History of Brass Bands in BC


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Research Project: History of Brass Bands in British Columbia


The following timeline is an attempt to place the events that were occuring in British Columbia, as they applied to the First Nations people, against the brass band events that were occuring in Great Britain. The First Nations timeline is an edited version of the timeline that appears on the website of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

The History of the Great Britain Brass Bands was summarized from the following publications:

  • Brand, G. and Brand, V. (1979). Brass Bands in the 20th Century. Egon Publishers

  • Herbert, T. (2000) The British Brass Band A Musical and Social History. Oxford University Press

  • Newsome, R. (1998) Brass Roots: A hundred years of brass bands and their music (1836-1936). Ashgate Publishing

  • Taylor, A.R. (1979) Brass Bands. Granada Publishing

  • Author's Note

    I wish to take this opportunity to apologize in advance for the inevitable errors in the following timeline. I have tried my best to be accurate.

    Brian Stride, January, 2012


    First Nations (including Brass Bands)


    Great Britain Brass Bands

    Russians begin trading on BC coast


    Danish explorer Vitus Bering explores the BC coast


    Royal Proclamation of King George III recognizes aboriginal title and rights to land


    1770s Captain Cook explores the West Coast


    Spanish explorer Juan Perez sights Queen Charlotte Islands and visits off Vancouver Island


    Juan Francisco de Bodega y Quadra penetrates close to the Nass River


    Small pox epidemic


    Captain Cook charts Nootka Sound on his third expedition to the Pacific


    Maritime trading voyages begin along Pacific coast (to 1820s)


    Captain George Dixon meets Haida and names the Queen Charlotte Islands


    Alaska is claimed as Russian territory


    Spanish build fort in Nootka Sound


    Nootka convention between Spain and Britain


    Captain George Vancouver charts most of Georgia Straight


    Alexander Mackenzie reaches Pacific in first overland crossing of North America


    Epidemics appear on the Pacific Northwest coast



    Maquinna’a people attack and kill most of the crew of the Boston


    Fort Simpson established by Northwest Company


    Fort Nelson established on Liard River


    David Thompson visits the Kutenai. Kutenai House established


    Simon Fraser explores Fraser River and meets Indians at Lytton



    Invention of the Keyed bugle, which remains popular until the 1840’s.


    In the early 1810’s many village bands are formed. These bands are frequently created from military or church bands and consist of 10 to 12 players. Military and church bands were primarily composed of clarinets, oboes, bass viols, flutes, bassoons and French Horns. Amateur village bands include clarinets, ophicleides, serpents, valveless trumpets and horns, and keyed bugles. Oboes and bassoons are generally absent from village/amateur bands probably due to the difficulty in learning to play. In the post-Napoleonic wars era there is a proliferation of all manner of musical groups including wind bands, volunteer bands, drum and fife bands, and brass and reed bands.

    David Thompson reaches the mouth of the Columbia River
    The ship Tonquin is captured and the crew killed in the Clayoquot area


    Astorian and Northwest Company establish posts in Kamloops



    Valve invented by Heinrich Stolzel and Friedrich Blühmel. Initially applied to trumpets and horns.


    Peter Wharton forms a village band in Queensbury. This band was to become Black Dyke.


    Invention of the ophicleide


    Cotton manufacturers the Clegg brothers (John, Joseph and James) form Clegg’s Reed Band in the village Besses o’ th’ Barn (north of Manchester). Instrumentation included 3 clarinets, one piccolo, one keyed bugle, one trumpet, two French Horns, one trombone, two bass horns and a bass drum.

    Permanent HBC post established at Fort George


    Ballroom dances become popular, with the music being played throughout the century. Ballroom dance music includes waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and gallops.
    By 1820, the players in village bands are mainly drawn from the artisan class – iron founders, wool and cotton mill hands, leather workers and colliers.

    Northwest Company and Hudson’s Bay Company merge, known as HBC


    Fatal epidemic (cause unidentified) in Columbia River drainage (to 1825)


    Fort Vancouver established by HBC on Columbia River


    Fort Langley established


    Clallum village shelled by HBC gunboat


    First versions of the cornet are manufactured, using valves instead of keys. In France it was known as the cornet-à-pistons and in Britain as the cornopean.

    Reverend Jonathan Smith Green (Protestant) tours Northwest coast


    First Chilcotin post established by HBC


    HBC begins innoculating Native people against small pox


    Fort Simpson built on Nass River then moved to Tsimshian Peninsula



    Blaina in south Wales is the first village band to convert to all brass instrumentation
    Three valve system becomes standard


    First English brass band formed in York. At 24 players it is larger than most village bands. Instrumentation includes cornopeans, French Horns, trumpets, trombones, and ophicleides.

    HBC Chaplain and missionary Reverend Herbert Beaven arrives at Fort Vancouver
    Small pox epidemic in northern BC and southern Alaskan coast (to 1838)


    The term brass band becomes accepted term in describing a recognizable type of ensemble.
    Eight Popular Airs arranged by George MacFarlane of R. Cocks and Company is the first published brass band music. Arrangement is for three keyed bugles, 2 trumpets, 2 horns, three trombones and one serpent.


    Distin Family Quintet (father John and four sons) begin their performing career playing slide trumpet, three horns and a trombone. This instrumentation changed to slide trumpet, cornet, keyed bugle, French horn and trombone until they changed to saxhorns in 1844.

    First Roman Catholic priests arrive at Fort Vancouver (F. Blanchet and M. Demers)


    Founding of the Cyfarthfa Band in Merthyr Tydfyl, Wales, by Robert Crawshay, master of an ironworks. Ironworks provides the bandsmen with jobs and pays the expenses of the band.
    First promenade concert organized by Philippe Musard, who brought this form of enterainment from Paris. The objective of these concerts was to entertain people who did not patronize the opera or more serious concerts. They were designed to be more affordable and catered to Parisians who strolled the boulevards and gardens.

    There were two seasons of concerts: concerts d’été (held outdoors) and concerts d’hiver (held indoors). Included in the program would be overtures, operatic selections, quadrilles, waltzes and gallops, and solos. Solos were often performed on the new cornet-à-pistons and the ophicleide. When these promenade concerts moved to London both the summer and winter concerts were held indoors.

    James Douglas becomes Chief Factor of HBC


    Jesuit Priest Father Pierre De Smet is in Kootenays and Okanagan
    Father John Nobilis active in northern New Caledonia


    Louis Jullien takes over the promenade concerts from Philippe Musard. A larger-than-life character, Jullien could attract audiences like no other performer of his time. His performances included large ensembles, sometimes as many as 300 performers, and soloists demonstrating spectacular virtuosity. One performance included the playing of 'Suona la Tromba' from Bellini’s I Puritani, on twenty cornets, twenty trumpets, twenty trombones, twenty ophicleides and twenty serpents.

    In 1852 Jean Baptiste Arban was a featured performer, joining Hermann Koenig, a cornet virtuoso famous for the Post Horn Galop, who had been with Jullien since at least 1844.
    Keyed bugles are gradually replaced with cornets

    Fort Victoria established by HBC
    Father Demers active in New Caledonia



    First appearance of the euphonium
    Adolphe Sax patents his new range of instruments as saxhorns


    Distin Family Quintet visits Sax in his workshop, whereupon Sax provides them with a matched set of instruments and tuition. The Distin Quintet adopts the saxhorn instruments.
    The Distin family is featured at one of Jullien’s concerts, playing saxhorns. This is followed by several years of touring which has the effect of promoting the saxhorn family of instruments.
    Henry Distin becomes the British agent for Sax, but this arrangement is severed in 1850 when Distin begins making his own instruments.


    Invention of the large BBb 'contrabass' or 'monstre' tuba, arriving in England ~1850. Slow uptake by brass bands
    Burton Constable Contest held as part of a fete at Burton Constable, an estate owned by Sir Clifford Constable, near Hull. Bands were limited to a maximum of 12 players. Five bands competed with a variety of instruments including cornopeans, tenor saxhorns, trombones, bass saxhorns, ophicleides, soprano cornets, French horns (valved), serpents, and valved tubas.

    Oregon Treaty establishes 49th parallel as US-British boundary


    George Hogarth publishes in his weekly newspaper ‘Musical Herald’ an article describing the effects of music on the working classes (so called ‘rational recreation’). 'The tendency of music is to soften and purify the mind…the cultivation of musical taste furnishes for the rich a refined and intellectual pursuit…(and for the working classes) a relaxation from toil more attractive than the haunts of intemperance…'

    Measles epidemic (to 1850)


    Royal Charter grants Vancouver Island to the HBC


    Measles epidemic spreads from coast to interior


    W. H. Wills writes the article ‘Music in Humble Life’ for the journal Household Words. In describing the players of the Cyfarthfa band, Wills goes on to say ‘(Mr. Crawshay – owner of the ironworks) has provided a rational and refined amusement for classes whose leisure time would have been less creditably spent than in learning or listening to music. The habits of these men appear to have been decidedly improved by these softening influences…’

    OMI Bishop Pierre Paul Durieu comes to the Northwest coast


    There are from 1250 to 1500 street musicians in London, helping to popularize music. Street musicians played marches, dances and hymn tunes, operatic songs, overtures and extracts from oratorios. Street musicians included English and German bands, hurdy-gurdies, fiddlers, bell ringers, Irish and Scottish pipers, concertinas, barrel organs and harps.
    Concert halls start to appear, as do bandstands and resort and spa orchestras.
    The valve is established; brass bands begin to flourish. Reasons include:

    • Relatively cheap instruments
    • Durable instruments, well-suited to playing outdoors
    • 3-valve system was easy to learn
    • Lent themselves to the rough hands of working men
    • Identical fingering for all instruments, allowing players to move to different instruments
    • Masculine sound appealed to working class men

    Royal Navy destroys Newitti Village


    Douglas becomes Governor but remains Chief Factor of the HBC (to 1858)
    Gold found on Queen Charlotte Islands.
    Gunboats sent to Queen Charlotte Islands


    Cowichan crisis. Gunboat dispatched


    Boosey publishes its first Brass Band Journal.


    First British Open Brass Band Championships. Won by 10-member Mossley Temperance Saxhorn Band playing all saxhorns. Rules stipulated bands must have no less than 10 and no more than 18 players. Contest continues, with the exception 1859, until the present day. 16,000 spectators attend the first contest to hear the 8 competing bands. The victory of Mossley and their all saxhorn instruments gives tremendous momentum to the change to all brass saxhorn-based bands.

    Douglas becomes Governor but remains Chief Factor of the HBC (to 1858)


    James Douglas becomes Lieutenant-Governor of the Queen Charlotte Islands



    Black Dyke band formed when John Foster, mill owner, takes over the Queenshead Band (formerly Wharton’s Reed Band) which had become an all brass band. Black Dyke is now a works-sponsored band, with the players working for the mill and the mill covering the expense of maintaining the band (uniforms, instruments, tutors).
    Saltaire Band formed, an example of a subscription band. Subscription bands were developed with support from a wider community, such as a mechanics institute or temperance society, as opposed to a single source like a factory.


    Large band contest held in the Zoological Gardens, Hull, with 12 bands competing. Bands range in size from 11 to 17 players. Smith's Leeds Band wins the competition.

    Anglican missionary William Duncan arrives in Victoria
    Anglicans establish Indian school at Fort Simpson
    Methodists establish Indian school in Nanaimo


    Champion Brass Band Journal publishing House is founded by Richard Smith, becoming known as R. Smith and Company.
    Henry Distin publishing music for brass bands with between 10 and 24 players, with a recommendation of 17.

    British Columbia Act. New Caledonia becomes Colony of British Columbia
    James Douglas resigns from HBC; becomes Governor of Colony of BC
    Royal Engineers undertake mapping of BC mainland
    Douglas reserves are laid out on BC mainland (to 1864) under Douglas’ policy
    Oblates of Mary Immaculate establish a centre at Esquimalt
    Gunboats sent to New Caledonia (BC)
    Fraser River Gold Rush


    First Methodist missionaries at work in BC
    Father Charles Pandosy (OMI) active in the Okanagan. Catholic mission established
    Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (Anglican) comes to BC
    Methodists E. Evans, A. Browning, E. Robson and E. White active in Victoria


    Anglicans establish Indian school near Victoria


    St. Mary’s Catholic mission established near Mission City (to 1984)
    Gold discovered in the Upper Peace River region
    Coqualeetza residential school established at Sardis (to 1940)


    Crystal Palace Competition (1860 to 1863), first major brass band contest in the south of England, is won by Black Dyke. Contest spans two days and attracts 29,000 spectators. At the end of each day there are massed band performances of all participants, amounting to some 1200 players. The sound created by the brass players drowns out the sound of the massive Crystal Palace organ.
    Bands still have brass clarinets and ophicleides, but keyed bugles, trumpets and French horns had almost disappeared.
    There are now 250 music halls in London and at least 300 in the provinces.

    Metlakatla mission established (to 1887)
    Thomas Crosby (Protestant) active in Nanaimo
    Smallpox epidemic reduces aboriginal populations in BC (to 1863)
    Peak of the Cariboo Gold Rush
    Gold rush on Stikine


    Royal Engineers recalled to England; some individuals stay in BC
    St. Mary’s mission established by the Oblates


    Reverend Robert Doolan begins mission among the Nishga
    Governor Douglas retires
    Chilcotin Nation uprising against Bute Inlet wagon road building party. Manhunt follows
    Some members of the Chilcotin Nation tried and hanged for uprising deaths
    Formation of the St. Mary’s Mission brass band


    Fort Rupert village destroyed by HMS Clio


    Union of colonies of Vancouver Island and BC
    New Westminister becomes capital of new colony of BC


    St. Joseph’s mission established in Williams Lake
    Constitution Act: Canada responsible for Indians and lands reserved for Indians
    Barkerville post established by HBC
    Reverend Good establishes St. Paul’s mission in Lytton area
    Alaska is transferred to the US from Russia
    St. Mary's Mission Brass Band plays during the visit of Governor Seymour at New Westminster.


    Transcontinental railway link completed in American territory
    Omineca gold rush begins


    Economic depression in BC
    Mission established at Cowichan



    Operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, along with Viennese and French operettas, become very popular.

    British Columbia joins the Confederation of Canada
    Bella Bella post established by HBC at old Ft. Loughlin site
    Canning Industry begins with establishment of Fraser River Canneries
    Mission established at Sechelt
    Indian people not allowed to fish commercially (to 1923)
    Port Essington shipping and canning centre founded
    Bishop George Hills protests Indian policy to the Dominon
    Formation of the Metlakatla Brass Band.


    Reverend H. R. Haweis publishes a paper entitled 'Music and Morals' which is reprinted 21 times. The paper postulates that music can induce virtue.

    Small pox epidemic in BC
    The right to vote in BC elections withdrawn from Indian people in BC (to 1949)


    Chappell begins publishing its Journal for Brass Band.

    Methodist mission established at Fort Simpson.
    Metlakatla residential school established (to1908)
    Northwest Mounted Police formed
    Mission established at Fort St. James


    St. Eugene mission established at Cranbrook
    Crosby Girls Home in Port Simpson established (to 1948)



    Wright and Round publish the Liverpool Brass Band Journal with the bulk of the publications designed for “average” bands. They also publish low-priced test pieces, thereby making them accessible to more bands and helping to spur the growth of contests.

    Indian people excluded from voting in municipal elections
    Anglican mission estabished at Masset village
    Metlakatla Band performs during the visit of Governor-General Dufferin.


    Kimsquit (Bella Coola) village destroyed by Royal Navy gunboat
    St. Louis mission established near Kamloops
    Cannery industry established on the Skeena River


    Anglican Church establishes presence in Alert Bay


    Canning industry begins on the Skeena River
    Construction of BC portion of the CPR begins; contributes to increased immigration
    Formation of the Kincolith Brass Band


    Canneries established in the Nass River and Vancouver Island (East) Regions


    Brass Band News published monthly by Wright and Round.

    Deacon Charles Harrison sent to Metlakatla


    All Hallow’s School for Girls established at Yale (to 1918)


    Changes to the Indian Act prohibit potlatching (to 1951)


    Formation of the Squamish Nation Brass Band


    Brass Bands participate in a number of great exhibitions, notably in Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle and Saltaire. Bands usually played for one week, with a contest on the final weekend (to 1893).

    CPR reaches Vancouver
    William Duncan and many Tsimshian move from Metlakatla to Alaska
    First public performance of a Port Simpson brass band
    Formation of the Aiyansh Brass Band


    British Bandsman published weekly by Sam Cope

    Boarding school for girls established at Alert Bay (to 1905)
    Small pox outbreak (to 1889)
    Two brass bands formed by the Catholic Sechelt Mission


    All hallows boarding school established at Yale (to 1918)


    Rules for British Open stipulate that only slide trombones are allowed.

    Kuper Island Indian residential school established (to 1975)
    Small pox outbreak (to 1889)
    Kamloops Indian residential school established (to 1978)
    St. Joseph’s residential school opens in Williams Lake (to 1981)
    Six Catholic brass bands assemble for the opening services at Our Lady of the Rosary



    There are now over 200 brass band contests being staged every year in England, Wales and Scotland.
    Brass bands have reached their peak at this time, in terms of the number of bands and players. There now begins a gradual dwindling in numbers as people find other recreational pursuits.

    Alberni day school (later residential school) established by Presbyterians
    St. Mary’s Mission Brass Band plays during the Mission Great Land Sale
    St. Mary’s Mission Brass Band plays for the opening ceremonies of the Bellingham-British Columbia Railway



    Wright and Round publish the first of their Enterprise Band Books which are collections of 24 pieces from the Wright and Round catalogue, bound in booklet form by instrument, sold at very cheap prices.

    Boarding school for girls established at Port Simpson (to 1920s)


    During the 1890s, musical comedy becomes popular. First major 'hit' is a production of 'A Gaiety Girl' in 1893.

    Boarding school for girls established at Port Simpson (to 1920s)


    Day school established at Ahousat by Presbyterians


    Elizabeth Long Memorial Girls Home established in Kitamat village (to 1941)


    The Cornet published monthly by F. Richardson and Co.

    St. Eugene’s residential school established in Cranbrook (to 1970)
    St. Francis/Squamish residential school established in North Vancouver (to 1959)



    Royal Albert Hall brass band concert to support relatives of soldiers fighting in the Boer War. Sir Arthur Sullivan Conducts a massed band performance of “The Absent-minded Beggar”, music he had composed to the setting of a Kipling poem, and Onward Christian Soldiers.


    Christie/Kakawis residential school established (to 1983)
    The Prince of Wales Brass Band, one of the Port Simpson bands, reforms as a concert band and becomes known as Nelson’s Silver Cornet Band
    One of the Port Simpson bands wins the Dominion Day prize in Vancouver.


    First National Championships at the Crystal Palace in London. Contest continues to the present day, with exception of the war years.

    St. George’s residential school established (to 1979)
    One of the Port Simpson bands performs for the duke and duchess of Cornwall and York (the future King George V and Queen Mary).



    Rules for National Championships stipulate that only slide trombones are allowed.
    At this point the instrumentation, numbers of players and music has settled into the form that has carried through to the present day. Therefore, for the purposes of this timeline, this marks the last entry in Great Britain Brass Bands.

    Boarding school established at Ahousaht (to 1907)
    Boarding school for boys established at Port Simpson (to 1920s)


    St. Louis World’s Fair. Indian people from BC participate


    St. Georges Industrial School for Boys established in Lytton
    Dominion Exhibition: competition of seven First Nations brass bands


    One of the Port Simpson bands perform during the visit to Vancouver of Governor-General Earl Grey.


    One of two bands formed in Skidegate


    Prince Rupert brass band contests (the Gray Cup) begin (to 1914)


    Boarding school established at Alberni (to 1920s)
    One of the Port Simpson bands perform at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.


    Lejac residential school established at Fraser Lake (to 1976)
    Port Simpson, Metlakatla, Kitkatla and possibly Kincolith bands perform during the visit of Sir Wilfrid Laurier to Prince Rupert


    First cannery built in the Queen Charlotte Islands


    Sechelt residential school established (to 1975)
    Port Simpson and other brass bands perform during the visit of the Duke of Connaught


    Duncan C. Scott makes it mandatory for Indian children (7-15 yrs) to attend school
    Alberni residential school established (to 1973)
    BC Indian population reaches lowest point


    Indian boarding schools become industrial and/or residential schools


    St. Michael’s residential school established in Alert Bay (to 1975)


    Provincial legislation establishes Indian people’s right to vote in provincial elections


    Federal voting rights extended to include Indian people


    Federal government takes direct control over Indian residential schools


    Christie residential school in Tofino, the last residential school, closes


    United Church of Canada first to apologize for treatment at residential schools
    Port Simpson Concert Band performs at Expo '86 in Vancouver


    Author: Brian Stride (2012)

    Return to First Nations Brass Bands

    Updated 2012 Feb 24, 23:55 EST/EDT

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