The first band affiliated with the North-West Mounted Police was formed in 1876. During the next 30 years, the force had about seven bands. An official RCMP band was formed in 1938 and first performed in 1939, including at the royal visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Other RCMP bands were also active throughout the 1950s and particularly during Canada’s centennial celebrations in 1967. The RCMP band disbanded in 1994.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was organized as the in 1873. In 1876, its first band was formed in Swan River, Manitoba. The instruments were purchased by the 20 players themselves and shipped from Winnipeg by dogsled. The band made its debut on 24 May — Queen Victoria's birthday — under the direction of Sergeant Major Thomas Horatio Lake. This volunteer band flourished intermittently until the outbreak of the South African War in 1899.
Approximately seven other bands existed during the first 30 years of the force's history. The band at Fort Qu'appelle under Sergeant Major Fred A. Bagley performed at a notable event in 1881, the signing of the treaty between the federal government and members of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Assiniboine and other First Nations, on the banks of the Bow River near Calgary.
In Calgary in 1886, Bagley founded the North-West Mounted Police'E' Division band, which achieved excellence. In addition to its regular concerts in Calgary, it also played on special occasions at the Banff Springs Hotel, which was opened in 1888. The'E' Division band dispersed on Bagley's retirement from the force in 1899. Both the Calgary and the Regina station police bands participated in one of the most glittering local events of that era: the grand ball held in 1889 on the occasion of Governor General Lord Stanley's visit to the North-West Territories.
As the West grew, so did the duties and responsibilities of the force. The North-West Mounted Police became the Royal North West Mounted Police in 1904, and this in turn was merged into a new national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in 1920.
The earliest attempt to establish an official RCMP band was made in 1934. However, owing to the Depression, approval for a part-time band was granted only in 1938. The director of this band, located first in Regina and later in Ottawa, was Staff Sergeant Joseph T. Brown (formerly of the Governor General's Foot Guards Band of Ottawa). One of the band's first performances occurred 25 May 1939 during the visit of George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada. The band also appeared in New York at the 1939 World's Fair. Throughout the war years it played in many concerts and parades across Canada in connection with the Victory Loan program and the war effort; in 1944, it was on duty during the Quebec Conference. In 1949, Sergeant E.J. Lydall (its leader on its Prairie tour the previous year) replaced the retiring Inspector Brown as music director.
A second part-time RCMP band was organized in 1949 in Regina under Corporal C.C. Bryson. Both units continued to be active in their respective areas, and they merged for special occasions. In 1951, the Ottawa band played an important role at performances during the visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. In 1953, Coronation ceremonies in Canada's capital were coordinated by Inspector Lydall, and the massed bands were led by the RCMP Ottawa Band on Parliament Hill in a dazzling display of pomp and pageantry.
The RCMP bands flourished throughout the 1950s, but operation on a part-time basis was difficult. Government approval of a full-time band was granted in December 1958. This band, with headquarters in Ottawa, began extensive tours of Canada. In 1961, it covered over 11,000 km by land, appearing in cities from Dawson Creek, BC, through the Prairie provinces, to Thunder Bay, Ontario. The following year the band toured the Maritimes and Quebec and introduced a popular series of concerts and retreat ceremonies at the Supreme Court building in Ottawa during the summer months. The band made two CBC TV appearances in 1964 and took part in the International Band Festival in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1965. Canada's centennial year, 1967, was a busy one, as the band joined the RCMP Musical Ride and toured Canada.
Most Musical Ride performances (which originated in the 1880s) have used recorded music or employed local bands when the troupe is on tour in Europe or North America. In 1967, Superintendant E.J. Lydall retired, and Inspector W. Bramwell Smith was appointed supervisor of music for the force. He also served as music director of the band until 1975. In 1967, the RCMP sent its musicians across the Arctic for the first time, touring the full band to centres accessible to large aircraft. After a successful tour of the USA in 1968, the band was featured in a CBC TV Christmas special. In 1970, it made a memorable series of appearances at Expo 70, Osaka. In the course of nine days, it was heard live by over half-a-million people and was viewed on TV by millions of Japanese and Canadians.
An annual winter concert series at the NAC begun in 1968 continued until the mid-1970s. In 1973, with the RCMP Centennial Review, the band appeared in some 20 cities across Canada. During 1974 it appeared at the Ontario Place Forum, Toronto. Kenneth Moore was appointed music director for the RCMP 1 Dec 1975 and was succeeded in 1986 by Inspector Charles Hendricks.
In 1976, the band sent a group of musicians to Old Crow, Yukon, the forerunner of a permanent 12-piece ensemble established in 1977 to travel to remote areas of the provinces and to communities of the Arctic accessible only by small aircraft. Among the hundreds of noteworthy appearances the band made after 1980 are those occasioned by Alberta's 75th anniversary (1981), the World University Games in Edmonton, the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales (1983), the ACTRA Awards ceremony (1985), Expo 86 in Vancouver, the Commonwealth Conference, the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Toronto (1987), the Cystic Fibrosis Telethon (1989), and the visits of Queen Elizabeth II and former USSR President Gorbachev (1990). Notable visits outside Canada included those to Nashville, Tennessee (1980), Germany and South America (1984), Chicago (1987), and Australia (1988). An annual (from 1978) commitment to the CFCF Montreal Childrens Hospital Telethon was typical of the band's work on behalf of charitable organizations.
The single, national RCMP band was disbanded in 1994. Smaller bands affiliated with individual regiments still proliferate across the country.
Municipal Police Bands
Many municipal police forces also maintained their own bands. Most of these are pipe and drum ensembles and include the Halifax Police Association Pipes and Drums, the Ontario Provincial Police Pipes and Drums, the Pipes and Drums of Niagara Regional Police, the Pipes and Drums of Metropolitan Toronto Police, and the City of Winnipeg Police Pipe Band. A notable exception is the Waterloo (Ontario) Regional Police Force Band, a military-style marching and concert band founded in 1977 by Heinz Wernecke and Police Staff Inspector Mark Hallman. This band, with both police and civilian members, has travelled extensively through North America performing at parades, festivals and concerts. As of 2023, it was billing itself as “the only wind ensemble (brass and reed) band in Canada associated with a Police Service.”
- Dynamic Sound. RCMP Band, W. Bramwell Smith conductor. 1972. Poly 2917-008
- The Music of the R.C.M.P. Concert Band/La Musique de la G.R.C. Grand Orchestre. K.R. Moore conductor. 1980. RCMP 3
- The Band of HMCS Quadra. Lieut-Cdr E.S. Shephard conductor. 1974. Private recording AVR-7422
- Cadet Summer Training School CFB Borden, Ontario Military and Pipe Band 1976. Maj G. Rogers conductor. Fantasy FS-23394
- Cadet Summer Training School CFB Borden, Ontario Military and Pipe Band 1978. Maj G. Rogers conductor. RCA ST-57984-5
- Cadet Summer Training School CFB Borden, Ontario Military and Pipe Band 1980. Maj G. Rogers conductor. Private recording