The Originals!

1931 Jasper after their win

ABOVE: Jasper, The boys returning from Toronto in 1931 after winning the National Band Championship

I interviewed Clif Bryson at his home in Boundary Bay when I first started interviewing former band members around 1987. Clif was one of the original members of the Kitsilano Boys Band. Here is what he had to say about what it was like in the beginning.

In 1927, my grandad bought me a saxophone. I took lessons for a year and in 1928, I heard that Arthur Delamont was starting a band at General Gordon School (The news spread like wildfire all over the neighborhood). I will never forget my audition with Arthur. I started on an E flat saxophone and was the first saxophone in his band. Before Kits, I had gone down and joined the National Juvenile Band, which was very popular. I told Hoskins Sara that I played a C melody saxophone. Sara said,

“No, sorry! There is no place for a C melody saxophone.” I went back to my teacher, Eddie Morse, who was operating a music company at that time (Freddie Archer and Eddie Morse had taken it over from the Conn Company). That’s where I got my first job at one dollar a week. Anyway, Eddie switched me over to an E flat alto.” With the C melody, I played note to note with the piano. With my new E flat alto, I had to transpose down a minor third.

I had my audition in the kitchen of Delamont’s home.  Delamont put a piece of music up and I said,

“Do I have to transpose this?” Delamont just about exploded!

“What do you know about transposition?!” I explained,

“When I play with the piano, I have to transpose down a minor third.” Mr. D, as the boys called him, just couldn’t get over that. Anyway, he was pretty much starting everybody from scratch. He welcomed me with open arms. He put me in with the alto horns because they were so weak. I found the part so dull, playing off-beats. Finally Herbie Melton joined on tenor sax and then Alan Newbury on alto and we had a trio.
At first, rehearsals were held in the little school house situated in the back corner of the playground behind General Gordon School. There was ‘Norman Pearson’ or ‘Norie’ as the boys called him. He was a champion cricket player who is now in the B.C. Hall of Fame.  Norie played trombone. He was a good friend of Gordy McCullough. Gordie started on trombone but used to hang out at the Strand and Beacon theatres watching the drummers. He told Arthur one day,

“I want to switch to drums or I will quit!” So Arthur let him. Gordie McCullough lived at 2551 West 7th Avenue. Van Dunfee was another trombone player. He lived at 2725 West 16th. Then there was ‘Donald Endicott’ who played trumpet. He lived at 2239 Trafalgar Street. Van Dunfee, Gordy McCullough and Donald Endicott all later played together in a dance band at the ‘Alma Hall,’ which stood at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Alma in Kitsilano.
Then there was Ardie Steeves. Ardie had a good life. He was the youngest in his family and he was spoiled. He became a pretty good trumpet player. Ardie used to go to the movies a lot in the 1930s. His mother had a jar of coins which she use to let Ardie help himself to, so he could go to the picture shows at least once a week. I guess she thought it would be good for him. Ardie’s dad had told him, in the spring of 1931,

“If you place first in the solo trumpet class at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, I will give you a new car.” It was the first big national contest that Arthur entered his boys in. Ardie telephoned home from Toronto to tell his dad the good news so that his new car would be waiting for him when he arrived home. Ardie drove that car to band practices ever after. He lived at 3636 West 4th Avenue.
Doug MacAdams came from a wealthy family. His dad had some money in the stock market and got it out before the crash of 1929. He had over a million dollars, an enormous amount in those days. He lived at 2745 Point Grey Road. Dougie Cooper was also in the band. He played drums along with Gordie McCullough. He lived at 2476 West 6th Avenue.
They all knew each other. Dougie Harkness was another boy in the neighbourhood group. He was the practical joker and lived at 2834 West 3rd Avenue. Mack Morrison’s father became the first president of Arthur’s parents’ association, called “the Committee.” He led the Committee from 1931 to 1936. Mack was a trumpet player and lived at 4573 West 1st Avenue.
The boys all came from good homes. Doug Barlow’s father was the first secretary of the Committee and Jimmy Findlay’s father was a chief magistrate of the Vancouver Law Courts. Both Doug and Jimmy played clarinet. Jimmy wound up doing some publicity for the band when it was on tour in England in 1936. Doug lived at 2516 West 6th Avenue and Jimmy lived at 6579 Maple Street.
Jack Habkirk’s father became a city alderman in the 1930s. The Habkirk’s were from Winnipeg where Jack’s father had worked as the composing room foreman at the Winnipeg Free Press. They lived at 6210 Cypress Street.
Other boys in the beginning included Wally Oatway, who played baritone. He was the third boy to join Arthur’s band, after Gordon and Clif Bryson. The day Arthur announced to the students at General Gordon that he was forming a band, Wally ran all the way over to Arthur’s house to be the first in line.

Then there were four boys who all played tuba, Walter Mottishaw, John Hardy, Stuart Ross (who started on trumpet but switched to tuba) and Dordie Baird (who became a DJ). Pete Watt was another and he played trombone. Most of the boys lived in close proximity to one another, within the boundaries of this up-and-coming new neighborhood on Vancouver’s west side called Kitsilano.

Other ‘originals’ included Arthur Butroid (who became a Commander in the Canadian Navy during the war), Jack Fairburn (who later ran a lumber company), Clifford Wood (who became an Aide-de-Camp to a Canadian General in Italy during WWII), and Ross Armstrong (who became an optometrist). Bob Randall’s family owned the Hastings Park Raceway. Bob later became the director of the Ascot Jockey Club. George Reifel was another original, as was Phil Baldwin who became a radio announcer. Freddie Woodcock was there too.

Roy Johnston was the star of the band. The ‘Boy Wonder’ they called him. He joined the band in 1929 and was their star trumpet soloist. By 1934, he had garnered no less than sixteen medals for his solo and quartet playing in various competitions. In those days, they used to give out medals to winning soloists or group players. In 1931, Roy played the flugelhorn solo in Haute Monde at the Canadian National Exposition Band Festival in Toronto. This was the test piece in the big competition that the band won (their first great victory). It made them National Champs! Roy’s music teacher told him he should look into this new band starting up in Kitsilano. Roy didn’t know anything about Arthur and he had never heard of the band. As mentioned they rehearsed in the little house at the back of General Gordon School. Arthur’s house was just over the fence. The boys sat on benches, five kids to a bench. Each bench accommodated six or seven kids but they had to keep their arms in close. Arthur said to Roy,

“Sit there on the first chair!” Don Endicott sat next to Roy that first night. No one ever sat between them, up until the day they both left. Before they started, Mr. D sat beside Roy. He asked him to move over because he wanted to talk to him. Mr. D asked him some questions.

“How long have you been in the National Juvenile Band? How long have you been taking lessons? What do you think about their band?” Roy told him he was quitting the National Juvenile Band. The last time that he heard them they really hadn’t done such a good job. But this is how Roy put it,

“Mr Delamont, I heard them the other day and I thought they sounded like the devil.” Arthur said,

“Don’t you ever talk like that in here again. Nobody swears in this place.” That was swearing to him. So Roy got beaten down before he even played a note. He’d done something wrong right away. He never did it again. Such was Mr. D’s influence.
Jack Allen also joined the band in 1929. Jack and Roy Johnston soon became great pals. Roy was in the band from 1929 to 1934. He later became a B.C. Hydro right of way agent and played professionally.

In 1933, three clarinet players joined the band. They had heard the band was going to Chicago and they wanted to go too. Their names were Harry Bigsby, Jack Bensted and Dallas Richards.

During the years 1931 through 1936, everything Delamont did with his band was new. They won the Provincial Championship in Victoria in 1931, the National Championship in Toronto in 1931 and the Junior Band Championship of the World in Chicago in 1933. Then he took his boys to England in 1934 where they were Champions in their class at the West Of England Band Festival against fifteen of the South’s finest adult brass bands. In 1936, they went back to England where this time they were Champions in their class at the National Brass Band Competition at the Crystal Palace, winning against thirty-four of England’s top adult brass bands. Most of the boys who he started in the band in 1928 stayed with him through 1936. That is why they were so darn good! They all became known as ‘The Originals.’

     I was fortunate enough to interview three of the Original members of the band, Clif Bryson, Roy Johnston and Gordy McCullough. Dal Richards, whom I interviewed several times over the years was not considered to be an original member because he didn’t join until 1933. Most of the original members had passed away by the time I started my research. I was able to track down the families of a few of the original members, Art Butroid’s family, I met in Victoria. They were able to lend me Art’s scrapbook which had a wealth of pictures from the early days of the band. The band was so important to every boy who was ever in it, that as far as I know, they all kept scrapbooks, which is why today there is such a wealth of pictures from almost every decade of the band. I was also able to meet with Jack Allen’s son, Peter Allen. Peter is today a well known and successful film composer living in Vancouver.

  • Over a twenty year period, I interviewed over 120 former members of the band.