Arthur Delamont was born into a large family of musical Salvationists in Hereford, England in 1892. He and his four brothers and father all played in the Hereford Salvation Army Band. It is said that Edward Elgar once conducted the band. The family immigrated to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1910 where they soon became a major part of the Moose Jaw Salvation Army Band. In 1914, a call went out for the best players across Canada to play in a Territorial Staff Band that was traveling to England for a World Congress of Salvationists. Arthur, his brother Leonard who was now was the conductor of the Moose Jaw Salvation Army Band and their father were all selected. Along with mother and one sister, they all travelled to Quebec City and boarded the ill-fated Empress of Ireland. Off the coast of Rimouski a short time after departure the Empress collided with a freighter and sank taking over one thousand lives. Arthur lost his brother Leonard who gave his lifejacket to his mother. The rest of the family including Arthur survived.
Back in Moose Jaw, Arthur married who would become the love of his life Lily Krantz and they had a son in 1918 who they named Gordon. There wasn’t much for a young man of Arthur’s abilities and ambition to do in Moose Jaw so the family boarded a train for Vancouver in 1920. Hoping to play his trumpet in the vaudeville houses of Vancouver, he found out he couldn’t get a union card for one year so he opened a grocery store in an up and coming new area of
To enlarge images, right click and open in new tab.
Vancouver called Kitsilano. After a year, he began playing professionally in Vaudeville theatres and concert gigs all over Vancouver. He soon became well known and very popular due to his personality and good looks. It wasn’t long before he had enough money to buy three lots near General Gordon Elementary School and build three houses. He sold two and lived in the one next to the school.
He realized that vaudeville was not going to last so he needed to find something else to make a living with his trumpet. He saw school kids lingering on the corners after school around his home and thought if he could harness their raw energy he might be able to turn them into a first rate youth band. He approached Captain Steeves the principal of General Gordon and asked if he could use the little yellow school house in the back of the school grounds to hold rehearsals, it’s still there. Captain Steeves was delighted and said he would send his own son over to play. He rummaged attics for old instruments and recruited boys who recruited others and held his first rehearsal. “Those little dears,” one Vancouver music critic uttered hearing them for the first time. Delamont persevered and in 1928 The General Gordon School Band was marching in their first parade to welcome back Percy Williams from the Olympics. Over the next six years, he marched his boys through the Provincial championships, the National championships and all the way by train to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 where they won the Junior Band Championship of the World against several of America’s best youth bands. The win alone would be enough to elevate his status to the top of the band world but he did this during the Great Depression which made him the stuff of legends. “So where are we going next?” asked a young Dallas Richards in the lobby of the Lexington Hotel in Chicago. “Why England of course,” was Delamont’s reply to the consternation of many.
From the beginning, Delamont had a vision. He could see returning to his homeland one day with his own boy’s band and he wound up doing so fourteen times over the decades that followed. There had been other youth bands in Vancouver when Delamont started his band but none of them travelled. He remembered the excitement he and his brother Leonard felt on their way to Quebec City in 1914. He wanted his boys to feel the same excitement and youthful exuberance and they never let him down. In the thirties and fifties his tours always followed the same pattern. A two week train ride across Canada playing at stops along the way. They had their own Pullman car which CPR took off the tracks for any overnight stays. When they finally reached Quebec City and boarded an Empress liner for England they were already seasoned troopers. These early trips lasted anywhere from three to five months and he took with him usually twelve folders of music; one for the trip across Canada, one for passengers on the boat, and others for different parts of the British Isles, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England.
In the old country, they always got a booking agent and the boys were booked solid to play concerts, contests, vaudeville theatres, parades and carnivals and regattas. It was a working band DELAMONT style. Three concerts a day was normal routine. They were a hit everywhere they went and everyone loved them. In 1934, they entered the Bugle Brass Band Contest in Cornwall and won three awards all against adult bands.
The boys received medals in thse days for each contest they played
The Crystal Palace
There were no youth bands in England in the thirties as young boys often went to work in the coal mines and elsewhere. There were collier bands and every company seemed to have one as a way of promoting their company. In 1936, the big 31st National Brass Band Festival was held at the Crystal Palace in London and Arthur entered his boys. They received pointers from some of the top guard bands of the day and when the time came they beat thirty-five of England’s best collier bands taking home the coveted Cassel’s Challenge Shield.
In 1939, they were back in England having first played at the New York World’s Fair. Arthur was always looking for something to top his last trip so why not combine a world’s fair with a tour of Britain. They were in Great Yarmouth when Hitler invaded Poland and the war department told him to get out of England immediately. They travelled by night under balloon barrages and flack guns to Southampton where they boarded the Empress of Britain. They had come over on the Athenia but Arthur felt if they were chased by a U-Boat the Empress of Britain could outrun them but not the Athenia. As fate would have it, a few hours out to sea they received word that the Athenia had been sunk by a U-Boat. Parents back home thought the band had perished because they were not able to contact them beforehand. The same U-Boat was soon in hot pursuit of the Empress as it zigzagged its way back across the Atlantic arriving safely off the coast of America.
There were no trips to the old country in the 1940s but many of Arthur’s boys joined the armed forces and flew mozzies and spitfires and Lancasters in the Battle of Britain many paying the supreme sacrifice. In the fifties and sixties he always played a hymn at his concerts in their honor. By 1950, with no trips for a decade they had managed to save a considerable sum so they headed off for what would be their longest tour of the old country five months. They played one-nightstands all over England, Scotland and Ireland always being paid. Arthur never cared so much about the fee but he thought they should be paid something. “If we don’t charge something, they will always want a free concert,” he would tell us later in the sixties. The next trip was in 1953 and it became known as the Vaudeville Trip because all they did was play in Vaudeville Theatres from one end of the country to the other. By 1955 though, things were starting to change. Vaudeville lasted in England a lot longer than in North America but with the advent of TV, a really hot summer and a major theatrical strike English vaudeville died a natural death. Half way through their contract they were informed by their agent that the theatres were backing out of hiring and they found themselves with no place to play. Not one to give up easily, he talked to his boys and asked if they wanted to go home. “It won’t be easy, “he told them. “We will have to play in parks and pass the hat around and hope we can make enough money to pay for our food and board.” No one wanted to go home.
The next trip was in 1958 and it was the beginning of a new routine for Arthur and his world famous Kitsilano Boys Band. He started taking the boys over to the continent more and more. This year they entered the Kerkrade Music Festival and took double gold, a feat unheard of in those days. They also performed at the Belgium World’s Fair. In 1962, he again did something different and boarded the liner Orsova in Vancouver for a trip down the west coast and through the Panama Canal before heading over to England, playing everywhere. In Kerkrade, it was double gold again. 1966 followed and a return to the Kerkrade Music Festival, then 1968 and then 1970. As the years went on and Arthur got older his trips became more frequent. He wanted to pack as much into the rest of his time on earth as he could and always keep one step ahead of the boys. In 1972 he took his boys to Sweden and Norway and in 1974 they visited the USSR for the first time. The band folded in 1974 but he still had one more trip he wanted to make so in 1979 he pulled together an old boys band and headed back to his beloved England for one more month.
Over the course of forty years, he made fourteen trips to the old country and the continent and won over two hundred championship awards. Each time his band travelled across Canada by train in the thirties and fifties, after, the towns all wanted their own boy’s band. By the 1960s, groups of music educators in all the provinces managed to get instrumental music on the curriculum of their public schools citing his band as an example of what could be achieved by youth in the field of instrumental music. Many of his boys went on to become band directors in the schools while others over the decade became the who’s who of the Canadian musical establishment from coast to coast playing in symphony orchestra’s, jazz bands and leading their own band Dal Richards, Arnie Chycoski, Earl Hobson, Gordon Delamont, Marek Norman, Bob Buckley and many more.