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As We March to the Burford Band by Mel Robertson, from The Burford Times

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Robertson, Mel, Author
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From the 1970s through the 1980s, Mel Robertson wrote many articles for the Burford Advance and Burford Times on the history of Burford Township. This clipping contains the article "As We March to the Burford Band" describing history of the Burford Band in the late 1800s. The article may not have been republished.

Newspaper clippings donated by Liz (Robertson) Brown; reprinted with permission from The Burford Times.
Date of Original:
July 11, 1990
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Provided by Liz Brown
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Protected by copyright: Uses other than research or private study require the permission of the rightsholder(s). Responsibility for obtaining permissions and for any use rests exclusively with the user.
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The Burford Times
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Robertson, Mel. (1990, Jul. 11). As We March to the Burford Band. Burford, Ontario: The Burford Times.
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Full Text


As we march to the Burford Band

By Mel Robertson

As We March to the Burford Band

THE RECENT TRIP of the B.D.H.S. band to New York brings to mind the fact that Burford had a brass band over 100 years ago.

It cannot be determined when the Burford Brass Band was formed but by 1886 when the first Burford paper "The Times" began to be published, the band was a well established part of the community. The original band was associated with the local militia and was called the 2nd Regiment band. However, it is not known if this was an officially established military band or if it was merely a band formed from musicians who already belonged to the militia. Old pictures show men in military uniform which indicates a military connection but at the same time a notice in the Jan. 28th, 1886 copy of "The Times" announces a "Grand Concert" to raise funds for the band. This notice gives the impression that the military connection was tenuous and that the band was not an authorized organization. Nonetheless, since almost every able-bodied man in the community belonged to the militia, the band belonged to the community. Further evidence of the close connection between the militia and the community was the fact that every winter the large earth-covered drill area of the local Armoury (Manley Beam's property on King £:. East) became an indoor skating rink where the band provided music for the skaters.

Skating carnivals were very popular in the early days. On^e such event was described in "The Times" of Jan. 26,1886 as "A Grand Carnival" where the band "will supply its choicest music." Later reports show that over 100 costumed skaters attended. One has to wonder in these days of brilliant electric light in the local arena, how the old rink managed with oil lamps. Carnivals were held every couple of weeks during the winter with successful parties being held as late as March 20 when "the ice was excellent."

When the skating season was over the band took on garden party engagements that kept them busy almost every night of the summer. To illustrate this let us follow the band during the summer of 1886. One June 16 the band played at a Mt. Vernon garden party and on June 17 it accompanied a large Brantford choir at a party on Joe Brethour's lawn. On Friday the 19th there was a grand party on Mr. Frazer's lawn two miles south of Burforc in which the band, plus Smith's and

Silverthorne's orchestras, took part. On Sunday the band led the local militia to Holy Trinity church and helped to give the service a "very military" look. On the 24th the band was at a Cathcart garden party on T. Costin's lawn. This enqagement drew the following comment from the Cathcart correspondent to the "Times" The people of Cathcart congratulate the Burford band for their gentlemanly conduct at last week's concert, come often boys." A further comment may explain he "gentlemanly conduct" comment for t states that "The disgraceful row near the garden party annoyed everyone." 3resumably some "roughs" started a fight on the road outside the garden party. However, the melodic playing of the band and the fact that they did not stop to watch the fight, calmed the "savage breast."

The Cathcart "gig" was followed on July 1 by a gala event in Norwich. This was described in the Norwich Gazette" on July 15 as follows: "Shortly after 10 the procession issued in fine style headed by he Burford band led by A.B. Messecar a fellow typo and a thorough musician and bandmaster. Indeed too much praise cannot be awarded to the A-1 quality and liberal quantity of music. Our people will give them a hearty welcome if they stray his way again." Another news item described the band's participation on the previous evening. "On the evening of the previous day the Burford cavalry troop and its fine band put in an appearance as the day was drawing to close. From the moment when the first cry "Here they come" was raised by the most wide awake street arab the air became pervaded with the most pleasurable excitement. Citizens turned out to admire the visitors in their warlike accoutrements and ladies donned their gayest dresses and paraded to the music of the band." The militaristic tone of 1886 news items may seem strange in 1990 but we must remember that in 1886 people were much taken with the military ventures of the British Empire and had not faced the harsh realities of three great wars.

Shortly after the Norwich engagement the band took on a number of parties sponsored by the area Sons of Temperance. They may have done this with some reluctance as it was reported that some band members did not espouses the temperance cause. The first of these events was a large party at Fairfield in the week after Dominion Day. The Fairfield correspondent congratulated the band on its performance and the fact that it attracted so many pretty girls. On July 12 the band was scheduled to lead the Burford Orange Lodge in a big Hamilton parade. However, due to an error of some sort, the special train the local lodge had engaged left "before the time stated" and the lodge had to travel by the regular train and missed the parade. On July 18 the band played at a Pink Tea on the Burford Public School grounds that was sponsored by the Bur-ford jPons of Temperance. This was a large event that included Smith's orchestra from Fairfield and soloists from Brantford. Engagements continued unabated with a July 29 social on Mr. Poole's lawn in Salem and another the same week at Stephen Fairchild's in Mt. Pleasant. Then the band drew a big breath and announced that there would be a "Grand Promenade Concert" during the first week of August. Hand bills announced that several bands would take part and that admission would be free. Pending final arrangements for this concert a small "Promenade Concert" was held with the Scotland band. Details of the "Grand Concert" are not available but the "Times" of Aug. 19 announced that it had been a big success and that $50 had been raised (I thought it was free). The term "Band Boys Concert" was used to describe this event. This gives the impression that there was a junior band. However, in 1886 the term "boys" was used to describe any man under 60. After that he was either called a "Gentleman" or an "old f-t". Actually, there was only one band. Routine garden party appearances followed and on Sept. 2 the band and the local Orange Lodge got together again for a parade in Cainsville. This time travel connections were good and the band was praised for its music. From then on the open-air season began to wind down and be replaced by indoor things. One such event was the Holy Trinity Church Turkey Supper in the Barnea Hall on Oct. 8. The Times correspondent praised the band for its performance but added that it would have done better if there had been music stands and better light. Appearances at "Harley World Fair" and "Celebrations" In Brannora ended ine hall season and the band began to brush up on its waltzes in preparation for the skating carnivals. Thus ended a typical year for the Burford band.

It may be interesting to record a few events in 1909 and 1910. The year 1909 got off with a "bang" on May 24 when at 5:30 a.m. groups of "boys" set off heavy charges of fireworks or gunpowder. Then when everyone was awake some members of the band appeared on King Street and led an impromptu parade. Then at 1 o'clock the band headed a Calithumpian parade of humourous floats, fancy dressed people and local lodges to the .fairgrounds where it played during a Field Day that featured the great Inter-School Road race. After a short pause the band marched to the Barnea Hall where it provided interval music for the oft-repeated play "The Last Loaf." When "The last Loaf" had been consumed the weary 'bandsmen stumbled down the Barnea Hall stairs and led a "Nightshirt Parade." This was so informal that the "Advance" i reported that "some of the paraders lacked nightshirts."

More sedate occasions followed with one being reported in detail. That was an appearance at Burford Fair about which , Andrew Messecar, the band leader and "Advance" editor, wrote that the band had , charmed a crowd of over 7,000. The program of the day consisted of "A Scotch Medley", "The Impassioned Dream" (??), Marabella", the "Tres Jolie" waltz and the Cakewalk "Zinda". ForLhose who are not familiar with the term "Cakewalk" it was an acrobatic solo dance in which competing dancers strutted about with the winner receiving a cake. The editor credited the band with the financial success of the Fair and noted that over $1,300 had been taken in. "What will the Fair Directors do with sue i a large sum of money?" he asked and received the reply that the Board planned to buy more land and build a "Cozy Corner" where young men could bring their girls. There they could relax to the music of the band and enjoy the ultimate in "romantic" atmosphere.

The year 1910 added more laurels to the band. It began with a series of very successful skating carnivals, one of which

crowded the ice with over 400 skaters. These were followed in June by "Promenade Concerts" every Wednesday night from 7 to 10. Large crowds gathered to hear the band crowding the lawn and street in front of what is now the Township office. Out-of-town engagements followed and during one June week the Band played at a St. John's church party in Cathcart, a Presbyterian social in Burford and a garden party at South School in support of the school library. Farther fields beckoned and an engagement at Princeton was so well received that Princeton Presbyterians and Drumbo Fair Board signed up the band on the spot. On July 29 there was another Salem "gig" followed by a "Grand Concert" on A.D. Muir's lawn in which the Dufferin Rifles band under Burford musician Capt. Frank Johnson Jr. took part. The "Advance" made particular note of the brilliant electric lightings of the lawn and that the Trinity Church Girls Guild, dressed in regimental colours ran a booth and a "Cozy Corner". A large crowd attended this function, some to enjoy the music and others to stroll on the lawn and admire the new scarlet uniforms the militia officers were wearing.

The year closed with the usual appearances at fairs and lawn parties. Of these the band's engagement at Drumbo Fair on Sept. 30 seems to have been the most prestigious for both the Burford and Paris papers ran "rave" reviews about the enthusiasm the band created. The year ended with a surprise visit by the band to the home of A.B. Messecar in honour of his birthday. An evening of games and music was followed by an address and presentation of gifts by Henry Lester.

From 1912 on, interest in the band seemed to fade and there are few references to it in the "Advance". The names of other bands began to appear in garden party notices. Northfield, for example, announced the employment of "the Grand River Band" and at most Fall Fairs the 38th Regt. band from Brantford provided the music. Orchestras began to dominate the lawn party scene and in Burford Andrew Messecar seems to have transferred his interest to orchestral music.

if is not known at what date the Burford band ceased to be called the 2nd Regiment Cavalry band but there is a notice in an "Advance" of Sept. 6, 1909 which states "Col. Galloway will be in town to look after the shipping of all Dragoon equipment. This will mean the end of the Dragoons in Burford." This was not the end for "C" Squadron of the 2nd/10th Brant Dragoons flourished for many years after. However, the Burford band does not seem to have had a militia connection later on.

The Burford band was involved in other things beside promenades, garden parties and lodge parades. With the advent of the railroad through Burford in the late 1800s, people began to see the value of excursions to such far-away places as Niagara Falls, Grimsby Beach and Port Dover. The largest of these excursions were operated by the Burford Sunday School Association and drew thousands. However, organization was not always perfect and following each excursion the "Advance" was full of complaints about how the RR had only provided one train instead of two, how the train was crowded before the 675 Burford people with tickets could get aboard, how the engines were so poor that it took half an hour to get the train moving and how terrified people were when poor brakes on the heavy train could not slow the rush down Mt. Vernon Hill. To mollify the crowd it was decided that the band should accompany the excursions and play lively tunes when people became upset. The band would play at the station while people waited and then when the destination was reached, would lead merry-makers to the Falls or to the beach. One such instance was described in the "Advance" on Aug. 6, 1909 after a Methodist church excursion to Port Dover that had drawn hundreds. The band played at the local station while the crowd waited for the train which "strange to say, was on time." Then at Dover it led a procession to the bathing, rollerskating, roundabouts and boating and then played in the park until the end of the day. On another occasion the Port Dover paper reported that there was great enthusiasm and cries of "Here they come" (continued on page 7)


As we march to the Burford Band

(continued from pg. 5)

when the Burford band and its parade of excursionists "issued into" the park. The word "issued" was a favourite one that was used to describe the arrival of the Burford band at any celebration.

The Burford band was always ready to assist the community at religious events. While it was the 2nd Regiment band it led frequent militia church parades to Holy Trinity Anglican Church which represented the presence of the British Empire in Burford. Of particular interest to the community was the participation of the band in services commemorating the death of Queen Victoria which took place at Holy Trinity on the afternoon of Feb. 2, 1901. In this, the singing of the massed choirs and the playing of the Dead March aroused great emotion. In a happier vein the band participated in the rejoicing to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII. Less regal occasions in which the band took part were the many local Song Services. For those who are not familiar with the term "Song Service" it was a church service dominated by choir singing, hymn sings, solos and appropriate music interspersed with short sermons from the pastor. One example of such a service was that held in the Burford Methodist Church on June 24,1909 when part of the band accompanied a choir of 20 men drawn from all churches. This was followed later by a Song Service that featured a ladies choir of 40. This choir included ladies form all local church choirs. Unfortunately, it aroused the ire of the Rev. Frank Leigh of the Anglican Church who, despite the fact that ladies from other churches had assisted his choir from time to time, objected to his ladies taking part in this service. As a result Leigh fired off a nasty letter of protest to the "Advance" on July 29 - four days before the service was to take place. Despite this example of religious bigotry, the band played on and no permanent harm was done.

Andrew Messecar was the heart and soul of Burford band music. He not only led the band but also was a composer of band music. In 1895 he founded a magazine called "The Bandsman". This was a small publication about the size of "The Readers' Digest". It contained marches, waltzes, etc. that had been composed by Mr. Messecar. One such composition was march titled "As We March to the Burford Band". I had the privilege a few years ago to examine copies of "The Bandsman" through the courtesy of Mrs. Viola Weir, Andrew Messcar's niece. It is understood that Mr. Messecar also assisted Jack Hathaway and his wife Minnie Fowler in the publication of the hymns and gospel songs they composed. Hathaway was the song leader for the internationally; known Moody-Sankey gospel team. After the demise of the band Andrew Messecar organized the Burford Symphony orchestra which consisted of about 25 musicians including a number of fine female musicians.

How big was the Burford band? I have a photo showing 12 musicians including four cornets, three valve trombones, one alto horn, two bass horns, a side drum and a bass drum. On some occasions the band was bigger. Once when a better showing was needed some young men were recruited to carry instruments and march with the band. One of these young men was my uncle Mel Wpodin and another was Bentley Neff. Neither could play an instrument but they held them to their lips and went through the motions. While the band was associated with the militia, uniforms consisted of dark blue tunics and trousers with a wide gold stripe. Hats were of the pill-box type with a gold band and a braided top-knot. I have one of these caps and cannot help but think that they would have been a nuisance in sunny or windy weather. I do not know what the uniform was after the band ended its militia association.

The mention of valve trombones may be of interest as most trombones today are slide trombones where notes are of trained by sliding the tube in and out. Valve trombones had valves or pistons, and were played like a cornet or trumpet. In military bands slide trombones are place din the front rank since their sliding action is apt to "goose" any player in front of them. It is said that Kaiser Wilhelm objected to slide trombones in German Military bands as he felt that they should slide in and out in unison and keep step like marching feet.

Names of Burford bandsmen have not survived, although it is known that Fred Day and Alfred Eddy were active bandsmen. One of the early members was George Gibson whose departure for Manitoba in March, 1886 was noted in the Burford "Times" as a serious loss for the band.

Where did the Burford band play? There were at least two bandstands in the village. One, which was erected in about 1999, stood on the lawn in front of the building that is now the Township office. Another was on the fairgrounds near the site of the present grandstand. Not much is known about either bandstand although the one at the fairgrounds had benches for spectators. The Maple Ave. Public School grounds was a favourite place for concerts but as far as can be determined no permanent bandstand existed. Another frequent site of concerts was A.D. Muir's lawn (now Bill Spowl's). This was a very convenient place as Mr. Muir was a militia officer and the Armoury was just across the street. In considering all these spots one has to wonder how in 1886, before there was electricity, the bandsmen managed with oil lamps. Kelly gasoline flares were used at garden parties but were they used at the band concerts?

How good was the Burford band? Since very few people who heard the band are still with us we must rely on another means of determining the quality of the music - Competition. During the existence of the Burford band there were many bands in the district. Brantford had at least three. There was a band in Paris and bands in Scotland, Norwich, Wilson-ville, etc. In addition there were many good orchestras such as Smith's of Fair-field, Campbell's, Silverthorne's, Smallman's, etc. All of these organizations were available for garden parties and concerts. Yet, despite the competition, the Burford band was kept busy playing at garden parties, etc. at least twice a week all summer. Another factor to be considered was that at the time many men and women were skilled part-singers who knew a good band when they heard it. Consequently the constant employment and re-employment of the Burford band in competition with the many area musical groups indicates that it was a good band.

No article on bands in this area would be complete without reference to the Scotland Brass Band which seems to have originated at about the same time as the Burford band but which lasted much longer. Information about early activities of the Scotland band are hard to locate. For some unknown reason, Scotland correspondents to both the Burford "Times" and "Advance" made no reference to its engagements. In fact, the only "engagement" noted is that of April 2,1886 which stated "there was a serious disturbance in the band room last week which resulted in bruised faces and bent instruments." Surely this fine band merited something better than this sour note! Undated photos of the Scotland band exist and I have a couple. Each show a band of 15 musicians posed in a woodland setting. Instruments consist of four cornets, three valve trombones, two alto horns, two tenor horns, two bass horns, a side drum and a bass drum with the words "Scotland Brass Band" printed on it. Uniforms consisted of dark shirts and trousers with white piping on the collars and shirt fronts. Caps were peaked with a brass badge. Not all names are decipherable but the following are noted - John Malcolm, Wid Muirhead, John Moore, Dan Smith, Bern Stuart, John Hammond, R. Messecar and Jim Messecar. The Scotland band existed well into the 1920s and maybe later. I can recall an occasion in the 1920s when the Scotland Band assisted at an evening service in Burford Methodist Church. The only bandsman I can recall from that (continued on page 8)

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As We March to the Burford Band by Mel Robertson, from The Burford Times

From the 1970s through the 1980s, Mel Robertson wrote many articles for the Burford Advance and Burford Times on the history of Burford Township. This clipping contains the article "As We March to the Burford Band" describing history of the Burford Band in the late 1800s. The article may not have been republished.

Newspaper clippings donated by Liz (Robertson) Brown; reprinted with permission from The Burford Times.