Saskatchewan’s first wind bands were modeled on prototypes brought by British immigrants in the late 1800s: industrial brass bands, and military brass and reed bands. The North-West Mounted Police organized the earliest, first at Fort Walsh in 1878, with others following at Fort Qu’Appelle (1880), Battleford (1882), and Regina (1883). The Prince Albert Cornet Band, established in 1883, was probably the first civilian band. Before the turn of the century, similar aggregations were assembled in Regina, Moose Jaw, Grenfell, Qu’Appelle, Indian Head, Moosomin, Whitewood, Kolin, and conceivably elsewhere. Brass bands were also formed in Indian residential schools at Lebret (1892) and Regina (1894). The number of “town bands” or “citizens’ bands” increased steadily from the turn of the 20th century to the outbreak of World War I. Bands were frequently the first large concert ensembles established in prairie towns and villages, providing music for all civic occasions: sports days, sporting events, special ceremonies, public skating, ice carnivals, fairs, and parades.
The two World Wars and the Great Depression adversely affected civilian bands. During the Depression, funding shortages often forced bands to stop operations. Similarly, many civilian bands ceased during the wars, as musicians and bandmasters left to serve overseas. Concurrently, the number of militia, cadet, and military bands increased. Service organizations such as Kinsmen, Kiwanis, Lions, and Elks clubs assumed a major role in sponsoring the bands re-established after World War II. Unlike the earlier town bands, the majority of these post-war community groups were “junior” or youth bands. By the early 1960s, an increasing number of school bands were also active. However, it was a program introduced by the Department of Education in 1966 specifically to encourage the creation of school bands that triggered their general proliferation. This initiative was highly successful, and by 1975 bands were an established component of Saskatchewan’s educational system. Though the specific details of Saskatchewan’s “school band movement” are unique, general trends mirrored those across North America.
Many community bands disbanded or reorganized as school bands when funding became available through the Department of Education. Some community bands such as the Regina Lions Band continued to flourish outside the school system, while others devised idiosyncratic arrangements between service clubs and school boards (e.g., Melfort Kinsmen School Band). Since the early 1970s, band proponents worldwide have striven to elevate the wind band as an artistic medium, particularly through improvements in the quality of the repertoire. However, owing to trends in both popular culture and art music, the wind band’s role at the dawn of the 21st century remains primarily educational.
Edwin B. Wasiak