As the staff at the St. Marys Museum searched for photographs to use as a tribute to Reg Near, they came across this remarkable picture taken almost 50 years ago. It is part of a collection of material donated to the archives by Andy Hoe who was music director and leader of the St. Marys Marching Band. Reg Near, who played trombone, is part of the group. Those with good eyes will pick him out in the centre of the back row and identify him by his glasses. When the band car-pooled to out-of-town parades, the younger members liked to travel in Reg’s car because he always stopped for Chinese food on the way home.
There had been generations of bands in St. Marys before this one. When the First World War was declared in 1914, the Citizens’ Band played patriotic music on many occasions to encourage enlistment and support of the war effort. Following World War II, there was a strong revival of the Citizens’ Band under the leadership of Dick Rule. Their activities were reported in a regular column in the Journal Argus. Titled “Your Band,” it was written by Harold Irvine, a Journal reporter and a bandsman himself.
When Andy Hoe took over in 1958, the band was struggling. Many of the senior musicians had left and new energy was needed. In 1960, instrumental music was offered at the high school for the first time and Andy was able to recruit brass and reed players from this program. For non-musicians, he created a colour party to carry flags and banners, promoting both the band and the Town of St. Marys. He organized expeditions even into the United States to march and compete and trips to attractions like Niagara Falls. For many young people, the band formed a social network, a place to make friends and gain confidence.
David Ainslie (also in the back row) believes this photograph was taken in the gymnasium at St. Marys Collegiate about 1965. Although the band had performed concerts once or twice in the school, on this occasion members were assembled specifically to have a formal photograph taken. Andy himself is not in the picture. He was probably standing beside the photographer, making sure his band looked perfect.