Music in Thunder Bay

Ontario city formed through an amalgamation of the twin cities Fort William (which, as Fort Camenestigouia or Kaministiquia dates back to 1679) and Port Arthur (established in 1870), both incorporated in 1907.

Thunder Bay, Ont

Thunder Bay, Ont. Ontario city formed through an amalgamation of the twin cities Fort William (which, as Fort Camenestigouia or Kaministiquia dates back to 1679) and Port Arthur (established in 1870), both incorporated in 1907. They became Thunder Bay in 1970, named for the bay they share on the west brow of Lake Superior. The population (about112,000 in 1986) is a mixture of European cultures with a large Finnish component.

One of the twin cities' first musical organizations was a Philharmonic Society founded in 1888. A successor was the Thunder Bay Philharmonic, a choral society and orchestra founded (soon after his arrival in 1910) by B. Gunton Smalley (1887-1942, a graduate of the RAM, organist-choirmaster at the First Baptist Church and father of Cardo Smalley). That same year the society gave the first local performance of Messiah. In subsequent years it also performed Mendelssohn's Elijah, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha, and Smalley's The Legend of Nanna Bijou (about the sleeping giant who guards the harbour). The Philharmonic Society made the first musical broadcast from the twin cities in 1929, the year Smalley retired. The first music competition was held in 1927. The orchestra continued to function and had renewed success in the late 1930s under the direction of Ralph Colosimo. However, with the onset of World War II it was dissolved. A new ensemble, the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, was formed in 1960 and became the city's most significant musical organization. The Thunder Bay Chamber Players, which has as its core a woodwind quintet of musicians from the Thunder Bay SO, was formed in 1984 and has toured in northwestern Ontario and (1991) to Winnipeg. Its repertoire includes many Canadian works, including compositions and arrangements by the group's bassoonist, Harold Wevers. Two early music groups were active in Thunder Bay in 1991: Consortium Aurora Borealis, founded in 1979, has presented about eight local concerts annually, and Resonant Reflections, founded in 1990, has presented local musicians and guest artists.

Thunder Bay choirs have included the Port Arthur Ladies' Choir, formed in 1924 under Wilfred Coulson, who also taught singing. It specialized in 14th- to 16th-century music and the work of English composers such as Elgar and Holst, and performed at the CPR English Music Festival (see CPR Festivals) held at Toronto's Royal York Hotel in 1929. The Fort William Male Choir, established in 1927, was conducted 1945-78 by Norman John Kleven (1915-78) and thereafter by Kendall House (b 1934 and a member of the choir from 1954). The choir won the Canadian Centenary Choir Competition in Saint John, NB, in 1967, toured in Europe several times, and represented Canada in the BBC's 'Let the Peoples Sing' competition in 1970. The choir has also competed twice in the international Eisteddfod competition in Llangollen, Wales, and it sang at the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver. The Lakehead Choral Group was founded in 1957 by James Jewitt; other conductors have included Philip Cotton and James Whicher (1976-90). The 30-voice amateur choir was co-conducted by Andy Ivancic and Michael Watrel in 1991. Ethnic choral groups of the area include the Finnish Otava Male Choir.

Thunder Bay has had a variety of city, industrial, military, and school bands. There have been several pipe bands, the earliest of which, the MacGillivray Pipe Band, was formed in 1917. The Lake Superior Regimental Band was founded ca 1907 and continued to perform during World War II.

Jean McMichael (1898-1955) conducted her own orchestra and participated in the radio program 'School of the Air.' The annual Lakehead Music Festival was begun in 1934; over 350 competitive classes were included in the 1991 festival. The Avila Music School was opened by the Sisters of St Joseph in 1970 and offers music instruction to students of all ages; the 1991 enrolment was 291.

The 1550-seat multiple-use Thunder Bay Community Auditorium was opened 16 Oct 1985 with a gala concert featuring local ensembles together with Maureen Forrester, Canadian Brass, Karen Kain, and others. In addition to serving as the new home of the Thunder Bay SO, the auditorium has been the site of performances by the Calgary Philharmonic, the Moscow Philharmonic, the MSO, the USSR State SO, Harry Belafonte, Hagood Hardy, Bob Hope, and many others.

Thunder Bay is the site of Lakehead University and is the birthplace of Kenneth Campbell, Bobby Curtola, Stewart Grant, Mona Kelly Bernardi, Hugh Le Caine, Doris Mills Lewis, Myrna Lorrie (born in nearby Cloud Bay), Jeanne Pengelly, Pat Riccio, and the folk music scholar Margaret Sargent.

The bay (as distinct from the city) is commemorated in B. Gunton Smalley's song 'Lovely Thunder Bay' (Armand-Greig 1925).


Further Reading

  • Alaton, Salem. 'Bread voices. circuses in the north,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 11 Oct 1984

    Lacey, Liam. 'A new northern home for the arts,' ibid, 18 Oct 1985