Douglas Dunsmore | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Douglas Dunsmore

Douglas Allen Dunsmore, CM, music educator and choral conductor (born 2 November 1949 in Regina, Saskatchewan). Douglas Dunsmore is a choral conductor and professor emeritus of choral activities at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He has shaped an active choral landscape in Newfoundland and Labrador. On the national level, he contributed significant service to the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors (now Choral Canada) and was a founding artistic director of Festival 500 choral music festival.

Douglas Dunsmore

Childhood, Education and Early Career

Douglas Dunsmore grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan. His parents, Wilbur and Daisy Dunsmore, worked as farmhands as a young couple and later ran a successful trucking business. He was the youngest of three surviving brothers, one of whom was TV journalist Barrie Dunsmore.

Dunsmore’s interest in music came from his mother, who played piano and served as a church organist. Even in elementary school, he says, “I couldn’t help myself. I was always singing.” Dunsmore began to perform in public in his teenage years, as an avid barbershop singer in high school and a soloist at weddings in Regina. He also became a choir leader as a high school junior, forming, rehearsing and conducting the graduation choir. In 1969, he won first-class honours in the Western Board of Music’s voice exams for baritone.

Dunsmore obtained a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Saskatchewan in 1972 and a Master of Music in Choral Conducting in 1976 from the University of Regina. He was involved with university opera productions and continued to perform with barbershop groups. After graduation, Dunsmore became the director of music at Martin Collegiate, a public high school in Regina, and conducted the Regina Philharmonic Chorus. He also served in several offices of the Saskatchewan Choral Federation.

Dunsmore completed his academic education with a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994. By this time, he was already well established as a music educator at Memorial University of Newfoundland. His thesis discussed government policies and their effects on choral music education in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Music Educator at Memorial University of Newfoundland

In 1979, Douglas Dunsmore accepted a one-year replacement position at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) in St. John’s. In 1980, the MUN Chamber Choir won the inaugural CBC Amateur Choir Competition under his direction. This national success connected Dunsmore with other renowned choral conductors, such as Elmer IselerJon Washburn and Wayne Riddell, who became his mentors. It also motivated him to accept the newly created position of director of choral activities at MUN’s Department of Music (now the MUN School of Music). In 1980, he moved to St. John’s permanently.

At MUN, Dunsmore was responsible for the large Festival Choir, the Chamber Choir and teaching duties. Both choirs maintained a high artistic profile under his direction. The Festival Choir won the National Music Festival’s City of Lincoln Trophy in 1982, while the Chamber Choir won the City of Lincoln Trophy in 1984, the CBC Amateur Choir Competition (first place in 1980, second place in 2006) and the Association of Canadian Choral Communities’ Amateur Choral Competition (2010). The Chamber Choir toured extensively across Canada.

Dunsmore developed the existing MUN graduate program in choral conducting. Many of his students have launched careers as conductors and choral clinicians, as well as other musical professions. After a short stint in Madison, Wisconsin, where he completed his residency in 1990–91 and received his PhD in 1994, Dunsmore remained at MUN until his retirement in March 2013.

Founding Director of the Philharmonic Choir of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra

In the mid-1980s, Douglas Dunsmore recognized the need for a community choir in St. John’s. The MUN Festival Choir, which did not perform during exam season or school breaks to accommodate its student members, was unable to engage in the much-loved tradition of performing Handel’s Messiah around Christmas. Under the initiative of Dunsmore and Peter Gardner, artistic director of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra (NSO), the Philharmonic Choir was formed in 1987 specifically to perform Messiah with the NSO. Dunsmore became its founding director and remained in this position until 2016.

Choirmaster at Gower Street United Church

In 1982, Douglas Dunsmore became choirmaster at Gower Street United Church, a large church in St. John’s that also served as a venue for some of the MUN choir concerts. In addition to his duties as choir director, he established a handbell choir in 1987 with a set of bells donated to the church. It went dormant in the late 1990s but was restarted in 2021 — again under Dunsmore’s direction — and is still active today. Dunsmore retired from his post at Gower Street United Church in June 2023.

Service to National Choral Associations and Festival 500

Throughout his professional life, Douglas Dunsmore has served in various choral associations. On the national level, he is a member of the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors (ACCC) — now Choral Canada — an organization that supports choral conductors and singers. In 1986, 1988 and 1999, he coordinated the National Youth Choir of Canada, a biannual ACCC initiative established in 1984. Since there was no provincial-level choral organization in Newfoundland and Labrador, he personally organized and supervised the selection of representatives for the province and helped with fund-raising.

Dunsmore served as vice president (1996–98) and president (1998–2000) of the ACCC. Upon his retirement from MUN in 2013, he became the inaugural director of the Bruneau Centre for Excellence in Choral Music. In this role, he helped facilitate choral initiatives at the provincial level, such as the first Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Choir (2014).

In 1997, Dunsmore became a founding artistic director of Sharing the Voices: Festival 500, a choir festival first held as part of the 500th-anniversary celebrations of John Cabot’s arrival in Newfoundland and Labrador. It continued as a biannual international choir festival until 2013, with Dunsmore on the directors’ team. Since 2015, Dunsmore has directed the singing retreat Come All Ye, one of the community activities offered by the festival’s successor organization, Growing the Voices: Festival 500, and, as of 2023, he continues to do so.

Other Community Engagement

Beyond his professional duties, Douglas Dunsmore has fostered music appreciation and community in St. John’s in many ways. He has been the director of the Anchormen Barbershop Chorus for much of the time he has lived there. With this group, as well as the Gower Street United Church senior choir, he launched a bursary program to attract younger singers and diversify the choral community. In 2005, Dunsmore also co-founded the award-winning Newman Sound Men’s Choir with Kellie Walsh and David Chafe.

While predominantly working with choirs, Dunsmore has remained active as a vocalist and voice instructor. He has given voice lessons, both at MUN and in the community. As a choral clinician and adjudicator, he has regularly served choir festivals throughout Canada and abroad. Occasionally, he has performed on stage: at MUN vocal recitals, as a guest soloist with the NSO and, in 1997, as Professor Henry Higgins in a community theatre production of My Fair Lady.

Legacy and Career Highlights

Douglas Dunsmore can be credited with substantially fostering the existence of choral organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador. He has shaped the vibrant musical community of St. John’s, both on and off the MUN campus, by bringing together students and church choirs, amateur singers and professionals. Driven by his philosophy that singing is “90 percent brains, 10 percent talent,” his choral initiatives are inclusive and empowering. He also promotes Canadian music by performing folk songs and works by Canadian composers.

In 2017, Dunsmore was inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (ArtsNL) Hall of Honour in recognition of his lifetime contributions to the province’s cultural life. In 2022, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada for “his leadership as a choral conductor and music educator, and for his significant contributions to prominent provincial and national music organizations.”

Honours and Awards

Arts Achievement Award, Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (ArtsNL) (2012)
Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (ArtsNL) Hall of Honour Award (2017)
Member, Order of Canada (2022)

External Links