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New exhibit brings to life history of local concert bands

Published on

Cathy Dobson

When Sarnia’s Don Vander Klok set out to tell the stories behind the history of local concert bands he started with the players and their families.

“The Sarnia Citizens’ Band had a lot of respected conductors over the years and Art Christmas was one of them,” said Vander Klok.

“His son, Jeff, told me that during Art’s time there, city council stopped donating the $500 a year that the concert band had received for decades. Art was furious, so he changed the name to the Bluewater Symphonic Band and, when the city asked the band to play at the Nov. 11 ceremony, Art said OK, but there would be a $500 charge. And the city said OK.

“I heard a lot of great stories like that while I did my research, and then I discovered this amazing resource called the Lambton County Archives and found information dating back to the 1800s.”

A collaboration between the Lambton County Archives and Vander Klok, president of the Lambton Concert Band, has resulted in a new exhibit in the lobby of the Sarnia Library Auditorium.

At least 10 communities in Sarnia-Lambton had concert bands at one time, said Nicole Aszalos, county archivist and supervisor.

“Alvinston, Inwood, Watford, Petrolia, Arkona, Thedford, Forest, Oil Springs, Walpole and Sarnia all had concert bands…that formed part of the backbone of community military organizations and brought fame and fun to their communities.”

Vander Klok said the heyday stretched from the 1920s into the 1970s.

“That’s when towns stopped funding them and people got busy,” he said. “But for a long time, concert bands played all kinds of music and marched in civic parades, military exercises, churches and fairs.

“And they would get really fancy with coats that had shoulder braids, stripes on their pants, feather plumes in their hats and white gloves on their hands.

“It was a fun outlet for the musicians and the crowds that went to see them.”

Having a smartly dressed and well-practiced concert band was a point of pride for many local communities through the 20th century.

And municipal councils didn’t mind paying for instruments, uniforms, music and even bandstands. Some spectacular bandstands were built, including those in Forest, Alvinston, Petrolia and Sarnia.

“To be in the band felt prestigious. You got to show off in front of an audience. You got to be immersed in music that was inspiring and melodic and carried you away; as a member of the band, you were right in the middle of it,” Vander Klok said.

Sarnia’s bandstand was in what is now Veterans Park. Eventually it was replaced by the bandshell in Canatara Park, named after Bill Brush, a big personality in the scene who was with the Sarnia Citizens’ Band for 46 years.

The exhibit features instruments, uniforms, and music, largely contributed by area museums. It also includes a video presentation by Vander Klok with music by the Forest Excelsior Band. Founded in 1884, it is believed to be the longest running civilian band in Canada.

“I had a lot of fun with this,” Vander Klok said. “I think the exhibit will trigger all kinds of memories and stories.”

Much of his research can also be found on his website at www.lambtoncountyconcertbands/home.


WHAT: A free exhibit about the history of community concert bands in Sarnia-Lambton.

WHERE: The theatre lobby on the second floor of Sarnia Library downtown.

WHEN: Now until April 30 during regular library hours.

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