Arthur W. Delamont

Arthur W. Delamont was a British born brass band trumpet player. He was born in Hereford, England in 1892. In his youth, he played in the Hereford Salvation Army Band that is said to have been conducted at one time by Sir Edward Elgar. He emigrated to Canada in 1910 with his family to Moose Jaw. There were five Delamont brothers and four sisters. All were Salvationists including their mother and father who at one time was a bouncer for General Booth the founder and leader of the Salvation Army.

In 1914, he was chosen with his older brother Leonard (the conductor of the Moose Jaw S.A. band) and their father to be a member of the Canadian Territorial Staff Band. They all travelled to Quebec City with Mrs Delamont and Lizzie their sister where they boarded the Empress of Ireland bound for England.  Late that night off the coast of Rimouski the Empress was rammed by another ship. The Delamont’s were all asleep down below but before long they were cast into the freezing waters of the St. Lawerance. Arthur managed to get picked up by a lifeboat as did his mother and father and sister Lizzie. When the last lifeboat landed on the shore and there was no sign of Leonard his mother screamed, “My poor Leonard, my poor Leonard.”

Arthur eventually married Lillie in Moose Jaw and their first child Gordon was born in 1918. It was decided they would head out west for Vancouver on the train where there would be more opportunities. In Vancouver, Arthur played in the vaudeville theatres: the Pantages, the Orpheum and the Strand and also opened a grocery store in a new and up-and-coming neighbourhood called Kitsilano. He soon had enough money to buy three lots next to General Gordon School. He built three houses. He then sold one, rented the other and moved his young family into the one next door to General Gordon. By now they had another child Vera.

Arthur could see that vaudeville was not going to last so he looked around for something else. He noticed the boys at General Gordon wasting their time standing around on the street corners after school and he thought if he could pull them all together he could probably make them into a pretty good sounding boy’s band. In 1928 the General Gordon School Band was founded. They marched in the homecoming parade for Percy Norman when he arrived home from the Olympics.

Throughout the thirties, Arthur built his boy’s band into the best band in the land. With the help of Garfield White, he was able to get Vancouver’s high society types on board to help raise money. He had long decided it was going to be a travelling band and when Vancouver’s youth heard this they flocked to him by the dozens. It was also going to be a band that won every music festival it entered starting in Victoria in 1931. After winning the provincial title in Victoria Arthur and his boys boarded the train for Toronto. Garfield White was also the assistant to the head ticket agent for the CPR in Vancouver and was able to get great deals on train travel and hotels (they stayed at the Empress in Victoria). In Toronto Garth Bowen the English adjudicator said to him, “You completely outclassed those other bands in your class. And that brass quartet was simply amazing.” They left Toronto having won the National Band Championship of Canada.

Arthur was always looking for ways to challenge his boys so he eventually found something in Chicago. It was the Chicagoland Band Festival and the winner would be crowned World Champions. All Vancouver got behind him and his boys to send them to Chicago. Finally, in the summer of 1933, they headed east on the train for the World Band Championship in Chicago. When all the scores were tallied Arthur and his boys were 24 1/2 points ahead of their nearest American rivals the Chicago Boy’s Band. One of his clarinet players named Dallas Richards said to him, “So what’s next Mr Delamont?” Without losing a beat he said, “Why England of course.” It was the height of the depression and no one had any money but he managed to pull it off.

In 1934 Arthur, Lillie, Gordon and Vera set off with the boys by train across Canada bound for Quebec City to catch the Duchess of Athol bound for Liverpool. They played at whistle stops all across Canada and Arthur managed to get them into shape for what lay ahead. They played on the ship as well for the first class passengers and also for the third class passengers. They spent four months in England playing and touring from one end of the country to the other. They were booked into vaudeville theatres, bandstands on the beach and in parks. They also played in Bugle at the West of England Band Festival where they marched away with three wins against adult bands. There were no youth bands in England in the thirties.

Arthur took his boys back to England in 1936 where they beat thirty-seven bands at the Crystal Palace in London to take home the Cassell’s Challenge Shield. That trip was three months and three weeks long. They were in England again in 1939 when war was declared. They had to sneak out under the cover of darkness and balloon barrages by bus to Southampton to catch the Empress of Britain home. Across the Atlantic, they narrowly missed being attacked by a U-boat.

During the war years, many of his boys returned to England to fly Spitfires, Lancasters and Mozzies in the skies above and many paid the supreme sacrifice. His first group of boys had stayed with him from 1928 through 1936. They became known as the ‘Originals.’ In later years he often played a hymn for those that were lost during the war.

When the war ended he found himself with lots of money in his bank account as they couldn’t travel during the war years so he set off in 1950 on a staggering five-month tour of England and the continent. They entered the Oosterbeek Band Festival the forerunner to the famous Kerkrade Music Festival which was held on an airstrip near Arnheim and won double gold.  They returned to England in 1953 and only played in vaudeville theatres. That trip became known as the vaudeville trip. They returned in 1955 and again in 1958 and entered the Kerkrade Music Festival and again won double gold.

In 1962 he decided to go to Europe again but this time it would be something different. They boarded the liner Orsova in Vancouver and travelled down the west coast and through the Panama Canal before heading across the Atlantic for Southampton. In 1966 he entered his boys for the last time in the Kerkrade Music Festival and they won gold and silver. Times had changed. The day of the one man band was coming to an end. Big American bands with one hundred players were becoming the norm and he couldn’t compete. Besides he was now seventy-six years young.

But old age never deterred him. Throughout the sixties and seventies, he returned to England and the continent every two years with his boys: 1968, 1970, 1972, and 1974. In 1979 he took a small band of old boys back on a four-week sentimental journey around England.

Over the course of fifty years, his boys won over two hundred championship awards and travelled to England and the continent fourteen times. Over the years his boys became the who’s who of the Canadian music establishment playing and leading bands and orchestra from one end of the country to the other. His son Gordon became the leading authority on harmonic technique and taught privately many of Canada’s leading musicians from his studio in Toronto. Dal Richards became an icon here on the west coast with his big band in the sixties and then again in later years. Bobby Gimby, Ron Collier, Arnie Chycoski, Donny Clark all became leaders in their field and many more. Composers such as Bob Buckley and Marek Norman who got their start in his band are still going strong today. In the field of music education, Earl Hobson and Dennis Tupman became leading figures here in Vancouver and many others taught band in the high schools of Vancouver in the sixties through the nineties.

Arthur Delamont showed what could be achieved with a band of rag-tag street kids. His band was the first Vancouver honour band as he drew his boys from all over town. It can be said that the youth band movement in Canada was started by the fine example he set with his boys as they travelled by train across Canada. Every town wanted their own band after they heard his Kitsilano Boys Band aka Vancouver Boys Band play. In Vancouver every mother and father wanted their boy to play in his band. The quality of music produced by his boys coupled with the excitement of being on a Delamont trip was contagious and the trips have now all become legendary.

Arthur Delamont passed away in 1982 but the memory of what he achieved with his boys continues to live on through six volumes of books on the Life and Times of the Legendary Mr D (please see our bookstore). Through this Foundation his memory will live on for future generations of Vancouverites. He gave so much to the youth of Vancouver throughout his life. It is only fitting that he continues to give to the youth of Vancouver for many more years to come.