Norm Mullins – Tribute to Mr. D


July 27, 1998

by Norman D. Mullins, Q. C.

Arthur W. Delamont, the only organizer, instructor and conductor of the Vancouver Kitsilano Boys Band, was born in Hereford, England, in 1892. If he was here tonight he would be the oldest living citizen of Canada! Even though he is not here in person his spirit lives on in the memories of those of us who played in his bands and those who listened to and enjoyed his many concerts.

Mr. D., as we called him and his family was raised in the beliefs and traditions of the Salvation Army and it was with one of its bands that he learned to play the cornet. His irrepressible zest for motorcycle racing and dancehall music brought him to his first crucial decision – fun or faith. He left the band and committed himself to a career in music – with the occasional bike ride on the side.

In 1910 the family moved to Canada and in 1914, intending to return to England for a great international Salvation Army convention, they suffered the ghastly misfortune of being aboard the Empress of Ireland when it was sunk in the St. Lawrence River with the loss of many lives including that of Arthur’s brother, Leonard. In later years those of us who travelled with him by ship from Quebec City were awed as he pointed out the site of the fatal collision and described the terrible moments he saw and endured.

In 1920 Mr. D. settled in Vancouver and in 1928, on the eve of the Great Depression, it occurred to him he might make a living and a contribution to his newfound community by organizing footloose boys into a band. They met first and always thereafter in the basement of General Gordon School – in Kitsilano – and he adopted that name for his group.

In time he set up junior bands in Grandview, Point Grey Junior High School, North and West Vancouver and, after World War II began, with the 111th Air Cadet Squadron.

Achievements of the Kits Band under his direction were remarkable. They scored an unbelievable 225 out of 240 points at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. In 1934 they succeeded in outplaying 21 senior bands in the West of England. In 1936, they repeated this achievement when they were the first foreign band to win a British championship at the Crystal Palace in London.

In 1937, they participated in ceremonies for the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, playing from the deck of a United States battleship. In 1939, their third British tour was disrupted by the outbreak of war and they travelled home in peril across the submarine- infested North Atlantic.

During the War they entertained armed forces groups all over B. C. as well as maintaining a demanding schedule of concerts in City parks and playgrounds and provided background music for Ice Carnivals in Vancouver, Nanaimo and Vernon. In 1947 the Band toured the West Coast of the United States and won acclaim in even Hollywood.

In 1950 Mr. D. took his boys on their longest tour – five months in Britain, Ireland and Holland where they won first place in an international festival of bands in a Concert Hall erected on the airborne landing fields of Arnhem. Their success in the Netherlands was repeated with wins at Kerkrade in 1958, 1962 and 1966. The group also toured European centres in 1953, 1968 and 1970 including a visit Moscow. [Note 1]

In all, the Band won the Vancouver Music Festival top prize 28 times and the B. C. Championships four times.

Mr. D. was named Vancouver’s Good Citizen of the Year for 1946 and in 1979 the Governor General appointed him a Member of the Order of Canada.

The Kits Band was formally disbanded in 1974 but Mr. D.’s life in music continued. He loved to lead his University of B. C. group at basketball and football games and he suffered his final heart attack playing at a Masonic Lodge Installation.

Mr. D. was a tough teacher and far more kids quite than stayed to endure his shouts and tantrums. One Old Timer – that’s someone who is older than I am – anyone younger than me is a New Kid – tells the story of a boy who at his first practice burst into tears when he was slapped on the head with a folder of music. He reported the humiliating experience to his mother who telephoned Mr. D. in anger to complain about the incident. Mr. D.’s response was, “Madam, if your child has emotional problems I don’t want him in my band.”

The conundrum for all of us who suffered the demands, the rages and the discipline of Mr. D is whether he made us better than we were or whether he simply found the most talented and determined kids in town and led us to glory we deserved. No one can answer that question but we who served in the ranks of the Kitsilano Boys Band give all the credit to the “Old Man” who ruled our lives those many years ago.

Out of the ranks of those who stayed came accountants, architects, doctors, lawyers, optometrists, pharmacists, a justice of the Court of Appeal, teachers, professors, the first President of the University of Calgary, a priest, a United Church minister, business leaders, industrialists, and Yes – even a bunch of musicians including Canadian Jazz Superstar Ron Collier and Mr. Music Vancouver: Dal Richards.

Sadly, too many of our buddies have passed on but think of this: however many times we wished Mr. D. a fiery fate, most likely he made it up there and has conscripted all his Old Boys and a few others into a Heavenly Host of Musicians. There in the trumpets are Roy Dawson and Angus Scheidel; on the right, clarinetist Freddie Carrothers; at the back on the snare drum is Danny Crooks and next to him on the bass drum is that bowl full of belly laughs, Tony Verrall (Father Tony he became and Heaven was much improved by his arrival); Owen Morse, Walter Goral and Jack Hamilton are stationed in the middle with their slide trombones; and there, back there! Hey! St. Peter – “Harps are always in the back!” *

We would be remiss indeed not to recall that kind, gentle lady, Lily Delamont, who soothed the passions of her husband and made our live with him more endurable both at home and abroad.

And so we of the Kitsilano Boys Band, having worked together, travelled together and played together may be forgiven for paraphrasing the words of Henry V in Shakespeare’s drama about the tiny group of British soldiers who stood side by side to face the terrifying mass of the French army at Agincourt. Like them we are bound to each other forever by memories of our comradeship, our challenges and our achievements. The valiant King said:

Old men forget; yet all may forget,
But they’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats they did in their days.
Then shall their names
Be in their flowing cups rememb’red
This story shall the good man teach his son
From this day to the ending of the world.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

This night, 70 years after the Beginning, does not yet mark the End but rather adds to our incredibly fortunate lives under the savage baton of Arthur W. Delamont, Bandmaster of all Bandmasters.

*Roy Dawson was a particular friend of mine. We started in the Grandview Band at the same time and were brought into the Air Cadet Band with which we travelled to Calgary in 1942 (my first trip away from home). Tragically, in 1948 Roy and his wife died together in a terrible truck/car accident on the first day of their honeymoon.

*Angus Scheidel was a trumpet player who went on to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. When the VSO visited Kelowna he and another ex-Kits boy came to our house after their concert. Angus moved to Calgary where he taught music until his death in 1996.

*Fred Carrothers was one of the Big Guys in the front row of the Air Cadet Band. He was a member of the first class of students to graduate from the UBC Law School and in 1948 was one of my law professors. He wrote the best textbooks on labour law ever published in B.C.; became Dean of the University of Western Ontario Law School following the renowned Supreme Court Justice Rand; and was invited to become the first President of the University of Calgary. He retired to Brentwood Bay and died in the spring of 1998. His brother Brian became a judge of the B.C. Court of Appeal. A third brother, John, lives in New Brunswick. All three served time in the Kits Band.

*Danny Crooks was a little short fellow who was a very enthusiastic and talented drummer. I last saw him at a quasi-reunion of 1950 Trip players at the United Church in Maple Ridge where another Kits Boy, Gordon Laird, was minister. Danny was too fat for his minuscule height and died in 1996 of a heart attack.

*Tony Verrall was the most pleasant person I ever knew. He had a fantastic sense of humour and a great jolly laugh that shook the walls. I was disappointed when I heard he chose to become a priest but on reflection concluded he was ideally suited to deal with the problems of his parishioners with wisdom and good humor. Regrettably he got caught in a factional dispute among members of his church in Maple Ridge and was both financially deprived by them and dampened somewhat in his good spirits. He died in 1994.

*Bramwell (“Bram”) Stride and I sat side by side in the horn section of the Band for years. We also attended Vancouver Technical School at the same time and played together in that school’s Air Cadet Bugle Band. His brother Fred was a trumpeter in the Kits Band and the three of us became firm friends until Bram died in the 1950s.

*Owen Morse was a quiet young fellow who simply steadily did his job among the trombones. He travelled with us to Britain and Europe in 1950 but was the first of that group to die a few years later when he fell out of his duck-hunting punt and drowned in the Fraser River.

*Walter Goral was also on the 1950 Trip and had the distinction of being called upon by Mr. D. to conduct the Band during our three day stay in Bournemouth where a musicians’ strike stopped professional music in City parks and theatres. He hosted a group of us at his home following our 1950s reunion but died a year later in 1995.

*Jack Hamilton was a tall, handsome man who was a rock-solid, dependable musician – never late, well practiced and beautifully talented in his playing. He followed his father into the insurance business and became a highly respected executive of provincial and federal industry associations. His funeral in Christ Church Cathedral in June, 1998, was attended by hundreds of people who were “entertained” appropriately by a trio of trombone players. Jack’s well used instrument was laid across his coffin and I hope now holds a place of honor in his family’s home.

by Norman D. Mullins, Q. C.