About The Early Parrsboro Citizens' Band
We all know that Parrsboro’s Band has been an institution and symbol of local pride for generations. There are some who believe that it may be one of the oldest town bands in the country. A Google search of the question was not very satisfying in clarifying the point. It appears that it really comes down to a question of semantics. The key points of such a claim for being the oldest town or community band hinges on either an all inclusion or a very specific definition of what is a Town Band. For example, some communities claim to have the oldest Concert Band, String Band, Drum & Bugle Band, Bagpipe Band or Military Band. Also, to add to the mix, some communities note the longevity of their Cadet Band, School Band, Salvation Army Band, Company Band, Fraternity or Lodge Band.
To put it briefly, I have found very few bands of any longevity that are exactly comparable to the Parrsboro Citizen’s Band. That is, a band totally made up of ordinary citizens of both genders that are not funded or associated with another specific sponsoring body. Today, to find anywhere in Canada, a truly volunteer, open to all community band, is a rare item. Thus, regardless of having a long history, the Parrsboro Citizens' Band could be considered an endangered species and all possible steps should be taken to save it.
Bits Of What We Now Know
The earliest reference found thus far to any kind of organized band in Parrsboro comes in a newspaper account of the first trip of the Springhill /Parrsboro Train in 1877. This account covers interesting details of the trip from Springhill, with much of their rolling stock being filled with passengers from both Springhill and Amherst, together with members of the Springhill Band. This train was met in Parrsboro by a nearly total turn out of the local population and with a band of their own!
There are also early references to the first bandstand being located near the railway station. As well, there are references in the 1880’s to ‘the Band Boys’ playing and practicing above the Parrsboro Skating Rink. This was located on the site now occupied by the United Church.
This is currently the oldest known photograph of the PCB, dated at 1893. Other photographs exist for some intervening years from this date to about 1914. No other photographs have yet surfaced showing any band activity again until 1938.
Bandsmen’s Names: Man in white suit: Band Master Julis Choisnet.
Third Row Back, Lt. to Rt: Teddy Gilespie, Jean Huntley?, Tom Choisnet, Leslie Dodsworth, Clarence Johnson, Will Gilespie.
Third Row, Lt to Rt: Allison Spence, Huey Tat. M.T. Choisnet?, Paddy Ryan, Harry Gilespie, Leo Lisespie, Clarey Holmes.
Second Row, Lt. to Rt.: Paul Gilespie and Any Wilie by drums.
Front Row, Lt. to Rt: Leo Hatnet and Audrey Upham
The first reference by name to the PCB, which then stood for ‘The Parrsboro Cornet Band’ appears in print from the account of the Town’s Incorporation Ceremonies in 1889.
It is known that some band members in the 1893 photograph were killed in W.W.1. It is likely but not yet verified that the PCB did not formally re-organize immediately after the war.
Genesis Of The Parrsboro Citizen’s Band
Recently found in a randomly filed box of dusty assorted papers in the basement of The Hall is the following account. It is titled, History of PCB 1938-1948. It is unsigned and written in difficult to read long hand in pencil on yellowed pages. Since the text is written on the back of Department of Fisheries ‘Statement of Claims for Bounty On Harbour Seals’ paper, an assumption could be made that the author was Mr. Ken Atkinson, a past local Fishery’s Inspector, Band member and long time President of the Band. If there is uncertainty in the authorship of this piece, there is certainty that we are thankful today that time was taken to record the interesting details of history jotted on these fading pages.
Editor’s Note : The following history has been deciphered and presented as closely as possible to the original document.
History of P.C.B. 1938 – 1948
“ During Aug. 1938 the citizens of Parrsboro were congregated in large numbers along Main St. to watch the Canadian Legion Decoration Parade headed by the Springhill Legion Band. Many complimentary remarks were passed regarding the performance of the band and several Citizens were heard to remark “Why can’t we have a band of our own as we did some few years ago?”
The lobby of the Cumberland Hotel was the scene of considerable discussion, re the possibility of organizing a band in Parrsboro and as a result the proprietor Johnson Spicer decided to organize and further the matter. His first step was to contact veteran bandsman J.R. Roberts, who immediately became very enthusiastic and agreed to take on the job of training and conducting. Mr. Spicer then canvassed the tavern for financial assistance and found that the Citizens generously were willing to contribute to a Band Fund.
On Jan.19 th, 1939 an organization meeting was called and there the following slate of officers were elected. Pres. K.B. Atkinson, VP. Johnson Spicer, Sect Tre. M.B. Morwick, Bandmaster, J.R. Roberts.
It was discussed that there were a few instruments remaining from a former Citizen’s Band but they were in very poor condition and also were in high pitch so it was decided to trade them in on a set of reconditioned low pitch instruments.
Twelve reconditioned instruments were purchased from a Toronto firm at a cost of $376. Drums were loaned by the former Wallace Band and a number of the bandsmen supplied their own instruments.
During Feb. 1940 some twenty enthusiastic beginners began the arduous task of mastering their individual instrument under the direction of Bandmaster Roberts. Rapid progress was made and the Band made its first public appearance in April 1940.
Several engagements were handled quite successfully during the summer of 1940 but the organization was forced to disband early in 1941 owing to heavy loss of members to the Armed Forces.
During the years 1941 – 1947 several attempts were made to reorganize the band but none were very lasting until late in 47 when it was discovered that there were sufficient bandsmen who were permanent residents of the town, to form the nucleus of a band.
Shortly after reorganization the band was fortunate in securing the services of Mr. B. E. Burke, as director, who has proven himself to be an able bandsman and very capable Director. Through his untiring effort and the staunch support of the bandsmen, the band has been able to increase its proficiency considerably during the past year and it is the ambition of the bandsmen in general to produce a band second to none in proficiency and appearance. The financial assistance given to the band by the citizens of Parrsboro & district has been very gratifying and has made possible the purchase such equipment and items of, …? as 3 Cornets, bass drum, 3 drums, music stands, uniforms, music and accessories to the extent of over $1200.
Several of the bandsmen are still struggling with instruments that do not respond properly and it is hoped that it will be possible to gradually replace these with good quality instruments.
Through the efforts of the bandsmen with the generous donations from the lumber dealers and merchants of Parrsboro and surrounding district, an attractive, well designed Bandstand was built. With the kind permission of the British American Oil Co., this Bandstand is located on their property at the junction of Main St & Eastern Ave..
Some weeks ago the Town Council was approached by a representative of the band and asked to consider the matter of the town assuming ownership of the band’s equipment. Having agreed to this proposal an inventory of equipment valued at $2190. Was handed to the Town Clerk. The purpose of this move was to ensure legal ownership of the equipment.
Parrsboro Citizen’s Band Holds Annual Meeting:
The Annual Meeting of the Parrsboro Citizen’s Band was held in the Town Hall on Wed. Oct. 20 th with, Pres. K.R Atkinson in the Chair. The following slate of officers were elected for the year 1948 –49.
Re-elected were:, Pres. K.B. Atkinson, VP. Arthur Farrell, Sect.Treas, Miss M.B. Morwick, Director, B.E. Burke, Assist. Director J.R. Roberts and Librarian James Farrell.
Band property: $2,179.
Privately owned: $1,135.
Ins. Claimants: $ 400.
Lion’s donation: $ 300.
Editor’s Note: Now that we have put together some basic ‘bits’ of Band History, please help fill in more of the pieces. Thanks… c.byers