The Royal Canadian Artillery Band - History

The historical roots of The Royal Canadian Artillery Band (RCA) you see today are traced primarily from The RCA Band formed in Montreal in 1968. The complete history, however, dates much further back, as there were many artillery bands existing simultaneously from as early as 1879. The RCA Band traces its earliest roots to Quebec City. The ‘B’ Battery band of the Royal Canadian Artillery was formed in 1879. It was comprised of volunteer militia and professionaly trained musicians from England and France, and eventually became the first permanent military band in Canada. In 1899 it became The Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery Band (RCGA).

The RCGA Band was formed under Joseph Vézina, a prominent Quebec musician whose achievements are noteworthy. Vézina not only formed and directed numerous military and amateur bands, but was the first director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec. Vézina also led over 100 musicians for the historical first performance of O Canada, which took place June 24, 1880 at a Saint-Jean-Batiste Day banquet in Quebec City. A second artillery band, The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, was formed in Kingston in 1905 and directed by Major Alfred Light.

The RCA Band was active in both World Wars and the Korean conflict, and has seen service in many parts of the world as well as throughout Canada. During the First World War The RCGA Band was stationed in Quebec City. The caliber of the band at this time is mentioned in an article for the Montreal Star of August 16, 1916: The band of the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery, stationed at the Citadel in Quebec City, is justly known as one of the best bands in North America. Its repertoire is remarkable and it is doubtful if a more diversified series of programs is given by any other band in the country. The RCGA and The RCHA were the only two bands still operational in Canada in the fall of 1918.

Throughout the Second World War bands were stationed in Canada and overseas. In 1941, Captain Streeter, Coordinator and Director of Music for Canadian-based units, organized three bands to go overseas. One was The Royal Canadian Artillery (Overseas) Band. The caliber of the bands was high and they became immensely popular. Much like today, The RCA band was versatile, and included a dance band, an old-time band, a salon orchestra, a choir, and instrumental and vocal soloists. By 1944 there were ten full-time bands stationed overseas. At the end of the war, all regular force bands were disbanded, and three were reformed. One of the three was the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, stationed in Shilo, Manitoba, and then Winnipeg.

During the Korean War there was a large expansion of the army, and the size and number of bands increased. In 1952 the Royal Canadian Artillery Band was formed in Halifax under NS/Capt E.R. Wragg, and in 1953 travelled overseas to entertain troops in Korea. In 1955 Captain Kenneth Elloway became the new bandmaster and was vital in highlighting The RCA Band on an international stage. He arranged appearances on BBC radio, invited guest performers, and led The RCA Band in the 1957 Bermuda Tattoo. Back in Canada, they regularly appeared on CBC and were a very successful public relations tool for the army in Halifax.

After The Unification of the Canadian Forces (CF) in 1968 The RCA Band in Halifax was dissolved and reformed in Montreal. The popularity of The RCA Band in the late 1980’s is astounding. In 1988 they performed for over 100,000 spectators in Canada and Europe, and in 1989 was the central feature in a cross-Canada tour of CF musicians. In 1994-95, The RCA Band participated in the Canada Remembers program which commemorated Canada’s contribution to the Second World War. This took the band to Asia, England, Holland and Belgium.

The RCA Band officially moved from Montreal to Edmonton on December 4th 1997 (St. Barbara’s Day - the Patron Saint of the Artillery), and continues to represent the CF locally, across Canada, and abroad. In total they perform approximately 250 engagements every year. These include military parades, ceremonies and occasions, civilian parades such as the Calgary Stampede and the Edmonton Capital Exhibition Parade, Spruce Meadows, educational concerts, royal visits, entertainment at military and government functions, and formal concerts.

Since arriving in Edmonton, The CF Band has travelled extensively. In 2000 The RCA Band was chosen as Canada’s representative by the Directorate of History and Heritage for the Kangwon International Tattoo. This Tattoo commemorated the 50th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. It took place in Wonju, Korea, and included bands from eighteen countries. In 2004 The RCA Band participated in a week long tour of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Central to the tour was The RCA Band’s participation in Brigadier General Beare’s Transfer of Authority Ceremony, held in Banja Luka. A second tour of South Korea was held in 2004, where The RCA Band performed in a number of concerts and Tattoo performances. In 2006 The RCA Band travelled to Sweden, where they performed at Kungstradgarden and Strägnäs to capacity crowds and glowing reviews. The tour culminated with The RCA Band’s participation in the 20th Swedish Military Tattoo, where they marched to the Royal Palace playing Voice of the Guns, Glorious Victory and Barren Rocks.

The RCA Band made two trips to the Netherlands in 2009 and 2010. The first was for the Nijmegen Marches. This is the largest marching event in the world, with thousands of participants and over a million spectators. The RCA Band performed at various points along the route, and led the entire Canadian contingent for the final 5km of the march. The second and most recent overseas trip was in 2010, when The RCA Band travelled as part of the Canadian Forces Contingent commemorating the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of The Netherlands.

Today The RCA Band employs 35 full-time musicians. Candidates for the position go through a competitive audition process, and selected musicians often have multiple music degrees and extensive professional experience. Each musician completes all the basic military standards, such as Basic Military Qualification, the Battle Fitness Test, rifle range qualification, and first aid.

In addition to the Symphonic Concert Band, musicians of The RCA Band perform in a wide variety of smaller ensembles, offering a range of styles for different engagements, including country, pop, jazz, rock, Pipes and Drums, and Celtic music.

In 2008, for the first time in its history, a Regular Force piper was posted to The RCA Band: Corporal Jim Douglas. The RCA Pipes & Drums, comprised of four members as of 2010, now play an integral role in many of the concerts and ceremonies. In November 2012 The RCA Pipes & Drums presented Hail to My Country, a public concert in support of the Soldier On Fund. It featured, for the first time, the historic collaboration of many of the Regular Force CF Pipes and Drums from across Canada.

The regimental colours of The RCA Band are crimson and midnight blue, as displayed on their unit flag, and proudly worn on historical uniforms for special ceremonial occasions, along with a sable Busby. These colours are also worn on the concert dress uniform, along with bow tie and cummerbund, for evening concerts. The Royal Canadian Artillery Band mottos are UBIQUE (Everywhere) and QUO FAS ET GLORIA DUCUNT (Whither Right And Glory Lead), worn on the cap badge along with the image of a gun, to represent the artillery.

By: Sergeant Robert Spady

The RCA Band

Page details

Date modified: