History of Brass Bands in BC


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Research Project: History of Brass Bands in British Columbia



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

  • In December, 1888, the Catholic Sechelt mission developed "two full brass bands, of fifteen pieces each, composed of native musicians only."1 In 1890, the bands performed, along with four or five other bands, for the opening festivities of Our Lady of the Rosary (see photograph).

    Sechelt Our Lady of the Rosary Church 1890

    Bailey and Neelands, City of Vancouver Archives, Out P426.

    Two of the bands in this photograph are identifiable: the first is the Sechelt brass band whose members are wearing bandsmen uniforms with caps; the second is the Lillooet band whose flower-bedecked buckskin jackets and straw hats form an interesting contrast to the Sechelt uniforms. Other bands in the photograph may be the St. Mary's Mission band, the Squamish band, and the Fort Douglas band. Frank Isidore, the bandmaster, is seated next to the bass drum, his baton resting on the drum. Frank Isidore was still with the band in 1933, ca. 1890.

    A reporter who attended the dedication described one of the greatest assemblages of Catholic brass bands:

    "The Indians of the [Sechelt] Mission gave their brethren from the interior a hearty welcome. Their band was stationed on the steps of the new church and as the steamer lay to, struck up a lively air. Six brass bands in all were in attendance, most of them uniformed in the most fantastic garb that could be devised. A band from Lillooet had fine new buckskin suits throughout, gaily decked with bright colored flowers worked upon the borders."2

    The day before this was written Bishop Louis D'Herbomez died in New Westminster; he was buried at the Oblate cemetery at St. Mary's Mission on June 6 with two brass bands in attendance.3 On June 10 the final ceremonies at Sechelt were held.4

    Reverand Adrien-Gabriel Morice, O.M.I., also commented on the Sechelt Brass Band and the dedication of the new church in Sechelt in his "History of the Catholic Church in Western Canada 5.

    "As in a number of other Catholic villages, a brass band with gorgeous uniforms for the players and a commodious stand for the discoursing of sweet music on Sundays and holidays, was established, while pieces of cannon were procured which were destined to celebrate the arrival of the missionary, or enhance the solemnity of the processions of the Blessed Sacrament."
    "Deputations from over a dozen tribes went to assist at the dedication of the new church by Bishop Durieu. Even far-off Stuart Lake was represented by its missionary accompanied by six stalwart men. To describe the astonishment of the northerners when they heard the pantings of the iron horse and, later on, the thundering reports of the “big guns'' (cannon), when they witnessed the display of the fireworks, and listened to the entrancing music of the many brass bands called into requisition for the occasion, would be perfectly impossible."

    In 1905 the Sechelt Brass Band participated in the First Nations brass band contest at the Dominion Exhibition in New Westminster. The band placed third and had the honour of closing the Exhibition with the playing of God Save the King.

    1. News-Advertiser, December 13, 1888, p. 8.
    2. World (Vancouver), June 4, 1890, p. 3.
    3. Ibid., June 5, 1890, p. 4.
    4. Ibid., June 9, 1890, p. 4.
    5. Morice, Rev. A.G., O.M.I. (1910). The History of the Catholic Church in Western Canada from Lake Superior to the Pacific (1659 – 1895).Volume II, Toronto, The Musson Book Company Ltd. (386-387).
    Sechelt Brass Band 189-

    Sechelt First Nations Brass Band, ca. 1890

    Sechelt Church 1890

    Bailey and Neelands, City of Vancouver Archives, Out P424

    Roman Catholic Church at Sechelt, June 19, 1890. Members of a brass band are standing to the right of the photograph.

    Sechelt at worship 1890

    Bailey and Neelands, City of Vancouver Archives, In P7

    Church service at Sechelt. The brass band is in the foreground.

    Procession for the opening of the residential school

    BC Archives F-02406

    Procession for the opening of the residential school. The brass band leads the procession, ca. 1904.

    Author: Brian Stride (2012)

    Return to First Nations Brass Bands

    Updated 2012 Feb 29, 22:22 EST/EDT

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