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

Cliff Whitfield, Guest Contributor

Following the success of the Orillia Citizens Band in 1923, winning second place in Class B at the CNE Band Competition, the Kiltie Band brought honour back to Orillia again in 1926 by winning the Class B medal at the CNE competition. 

As reported in the Barrie Examiner in September 1926, the Orillia Kiltie Band took first place. There was no age limit at that time. Cowden Whitfield was 15 years of age and played the clarinet. His medal was donated to the Orillia Museum of Art & History (OMAH) by his son Cliff Whitfield, a former Kiltie Band member, along with his brother Don.

Local parades benefited by the appearance of the Orillia Kiltie Band leading the way. For example, Orillia’s first Winter Carnival was held over three days in February 1928. The festivities ended with a night-time parade of citizens, led by the Kiltie Band along Mississauga Street, to storm the Ice Palace, which was great fun to watch for the crowd that had assembled.

In 1928, the Packet & Times reported that the summer season was to be opened by the first appearance of the Kiltie Band at Couchiching Beach Park. The bandstand had been enlarged, overcoming the crowded conditions. Orillia’s band had grown considerably since the days when the bandstand was designed and erected and now numbered 34 members, with 5 new members added that year.

The Kiltie Band was prominent over the summer season that year with appearances at the Orillia Opera House, as well as parading down Mississauga Street, along Front Street to present its new programs at Couchiching Park.

In 1931, the Kiltie Band’s bandmaster, Mr. Brain was invited to be one of fourteen guest conductors at a musical festival hosted by the Waterloo Musical Society. It was a high tribute to Orillia’s bandmaster, who was chosen from 200 conductors in Ontario to participate. Following the concert, the participating bandmasters went into a conference to lay the foundation of forming a Bandmasters’ Association of Canada.


Cowden Whitfield last row, far right

Bandmaster: Reg Brain, second row, fifth from the right, behind the drum.

Source: private collection Cliff Whitfield

In July 1936, the Kiltie Band was invited to take part in a contest being held in Waterloo. As there was interest by the band to participate, band representatives went to Orillia Town Council and asked for a grant of $100, which was passed by the Council-in-Session and a cheque issued.

However, the next day just before the band was to leave for Waterloo, Mayor Johnston interfered and in using his authority, put a stop payment at the bank. While the Orillia Saturday Night wrote an article that questioned the mayor’s right to veto over the expressed votes of the Councillors, the Kiltie Band traveled to Waterloo through private financing and made a credible showing on Orillia’s behalf.

In the 1940s, the Kiltie Band received a grant of $1,500 from the city every year. Based on attendance for rehearsals and concerts, the band members each received a portion. They were compensated in late November & December, and some band members used those funds to do some Christmas shopping. At times, if the band performed out-of-town, they would get paid, or a contribution was issued to the band funds to aid in the purchase of music, equipment or repairs.  

Kiltie Band invited to play in Honey Harbour 1940s

Source: private collection of Cliff Whitfield, donated to OMAH


In 1947, the band received new uniforms. The original kilts disappeared as original band members retired. When Cliff and Don Whitfield joined the band, they were measured for the new uniforms but they didn’t have to play too many concerts before the new kilts arrived.

On April 15th, 1948, a large crowd welcomed David Collins, the new bandmaster of the Kiltie Band, , at the Orillia Opera House for his first local concert. It marked the retirement of long-serving bandmaster Reginald Brain after 26 years. Mr. Brain performed the opening number and was presented a silver tray by Mayor W. Seymour, before handing over the baton to Mr. Collins.

In the late 1940s the old Bandstand in the park was declared unsafe. The Aqua Theatre hadn’t been built yet. The city built a temporary wooden platform, three feet high, in the park over the area where the Rotary train is currently stored over winter. While it is not certain how long that platform existed, the Kiltie Band would perform its Sunday concerts there. In 1948 the Bandstand was enlarged to have an overhead but there still wasn’t sufficient space to hold all the band members and the stairwell was considered unsafe for the band.

(L-R) Don, Cowden, Cliff Whitfield as members of Kiltie Band 1948

Cowden had joined around 1925 with Cliff and Don joining in 1944, before the war ended.

Source: private collection of Cliff Whitfield

By 1949 the Kiltie Band started to see a decline in new members. Perhaps this was because it was comparatively easier for musicians to play for brass bands, such as the newly formed Orillia Silver Band, then to learn how to play the reed instruments of the Kiltie Band. However, the Kiltie Band continued to play on and was recognized as the city’s “official” band for many more years. It performed in local parades, at Remembrance Day ceremonies, Decoration Day services, Orillia Fall Fairs openings and eight to ten concerts each summer.


In July 2023 Orillia Matters posted a photo dated 1954 showing the Kiltie Band leading the way at the Dominion Day parade. The photo was taken from the top floor of the Tudhope Specialties building at the corner of West and Colborne Streets by amateur photographer Jack Malley. Led by the Orillia Kiltie Band, the parade would start at the waterfront and make its way up Mississauga Street to West, south to Colborne then west to Dunedin Street. Going north on Dunedin to Mississauga Street, the parade would pass the Princess Elizabeth Wing of the Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital to the delight of all the patients confined there. 

Kiltie Band marching in parade 1949 at the corner of Neywash & Matchedash.

Source: OPL OR_1769

On July 18 in 1958, the Orillia Kiltie Band played the first concert in a partially built band shell on the shores of Lake Couchiching which would become known as the Aqua Theatre. Cowden Whitfield had travelled to the United States earlier in the year to meet with engineers in relation to this project. The bandshell was designed by Stu Keyes, Goodall and Hislop, contractor for the Aqua Theatre. Acoustical research was done by Cowden Whitfield. The cost of the bandstand and stage was $24,270 and it was the Rotary Club’s biggest project at that time. It was presented to the town at an annual church service on August 10th, 1958.  A famous bandmaster said it was the best he had ever played in. 

In September 1963, the Orillia Kiltie Band held its final concert at the Aqua Theatre with Conductor Charles Montreuil and Band Serjeant Alan Lauder. When the Orillia Kiltie Band dissolved in 1974, it was not replaced. High schools had good music programs at the time, so the young people were content to participate in school bands. They eventually graduated high school and moved away for further study or employment.

The band also was left without permanent quarters following the demolition of the old jail. They became dependent on rental facilities and lacked proper storage facilities for music, equipment, and instruments. As a result of that along with attrition, the band ultimately dissolved.

In March 1975, the Daily Packet and Times published an article on a report completed in October 1974, in relation to the need to establish a concert band or orchestra to represent the City of Orillia at official functions with a full-time musical director. In this report, it was also recommended that there be a full inventory of musical instruments of the now defunct Orillia Kiltie Band and to continue renting out the musical instruments until they may be needed for the organization of an official City of Orillia Band. Up to this point, the Kiltie Band was considered the city’s “official” band.

The Orillia Kiltie Band was a prominent and a beloved presence at festivities and musical celebrations in Orillia from 1926 to 1974. As of 1975, the Orillia Silver Band was still performing. The music played on as we will learn in an upcoming article on the history of the Orillia Silver Band that was founded by Harry Peacock in 1949.



Orillia Public Library (OPL) Digital Media Files:

Orillia Saturday Night 1926

The Barrie Examiner 1926

Orillia Packet & Times 1931, 1932

Daily Packet & Times 1975

OPL photos:



Rotary Club

“25 Years of the Rotary Club in Orillia 1945-1970”


OMAH Past Perfect (PP) Photos: Kiltie Band


Donated by Cliff Whitfield

PP 2023.68.2; 2023.68.3; 2023.68.4; 2023.68.6


Orillia Matters