I won’t say any more about the Jewish culture as I have not studied it much. The great divide which separated the Caucasian community was mainly financial and if you lived on Vancouver’s east side it was assumed your family did not have much money. Families with wealth, generally lived on the westside. The westside was even broken down into the more wealthier area known as Shaughnessy where the big mansions were and decades later the UBC area which became as wealthy as Shaughnessy. Another distinction of class for us boys in Delamont’s band was if your father was a VIP. If he was a business owner, official, mayor or doctor or judge this was way up there to us eastside boys whose father’s tended to be taxi drivers, city employees or work in the businesses of the owners who lived on the westside.
Delamont, when he started his band, was the first to my knowledge to actively recruit boys for his band all over Greater Vancouver. This spelt the end for bands like William Hoskin Sara’s National Juvenile Band and Olson’s South Vancouver Juvenile Band because they drew their members only from the community they were in. When he found the most talented boys in each community he set about setting up satellite bands where he would train the new recruits in his way of doing things. When he felt they were good enough he would bring them into his Kitsilano Boys Band.
By the mid-thirties hDelamont directed 7 bands. There were two satellite bands on the westside for the west side boys. One was called the General Gordon School Band and the other the Point Grey Junior band. The Grandview Band was for the Eastside boys. There was the North Vancouver Schools Band for the mountain boys, not that they were called that at the time and then the West Vancouver Boys Band for the sons of those in the British properties. This band was again in a wealthy community similar to the west side of Vancouver and is one of the reasons it still survives today. Lots of support!
Where you came from and how rich your family was didn’t really matter though once you were in his Kitsilano Boys Band because all that mattered was how well you could play. All the class barriers fell and if you were a great player it didn’t matter who your father was or how rich was your family. It didn’t matter if you were a farm boy from Richmond or a country boy from Surrey. He even started a band on Keefer Street in Chinatown for Chinese boys but nothing has survived to tell us more about this group.
The class system in the Caucasian community was perpetuated by the school system. Depending on which community you lived, you had to go to the high school in that community. If you lived on a borderline you may have had the choice of going to either one of two high schools. It is not like it is today in multi-cultural Vancouver where you can pick and choose the high school you want to go to based on the programs each offer. For most kids, the only opportunity they had to mix with kids from the westside or other communities was if you played on a sports team. Then you would compete at different schools. If you were in a pep band you might have the opportunity to play at different schools when your team competed in basketball or maybe football.
So one of the unique features of the Kitsilano Boys band was it gave kids from all over Greater Vancouver the opportunity to mix with other kids whom they normally would not have had the opportunity to meet. He levelled the playing field for all and gave all the boys who were lucky enough to play in his band the realization of what is important in life, what each of us contributes to society, not how much money we have or where we come from.
Other organizations followed suit and recruited from all over Greater Vancouver as well not only in music. They were all early cultural pioneers breaking down class barriers and making us all as one but Arthur Delamont was one of the first and he continued doing it for 50 years!
I have only recently come to realize how important this really was while working on my latest book the biography of Faye and Dean Chun Kwong Leung. Faye bridged the cultural gap first within the Chinese community, bringing together all the different classes and showing them that the old ways didn’t matter and there was a new way just as Arthur Delamont did for the boys who went through his band. Faye and Dean then went on to bridge the cultural gap between the Chinese and Canadian communities in the 1950s which is what their biography is partially about.
When Delamont started taking his boys to England in 1934, he was again bridging the cultural gap and showing his boys what life and people were like in other countries. As we all know he and his boys travelled to many countries over 14 trips learning about many cultures but first he had to get them all to think as one.
Once Faye broke down the class barriers for the Chinese locally and showed them how to think as one, they were ready to take their place in Canadian society. Once we all think as one who knows what we might achieve and of course, we now know, how successful many members of the famous Kitsilano Boys band became and also how successful many members of Canada’s Chinese community are today as well.