History of Brass Bands in BC


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Brian Stride
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Research Project: History of Brass Bands in British Columbia

Port (Fort) Simpson (Lax Kw’Alaams)


Much of the information in this article is summarized from the following publications:

  • Mattison, D. (1981) On the March. Indian Brass Bands, 1866-1915. British Columbia Historical News, Vol. 15, No.1 6-14

  • McIntosh, D. (1989). History of Music in British Columbia 1850 – 1950.Victoria: Sono Nis Press

  • The author is also indebted to Harvey Russell, Don Wells and Ivan Wells for information on the Lax Kw'Alaams (Port Simpson) Concert Band.

    Fort Simpson, later Port Simpson and now Lax Kw’Alaams was the third community on the northwest coast of British Columbia to develop a brass band. Port Simpson was a Methodist village but the date of formation of a band is unclear. What is certain is that there was more than one brass band in the village, perhaps as many as three. The first recorded performance of a band was the fall of 1887, for the Indian Affairs Commissioners C. F. Cornwall and J. P. Planta. They reported that:

    "The Indian village, spread over a considerable area, with several streets and numerous houses, presented quite an imposing appearance ... There is a fire-brigade house and a Temperance Hall; street-lamps are used, and a brass band was heard at practice in the evening."1

    By 1900 the Prince of Wales Band, one of the brass bands, had become a concert (brass and reed) band and was called Nelson’s [Silver] Cornet Band. Use of the name Nelson may have been related to Chief Harry E. Nelson, who, it is thought, organized the band. More likely, however, it was the name Job Nelson, the director of the band at the time. After Job Nelson left the band it changed its name to the Port Simpson Concert Band, which still exists today, an unbroken history of over 120 years.

    Lax Kw'alaams Band Seafest Prince Rupert 2003

    Port Simpson Concert Band, Prince Rupert Sea Festival ca. 2003.

    Nelson’s Cornet Band had a uniform consisting of a loose-fitting, shawl-like top, emblazoned with native Indian figures. This group later hired Alfred Prescott, a professional bandmaster from England, to direct the group and help them maintain their position as the leading First Nations band in the province.

    In 1901 the band was photographed the morning of a reception for the First Nations people who had gathered to honour the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary).

    Nelson Cornet Band 1901 P24

    Edwards Brothers, City of Vancouver Archives, In P24.

    Nelson’s Cornet Band ca. 1901

    Like other northern coastal bands, the Port Simpson brass bands, and subsequent concert bands, were present at almost every ceremonial occasion and exposition, including:

    • 1905 New Westminster Dominion Exhibition, where one of the Port Simpson bands won the first nations brass band contest.
    • 1906 visit to Vancouver of Governor-General Earl Grey.
    • 1910 visit of Sir Wilfrid Laurier to Prince Rupert (the Metlakatla, Kitkatla and possibly Kincolith bands were also present).
    • 1912 visit of the Duke of Connaught to Prince Rupert. At the brass band contest attended by the Duke of Connaught the Port Simpson Band won first prize in the march competition. The Duke of Connaught presented each member of the band with a gold medal.
    • 1986 Expo ’86 in Vancouver.
    1. British Columbia, Commission on the Condition of the Indians of the North West Coast, Papers Relating to… (1888), p. 419.
    Victoria Day 1908

    J.D. Allen Photographic Company, Prince Rupert City and Regional Archives, 187.

    Port Simpson concert Band at the Victoria Day Celebrations, May 1908.

    Port Simpson Concert Band 192_

    The United Church of Canada Marine Missions on the Central Coast of British Columbia.

    Port Simpson Concert Band ca. 192-.

    lax kw'alaams concert band 1960

    Photographer: Jo-Anne Cooper.

    Lax Kw’Alaams Concert Band ca. 1960.

    Port Simpson wedding 1890.gif

    Port Simpson, ca. 1890.

    In researching brass bands one frequently finds photographs of bands at public ceremonies and special events. In this photo the Port Simpson Brass Band leads a wedding procession.

    Author: Brian Stride (2006)

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    Updated 2007 Jan 06, 18:23 EST/EDT

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