The 5th (BC) Field Regiment, RCA Band

From inception to WWI

As Victorians celebrate the rejuvenation of the Navy's professional band, many will be surprised to discover that Victoria's army band, the 5th (BC) Field Regiment Band, has the distinction of being the longest serving band in Western Canada. The 5th (BC) Field Regiment Band can trace its origins to the Victoria Volunteer Rifle Corps Band that was established in 1864. The band went through several name changes as the Victoria area militia was reorganized but the link to the Artillery was established very early in the band's life, although nominally the Victoria Rifle Corps Band, it aligned itself with the newly formed Artillery Detachment in 1874. The band was known as the "C" Battery Band, and in 1893 became the Band of the British Columbia Battalion of Garrison Artillery, finally becoming the Fifth Regiment Band in 1896.

The first conductor of the Garrison Artillery Band was former British military band officer, William Haynes. Haynes was evidently one of the 130 members of the Royal Engineers who remained in Canada after the Royal Engineers were recalled to Britain in 1863. In 1864, Haynes had relocated to Victoria and was well established with the Volunteer Rifles Band. In 1886, Haynes, is believed to have been succeeded by Antonio Agius, who had been the bandmaster aboard HMS Triumph until the Royal Navy recalled the ship from the Pacific Station. Like Haynes, Agius decided to retire and pursue his musical interests in Victoria. Agius was succeeded by Emile Pferdner as conductor, but elected to stay in the band as a clarinetist.

It certainly appears that the band had very humble beginnings. The first annual inspection report of the Victoria Rifle Corps, from 1874 states "Band at present consists of two enrolled men and six supernumeraries. Making fair progress." Three years later, the inspection reports read "The Band mustered eleven musicians, who have improved very considerably in efficiency, and do a good deal of credit to the Bandmaster, Mr. Haynes."

November 9, 1883 marked the day that the Garrison Artillery took full ownership of the Band. Regimental orders of that day, stated that the Commanding Officer of the Rifle Corps "will kindly arrange that any bandsmen now on the strength of his corps be permitted to transfer to the Regiment of Garrison Artillery", and just to make things complete, instructed that "The Secretary and Treasurer of the present Band organization will hand over to the Officer Commanding the Regiment of Garrison Artillery all books, papers and cash etc., in his charge."

By the following summer all of the administrative details for the band were in place, including the return of William Haynes as Bandmaster. Haynes had apparently been replaced as bandmaster by the Commanding Officer of the Rifle Corps a few years earlier and left for the Victoria City Band, followed by a large portion of the Rifle Corps Band whose personal allegiance was with Haynes. Other issues were addressed in a strict set of Band Regulations that was published in Regimental Orders. The seven point document outlined everything from membership requirements; there were no volunteer members or personnel borrowed from other military units, everyone had to be a member of the Garrison Artillery, through drill requirements and what constituted the authorized use of band instruments. There was even a clause outlining the distribution of funds earned while performing for private engagements.

"The earnings of the Band in playing (by permission) for private parties or parades
will be paid to the Treasurer of the Regimental Band Fund and 75 per cent of the
amount will be forthwith distributed to members of the Band in proportion of their
efficiency, and the remaining 25 per cent will be appropriated to the Band Fund."

Discipline was strictly enforced within the Regiment, among those who received fines of $5 for absence without leave from an inspection parade, were six band members who also had to turn in their instruments and equipment. Even the Bandmaster fell victim to Regimental discipline, apparently being dismissed in December 1885 for "failure to carry out the prescribed regulations."

After Haynes departure, there seems to be very little in the official military records concerning band activities, however the local newspaper the Victoria Times makes several references to performances by the "C" Battery Band during the 1890's. It is not unusual to discover that there is no official military record of the band's existence, as this was still part of the era where band activities where funded privately by the Regiment's officers. It is quite possible that, the band while representing the Regiment may very well have had no official ties to it.

The final reference to the "C" Battery Band appears in the August 21,1893 issue of the Victoria Times which reads

CITY BAND: Prof. E. Pferdner, late leader of the "C" Battery Band, has
already made the preliminary arrangements for the organization of a city
band. Six members of the "C" Battery band are in the city and intend to
join the new band, which will be composed of 22 pieces. A meeting    
will be held this week for the purpose of organization.                          

It is interesting to note that Pferdner found himself in the same circumstances in his relationship with the Artillery as his friend Haynes did 10 years earlier in the transition from Rifle Corps to Garrison Artillery.

The band started to flourish in 1893 when E.G. Prior the Commander of the Artillery Garrison hired John Morris Finn as bandmaster, at a salary of $600 per year. Advertisements were placed in the Victoria Daily Colonist newspaper on August 23, 1893 (the same day the advertisement for Pferdner's new band appeared) and 22 musicians responded. By the following June, the Band was giving its first series of public performances at the newly built Drill Hall on Menzies Street. These performances took place on Saturday nights with an admission fee of 10 cents. Battalion members in uniform were admitted free of charge. The review of the band's premier concert that appeared in the Daily Colonist on June 3, 1894 indicates that the band performed to a high standard.

"The B.C.B.G.A. band gave the first of the series of promenade
concerts in the Drill hall last night.   J.M. Finn, the bandmaster,
has succeeded in bringing the band to an excellent condition, as
the well rendered programme last night testified."                    

The winter of 1895-96 saw the Band perform three concerts at the old Victoria Theatre with the purpose of raising $1000 to purchase new band instruments. As it was 1896 proved to be a very busy year for the band as they were involved in at least 57 performances during the course of the year. The Band did of course participate in military functions and it's first appearance with Finn as Bandmaster was the inaugural parade held by the Battalion in the new Drill Hall on Jan. 11, 1894. The Band was also on parade with the 100 man honour guard for the visit by the Governor General and Lady Aberdeen the following November.

Finn enforced the Regiment's strict rules for membership in the band and made demands of his superiors too, insisting upon peaked caps for the band rather than the standard "pillbox" style hat worn by gunners of the day as well as looser more comfortable jackets. In 1897, Finn managed to re-equip the band by importing $1700 worth of instruments from Britain, duty free, because he managed to convince the appropriate authorities that the instruments were to be used for the celebrations of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. A special concert was arranged to raise funds for the new instruments. As the Victoria Times reported on March 22, 1897

"The new instruments for the Fifth Regiment band have been ordered from Besson & Son, London. They will cost about $1500, and, although there is only $600 on hand, the officers expect no difficulty in raising the balance. For this purpose a concert is to be given on Thursday evening, and Mayor Irving and other gentlemen have volunteered to take up a public subscription"

Among the 28 instruments that arrived from Besson and Sons, were a silver plated euphonium and tubas engraved "1st Battalion 5th British Columbia Regiment Canadian Artillery" and bearing the Artillery Sceptre. The euphonium is the only one of these instruments that has survived, apparently is still playable, and is on display at the Regimental Museum.

The Fifth Regiment Band was not just a local success. In his book History of Music in British Columbia, author Dale McIntosh notes that "the Fifth Regiment Band was probably the most widely travelled of and British Columbia band of the time, or for many years after. Under Finn's direction they played an engagement at the World's Fair in St. Louis, with a return engagement to the city a few years later, in addition to performances in Denver, Norton (Kansas), Omaha, Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland and Vancouver…….all before 1904 when Finn gave up his post."


PICTURES

From top to Bottom

1. Victoria Volunteer Rifle Corps Band 1860's
5th Regiment Archives and BC Archives

2. Victoria Volunteer Rifle Corps Band 1876
5th Regiment Archives and BC Archives

3. Victoria Volunteer Rifle Corps Band 1870's - in the field...possibly Ft Rodd.
BC Archives

4. BC Garrison Artillery Band 1895
5th Regiment Archives

5. Fifth Field Regiment Band 1890's - Royal Theatre
BC Archives


Copyright © 1998-2000 Michael Dominy

This is a work in progress and will be updated as research continues.

Many thanks to the 5th Field Regimental Museum and LCol Philip Sherwin for their encouragement and support of this project.

Thanks also to Melanie Martens at Royal Roads University for access to the microfilm files of Victoria newspapers.

Finally thanks to Dale McIntosh who's published works History of Music in British Columbia 1850-1950 and A Documentary History of Music in Victoria provided invaluable guidance.

Email: Mike Dominy