Written & researched by Trish Crowe-Grande, History Committee Chair and

Cliff Whitfield, Guest Contributor

In the late 1800s, it was common to gather at Orillia’s Civic Park (now Couchiching Beach Park) and listen to the Orillia Citizens Band, where hundreds of people would show up to watch the performance.  As early as 1867, a Grand Promenade Concert was presented to celebrate the opening of the Drill Shed, held on the former grounds of the Armoury, more recently known as the Oval.  The Band of the 10th Royals from Toronto was engaged to assist with the music.  As reported in The Expositor on October 4, 1867, “the concert passed off to the satisfaction of all concerned.”

The Citizens Band concerts were, for the most part, played out in the open, whether it be in the heart of downtown, participating in parades, at local parks or on the front lawn of the Opera House.  However, by 1902, Mr. J.W. Mitchell, the bandmaster at the time, went to Council to request that a bandstand be erected at Couchiching Beach Park.  The case was argued that not having this type of accommodation made it difficult to perform in unpredictable conditions.


The deputations submitted a plan which was referred to the Parks Committee.  As reported in The Packet in January 1902, “the Band had hard luck in such unfavourable weather for their concert.  They serve the town well and it is to be hoped they will be more fortunate the next time.”  At times, the Citizens Band, did play in the Opera House, to a paying audience, but they didn’t necessarily draw the crowds they had anticipated to help cover funds of equipment and such.


At a meeting held in Swinton’s Music Hall, in May 1907, with A.H. Bowen as Chair, it was decided to organize the Orillia Orchestral Association that was to offer an alternative to the Orillia Citizens Band for music lovers and included string instruments and a pianist.


In 1909, Town Council approved the construction of a bandstand suitable for musical performances and presentations.  The Bandstand was designed by W.H. Croker and built that year by W.L. Bennett for $495 specifically for the Orillia Citizens Band.


In those early days of the Citizens Band, the Band was prominent in the social fabric of the community, being on hand to entertain at get-togethers as reported in the local papers.


The Orillia Times would report, on a weekly basis, the program and location of the Orillia Citizens Band upcoming concerts. For example, as reported in numerous articles in 1912, concert locations ranged from the first program of the concert season in May at the corner of West and Mississauga streets, on the lawns of the Opera House, weather permitting to Friday night concerts at Couchiching Beach Park over the summer months, including the war years of 1914-1918, where patriotic tunes would be included in the program.  



Standing in front of Orillia Opera House

The Orillia Citizens Band was popular with young and old alike. In February 1912, “for the benefit of the town’s young folk, who can’t attend the evenings, the management of the local (roller) skating rink have arranged to have the Citizens Band play on Saturday afternoon and would be there on Saturday afternoons ongoing if the patronage warrants it.”


In May 1912, it was reported in the Orillia Times that the Citizens Band would perform on the Friday, at the corner of West and Mississauga streets, weather permitting and to the benefit of all, play a program that included a march “Rhoda Royal,” a waltz “Language of the Soul,” to a final march “Greeting to Thomasville” and the playing of “God Save the King.”


A few months later, in response to R.T. Smith’s request, as Secretary-Treasurer of the Citizens Band, Alderman Tudhope presented the Finance Committee report which recommended a grant of $300 to the Citizen’s Band.  These funds would enable the band to meet the necessary outlays for the coming season.


At times, guest bands were invited to Orillia to put on concerts, much to the delight of ardent music lovers of the town.  For example, in April 1917, as a fundraiser for the Women’s Auxiliary of the hospital, the Anglo Canadian Leather Company Band from Huntsville, under bandleader, Herbert Clark, performed at the Orillia Opera House.  It was reputed at the time to be one of Canada’s best bands and a praising review was included in the Orillia Times.


The Citizens Band continued to entertain and play many concerts including concerts at other parks.  In September 1917, the Citizens Band played in Victoria Park on a Friday evening with a program that included the “Maple Leaf Forever,” the waltz “Songs of Erin” and ended with a resounding “Patriotic Fantasia” and “God Save the King.”


By 1921 Ezra Payne was the bandleader whereupon the Citizens Band continued to receive well-deserved accolades over the years, noted as “Orillia’s Excellent Band” in a January 1921 article seen in The Weekly Times. “Orillia has a musical organization which does the town very great credit.”  In addition to band performances, on occasion, other piano and vocal soloists would be included in the programming.


As reported in The Weekly Times in September 1923, the Orillia Citizens Band participated in the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) Band Contest and was awarded second prize, Class B, tying with Collingwood with a shared prize of $500.  Reginald C. Brain, bandmaster, received a great deal of credit for leading the band to achieve such a high state of efficiency.  Class B referred to a band size of not more than 25 pieces from towns of not more that 8,000 population.



CNE Band Concert competition

OMAH 2021.57.8

In 1924, the city wanted the Citizens Band to become more prominent.  As reported in the Orillia Times in December 1924 at the Annual General Meeting and Election of Officers, the Orillia Citizens Band, officially became known as the Orillia Kiltie Band.


Stay tuned for an upcoming article on the founding and history of the Orillia Kiltie Band.







Local identifier: OR_161

Date: July 30, 1914


Orillia Public Library Files


The Expositor: 1867

The Weekly Times: 1907, 1921, 1923

The Orillia Times: 1912, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1921

The Packet: 1902, 1904, 1917