March On! ...the history of the
Toronto Optimists Drum & Bugle Corps
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Bantam Optimists
In 1960 the Bantam Optimists, the first feeder corps for the Toronto Optimists, was created. The corps was initially organized by Bill Jay, who had played bugle with the Toronto Optimists, and Fred Johnson who would go on to become a successful politician in Scarborough. The corps was run by various people during their existence. One or two nights a week members of the Toronto Optimists would go a Bantams' rehearsal to instruct them. One of the drum instructors was Ronn "Skip" Prokop who went on to be one of the founding members of the rock group Lighthouse.
The Bantams would not have existed without the help of Bill Shepherd of Whaley-Royce. In his book, "From Toronto, The Optimists" Colin Hedworth wrote: "it was due to Bill Shepherd that the Bantam Optimists Corps got started. His company, Whaley Royce, donated all the drums and bugles that enabled the Bantams to get started."
As competition levels increased it was rapidly becoming harder for an individual without some prior training to join the Optimists. The purpose of the feeder corps was to train young people in the drum corps activity. The hope was that this would create a reserve pool of talent from which the Corps could draw new players. By 1961 it was a thriving enterprise and, very quickly, it would prove its value beyond all doubt.
Here's a story many people might not know. At the end of the 1963 season the Toronto Optimists lost a great many horn players as well as a number of drummers. Winter rehearsals sometimes had as few as 12 horn players and, when all the horns were there, there were still only about 17 players. As much as the corps tried, they were unable to recruit enough new members. In the spring management held a meeting to decide whether they could even field a corps. A decision was made to compete. This was done but shutting down the Bantams corps and moving, as many members as wanted, to the Toronto Optimists. I think we had 33 horns by the end of the season. And they were good!
Integrating the new members, learning drill, etc. was a challenge and it meant missing a June exhibition in Hamilton, our first drill show of the year. Given the late start we were in rough shape at the beginning of the season. During the summer of 1964 we continued to improve, no Canadian corps was able to beat us (but we got hammered in a June trip to the Midwest) and we went on to win our sixth consecutive Nationals.
In the long-term, the loss of the Bantams was a blow to the Optimists; however, in the moment it was a real blessing. In 1964 the members of the Bantams saved our butt. Since those Bantam members were all young, they became excellent horn players and drummers and it was many years before the last of them aged out.
A History of the Bantams
This article was published in the Volume 2 (1962), Number 3 issue of Green Capsule Comments
When in 1959 the Junior Optimists Drum won its second consecutive Canadian Championship, it was realized that the high performance standard required to maintain leadership would not be found in boys newly recruited and without previous training, which would soon become necessary as Corps members :r reached the maximum permissible age for competition purposes. Therefore, on the strong recommendation of Mr. Barry C. Bell, Music Director of The Optimist Jr. Corps, and sponsored through the good offices of the Toronto Optimists Club and assisted by The Whaley, Royce Music Company, the Optimists Bantam Corps of twenty-eight boys was formed.
The function of the Bantam Corps is:
(a) To interest boys from approximately nine years of age up to Junior "A" age in the activities of Drum Corps and to supply good basic instruction in drill and drum and horn playing.
(b) To maintain a high standard of efficiency by screening the boys without genuine interest or talent.
(c) To encourage the trained boys of suitable age to seek a place in the Junior Drum Corps.
Thus the major objective of the Optimist Club would be attained by teaching a form of self discipline to many boys requiring guidance, opening the doors to the world of music for many who would otherwise miss the opportunity, and provide an atmosphere for the talented to perform and develop. In 1960, under the musical direction of Mr. Bill Jay, The Bantam Corps won the Junior Novice Standstill Championship at the Canadian Nationals in Hamilton.
1961 produced a scarcity of instructors and the Corps stood still, literally. This year, with a new staff, the Bantams are again on the move and it looks like a year of great promise with the Championship our goal.
With the kind permission of Green Giant of Canada Limited, packers of nationally distributed food products, this Corps will henceforth be referred to as "THE GREEN GIANTS" More to come from the Valley of The Green Giant as this theme develops.
The Bantam Corps parades on Tuesday evening from 7:30 pm till 9:30 pm at the Oak Park Junior High School located at Oak Park and Lumsden Ave. Visitors are welcome. We are primarily a Parade Corps and persons interested in our services may visit us on Tuesday evenings or telephone the manager of the Corps, Mr. Fred Johnson at Ox 8-5284.
Corps Staff : Optimist Club Representative: Mr. Bill Rudd; Corps Commander: Mr. Fred Johnson; Music Director: Mr. Colin Stubbs; Drill: Mr. R. L. Firestine; Drum: Mr.W.Willkinson, Mrs. J.Cowley, Mrs.A.McKenzie; Horns: Mrs. Z. McDonald, Mrs. A. Johnson; Colour Guard: Mr. B. McDonald; Sr. Drum Major Mr. Peter Baynham; Jr: David Bergh.
In the early 1960s, many of the members of the Toronto Optimists came from the Bantam Optimists. Some of the Alumni corps members who were associated with the Optimist Bantams include: Bob Burman, Dave Harris, Dave Sims, Ed Hall, Emilio Russo, Gary Corbett, George Wright, John Whiting, Ron Walsh, Steve Cooper, Vern Johansson, as well as Doug, John and Rick Shearer.
I think that there are others that have not been included. If you have any additional names, please send an email to the webminder (see below).
The Bantam Optimists
This Parade Corps is sponsored by The Optimist Club of Toronto Inc., as part of their Junior Boy’s Work Activities and are the feeder Corps for the Toronto Optimists Drum Corps.
Since their incorporation in 1959 the Bantams took a first at the Kiwanis Music Festival and in 1960 were the Junior Novice Standstill Champions. In 1962 they took the Junior Standstill Championships.
For parade bookings contact: Mr. Fred Johnson, at 87 Madelaine Avenue, Scarborough, Ontario. Phone OX. 9-7779. (taken from an old program from 1963)
At the end of 1963, the Toronto Optimists lost a large number of their members and there was a question about whether they would be able to compete. To keep the main corps going, in the Spring of 1964 the Bantams folded and many of their members joined the Toronto Optimists.
taken from a contest program