Delamont and Discrimination!


There are many forms of discrimination cultural, gender and age are three. In the 1930s Delamont’s bands were entirely made up of Caucasian youth. He recruited from the public school system which did not allow Chinese to attend until after 1947 when Enfranchisement came in, allowing Chinese Nationals to vote and obtain Canadian citizenship for the first time since the 1923 Exclusion Act. This period was known as the era of discrimination or as the Chinese called it the age of embarrassment. They were also allowed to bring their families over from Hong Kong and China after 1947. I am not sure when the children of Jewish immigrants were allowed into public schools as I have not yet studied this group. The next book I have been asked to write is about the Jewish culture in Canada, so I am hoping to be able to fill in the blanks in these blogs. In any case, it wasn’t until the fifties that three Chinese boys came to play in his band. They were, of course, Bing Thom, his brother gene and Colin Lea. It is not surprising that more Chinese did not come in because even in the sixties there were only a handful of Chinese students in my high school John Oliver. They tended to be the studious type excelling in the sciences and math and did not have time for leisure activities. The only Jewish boy that came into the band again in the fifties was Earl Hobson although there may have been more.

The fact that Delamont did go down to Chinatown and actually started a Keefer Street Boys Band in the 1930s, is significant. He must have known the situation with the Chinese in Canada. He probably made contact through one of the many associations. The fact that it did not last long is probably because he soon realised the boys could not afford instruments, could not afford the trips, nor could they even afford the time to come down for afternoon or evening rehearsals. Any spare time they would have had would have been spent working to help the family make ends meet. NO leisure was the way it was for the Chinese during this period.

Gender discrimination was also very prevalent in the 1930s when he started his band. Until 1929, the legal definition of a person in Canada excluded females. If women were not legally persons, then they had no rights.  He did, however, start a girl’s band as we all know. around 1932. They were mostly the sisters of his boys in his Kitsilano band. They went into music festivals and by all accounts were nearly as good as his boy’s band. It only lasted for about three years and as Vera told me, “The girls would often go home crying because he was too tough on them.” The real reason for their demise was probably he just had too many bands on the go. Besides the girl’s band, he had 7 other bands. They all supported his Kitsilano Boy’s Band so the likelihood of him thinking his time was better spent concentrating on that group is in my mind more likely. At least he tried to have a band for the girls is significant because gender discrimination was very big in Canada. Women even in the sixties couldn’t sign for a mortgage. This was one of Grace McCarthy’s pet projects to get women in business the same rights as the men. Pauline Jewitt, the president of SFU in the sixties couldn’t be accepted into Vancouver Club because she was not a man. Faye Leung used to be invited to functions at the Vancouver Club in the sixties as a prominent Chinatown figure and businesswoman but she had to come up in the freight elevator.

I doubt Delamont ever suffered from age discrimination as he was so vibrant right up to the end. As we all recall many said, he showed more energy than many of his boys on his last two trips to Europe when he was in his eighties. I am sure whenever he was offered a seat he didn’t think of it as discrimination but as people just being kind. I have even noticed what I refer to as age discrimination as I have gotten older. People focus on your grey hair, especially young people, and everyone wants to offer you their seat on public transit. I always say, “I’m a penguin. I don’t sit, or “I like the air up here better,” or “I’m still growing.” It usually garners a snicker or two and a smile and they get the picture. I remember when I was in the band we were always playing at Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam or at a Remembrance Day Service at the bandstand in English Bay for the veterans. In England, we would always play in the sixties at a hospital somewhere. He always taught us to treat the elderly the same as anyone else. Someone told me that they played at Okalla, Correctional Institute one time in New Westminster in the fifties. There was an old band director in the audience they recognized but that’s another story! He was always the champion of the little guy whether at home or abroad.

I grew up having friends that were both younger and older than I. Age didn’t really matter. I always enjoyed being around my older relatives and when I joined the Kits Band there were lots of older guys as well as younger ones. Today, kids often hang out just with those they went to high school with and rather turn their nose down when someone older is in their midst. You can see it in pop culture in shows like Britain has Talent, when Susan Boyle was first discovered. Don’t know Susan Boyle? Check her out on You-Tube. The book I am writing now, Faye & Dean Leung’s biography, Faye was taught by her parents not to discriminate for any reason. Because the Chinese were so badly discriminated on by Caucasian society in Canada from the 1930s through even into the sixties and seventies, they were against and recognized discrimination of any kind. Faye was brought up helping the Chinese pioneers write letters home to their loved ones in China and learned to write and speak seven dialects of Chinese by the time she was in her late teens. She made friends with them all. It didn’t matter if some were ten or fifteen years older. When things opened up and new immigrants started to arrive in the mid-sixties she was well equipped to help them all find their way in this new land and that’s exactly what she did. While others of her generation could not communicate with the new arrivals she could. She embodied the best of the east and the west and made her mark helping the new arrivals find their footing in this new country. As a result, they all became her friend.

Delamont was certainly a product of his time but I think he tried to do what he could in the context of what he saw as his life’s work.