The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Band
The band was no doubt one of the finest ever assembled in Canada. The musicians were highly valued, educated performers, many of whom were graduates of major Canadian and American music schools. The band was a front-runner in developing programs for young people. They helped to maintain the image of the Royal Mounted Police as a world class police force. The arranging staff was second to none and included talented Berkley School of Music graduate Gary Morton. Many of their jazz styles have now just begun to filter their way into the military band repertoire of other world bands. The mixture and blend of their music impacted on audiences everywhere they performed. It was perhaps one of the most unbelievable and absurd decisions ever made by a standing Canadian government when in 1994 they decided to break up this band.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police was organized in 1873 as the North West Mounted Police to provide protection for the settlers in Manitoba, the areas further west, and the Yukon. In 1876 its first band was formed at Swan River, Manitoba. The instruments were purchased by the 20 players themselves and shipped from Winnipeg by dog-team. This volunteer band flourished intermittently until the outbreak of the South African War in 1899. Approximately seven other bands existed during the first 30 years of the force’s history. The band at Fort Qu’appelle under Sgt-Maj Fred A. Bagley performed at a notable event in 1881, the signing of the treaty between the federal government and the Indians of the Blackfoot confederacy, the Assiniboine, and other tribes, on the banks of the Bow River near Calgary. In 1886 at Calgary Bagley founded the North West Mounted Police ‘E’ Division band, which achieved excellence. In addition to its regular concerts in Calgary it also played on special occasions at the Banff Springs Hotel, which was opened in 1888. The ‘E’ Division band dispersed on Bagley’s retirement from the force in 1899. Both the Calgary and the Regina station police bands participated in one of the most glittering local events of that era, the grand ball held in 1889 on the occasion of Governor General Stanley’s visit to the Territories. As the West grew, so did the duties and responsibilities of the force. The North West Mounted Police became the Royal North West Mounted Police in 1904, and this in turn was merged into a new national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in 1920. The earliest attempt to establish an official RCMP band was made in 1934. However, owing to the Depression, approval for a part-time band was granted only in 1938.
The director of this band, located first in Regina and later in Ottawa, was Staff-Sgt Joseph T. Brown, formerly of the Governor General’s Foot Guards Band of Ottawa. One of the band’s first performances occurred on May 25, 1939 during the visit of George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada. The band also appeared in New York at the 1939 World’s Fair. Throughout the war years it played in many concerts and parades across Canada in connection with the Victory Loan program and the war effort; in 1944 it was on duty during the Quebec Conference. In 1949 Sgt E. J. Lydall, who lead the band on its Prairie tour the previous year, replaced the retiring Inspector Brown as music director. A second part-time RCMP band was organized in 1949 in Regina under Cpl C.C. Bryson. Both units continued to be active in their respective areas, and they merged for special occasions. In 1951 the Ottawa band played an important role at performances during the visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. In 1953 Coronation ceremonies in Canada’s capital were co-coordinated by Inspector Lydall, and the massed bands were led by the RCMP Ottawa Band on Parliament Hill in a dazzling display of pomp and pageantry.
The RCMP bands flourished throughout the 1950s, but operation on a part-time basis was difficult. Government approval of a full-time band was granted in December 1958. This band, with headquarters in Ottawa, began extensive tours of Canada and the Territories. In 1961 it covered over 11,000 km by land, appearing in cities from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, through the Prairie provinces, to Thunder Bay, Ontario. The following year the band toured the Maritimes and Quebec and introduced a popular series of concerts and retreat ceremonies at the Supreme Court building in Ottawa during the summer months. The band made two CBC TV appearances in 1964 and took part in the International Band Festival in Moose Jaw, Sask, in 1965. Canada’s centennial year, 1967, was a busy one, as the band joined the RCMP Musical Ride and toured Canada. The majority of Musical Ride performances, which originated in the 1880s, have used recorded music or employed local bands when the troupe is on tour in Europe or North America.
In 1967 Superintendent E. J. Lydall retired, and Inspector W. Bramwell Smith, a former member of the United States Marine band, was appointed supervisor of music for the force and served as music director of the band until 1975. In 1967 the RCMP sent its musicians across the Arctic for the first time, touring the full band to centres accessible to large aircraft. After a successful tour of the USA in 1968 the band was featured in a CBC TV Christmas special.
In 1970 it made a memorable series of appearances at Expo 70, Osaka. In the course of nine days it was heard live by over half-a-million people and was viewed on TV by millions of Japanese and Canadians. An annual winter concert series at the NAC begun in 1968 continued until the mid 1970s. In 1973, with the RCMP Centennial Review, it the band appeared in some 20 cities across Canada. During 1974 it appeared at the Ontario Place Forum, Toronto. Kenneth Moore was appointed music director for the RCMP 1 Dec 1975 and was succeeded in 1986 by Inspector Charles Hendricks.
In 1976 the band sent a group of musicians to Old Crow, Yukon Territory, the forerunner of a permanent 12-piece ensemble established in 1977 to travel to remote areas of the provinces and to communities of the Arctic accessible only by small aircraft. Among the hundreds of noteworthy appearances the band has made after 1980 are those occasioned by Alberta’s 75th anniversary (1981), the World University Games in Edmonton, the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales (1983), the ACTRA awards ceremony (1985), Expo 86 in Vancouver, the Commonwealth Conference, the Calgary Winter Olympics, the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Toronto (1987), the Cystic Fibrosis Telethon (1989) and the visits of USSR President Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth II (1990). Notable visits outside Canada include those to Nashville, Tenn (1980), Germany and South America (1984), Chicago (1987), and Australia (1988). An annual (from 1978) commitment to the CFCF Montreal Children’s Hospital Telethon is typical of the band’s work on behalf of charitable organizations.
In 1991 the RCMP band continued their demanding schedule which had been typical of the musical ambassadors of Canada’s national police force. It was a startled Canadian public when they learned that The RCMP band was to be disbanded in 1994. There was the usual uproar, in the press and from the public but this did not deter the government in destroying the tradition of a Canadian treasure.
The Toronto Sun reported ‘Mountie band chopped’ on Friday December 31st, 1993.
Ottawa (CP) – Appeals to the federal cabinet and a countrywide petition failed to save the RCMP band from the budgetary chopping block.
Solicitor General Herb Gray refused yesterday to grant a reprieve after reviewing the Force’s decision to cut the band,
“The RCMP band has made a considerable contribution to Canadian life,” Gray said. “But when it comes to a choice between maintaining core police functions or savings the band, the RCMP’s priority has to be the maintenance of core police functions.”
Supporters of the band gathered more than 30,000 names on a petition. The 23 member band played about 200 shows a year.