The  Optimists  Alumni  Drum  &  Bugle  Corps

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

. . . March On!

Toronto Optimists: 1968

Photo of the Toronto Optimists' 1968 Colour Presentation

1968 Colour Presentation

One of the trademarks that distinguish the truly successful Corps is their consistency in winning year after year. Whether it be Sac, Cavie's or Garfield all of them have had their rebuilding years or years where they might not have been as competitive as others. Such was the year 1968 for the Optimists. It was an odd year in that, not only did we have a major age-out component, but we also changed 90% of our music. Barry Bell took over from Truman Crawford and created all arrangements. Ron Kaiser no longer played in the line and became full time drum instructor. To add to the mix we also lost four french horn players. As a result, we switched to mellophones. Also, we added our unique, horizontally-mounted, double bass drums to the drum ensemble. Yes, it was a year of change and it was also a year of losing, a real first for the Corps.

The winter of 1967 and early '68 were at times discouraging because rehearsals were small. The problem was not poor attendance; instead, there was a lack of members. As Spring rolled around some old members returned from University and things began to take shape. The drumline was spectacular and would carry the whole corps forward for the rest of the year. By mid-June, at the Shrine Show (Listen to our performance at the Shrine Show), we were finally up to 30 horns; however, we were still much smaller than competition who were then fielding anywhere from 36 to 48 horns. Needless to say we were blown out at this show (and many others to follow). Thanks mainly to Barry Bell (horns), Ron Kaiser( drums) and Jack Roberts (drill instructor), we created a plan to improve, a plan which included many extra rehearsals. During the Summer months it was not unusual to rehearse as often as three or four times a week. Of course, we also had our weekend shows and the pre-show rehearsal time. Our scores slowly began to improve. This Corps was not nearly as talented as some with which I had marched but, when it came to sheer determination, there was none more motivated.

Photo of Optimists (1968)

Toronto Optimists (1968)

As always the Optimists had a group of veterans who led the Corps by both their example and by their confidence. Drum Major Vern Johansson was the backbone as were old timers like Paul Thompson, the Roussel brothers and Wayne Dean. A host of last year's rookies also stepped up – guys like George Tamaki, Dwight Angus and others. It definitely was not always pretty but the drive was certainly there to win yet another championship.

The situation with our Canadian competition had also changed. In 1966 Cadets LaSalle had taken over as our main Canadian competition and in 1967 they were even stronger. This year LaSalle was down but Del was back with a vengance. In 1967 Del had enlisted Al Morrison, a former Optimist, as an instructor and, in 1968, they emergenced with a gang of ex-Optimsts taking the helm of that Corps – guys like Terry McKolskey on horns and Harry Clark on drums. Del beat us at our first encounter. And at our second. And third....  As the summer progressed both corps kept improving and the gap remained. On Aug 17 at the North American we were still over a point behind Del (Listen to us at the North American). Two weeks later, at the CNE, on the Monday before Nationals, we finally beat Del. And we did it  by 2 points! That victory surprised a lot of people. For those of us in the Corps we had a feeling that it was inevitable. Difficult? Yes, but we had a good feeling about where we now were. We were small but very tight!

Optimists drum line

Optimists drum line (1968)

Nationals arrived and I still remember going to the starting line for the evening show. As we marched through a gamut of the Senior Corps getting ready to go on after the Juniors a large number of Ex Optimists, both Commanders and Ambassadors, were on hand to cheer us on. And on we went. It was a very inspired and emotional show and number 11 was in the bag! We all knew that this was not the best Corps that the Optimists had ever fielded. At the same time we were all very proud that the Optimists tradition lived on. Like the other great Corps of our era we found a way to be not only competitive but to find strength in our past and use it to win. Listen to our show at the 1968 Nationals.

A nice follow up to the year was our opportunity to perform the half time show at the Grey Cup in Toronto. I don't remember how we were able to hold together the complete field show into November with members aging out and returning to school but we did. Performing in front of some thirty to forty thousand fans plus National TV should have been a rather special treat but it seemed like nothing more than a dress rehearsal to me compared with Nationals. When one begins to reminisce about the good old days you kind of have to smile about a drum corps being field entertainment for the Grey Cup. I wonder what the Guess Who or April Wine were doing that day?. (memories from Brian Byrne)

Note: If anyone has a video recording of our 1968 Grey Cup performance, please contact us!

Scores for Optimists and some of our competitors as the summer of 1968 progressed
Corps Name Shriners
(June 15)
Brantford, ON
(July 6)
Franklin, PA
(July 20)
Ogdensburg, NY
(July 27)
Leroy, NY

(Aug 3)

(Aug 17)

(Sept 2)

(Sept 7)
Optimists 72.980 76.933 70.700 74.750 79.950 76.380 82.360 79.030  
Cadets LaSalle   73.566   71.130 76.400 71.270 76.950 73.670  
De La Salle   77.133   77.450   77.550 80.060 78.300  
Blessed Sacrament 80.200                
Boston Crusaders 80.780                
Casper Troopers           85.300     3
Racine Kilties 74.380               1
St Joe's Batavia     75.100   85.800 81.980     6
Des Plaines Vanguard           82.530     4

Special Notice

We want to add a page of memories for each year of the Toronto Optimists, the Seneca Optimists and the Optimists Alumni. What you see above is an example of what we are trying to create. We hope that these pages will help to rekindle happy memories of years gone by.

Our goal is to gather corps-related memories specific to a particular year, rather than "generic" memories that would apply to all years. These memories could be about such things as performing in the corps, traveling with the corps, watching the corps from the stands, excerpts from articles in old corps mags, etc. It's not necessary to submit a whole year's worth of memories since contributions from different people can be edited and merged together to form the web page. We'll save the memories that people submit and, once we have enough material, we will compile them into a web page for that particular year. We'll probably add photos, recordings, etc then we'll post that page on the website.

If you have other memories of this year, or any other year, that you would like to submit, please send an email to Bob Carell (toronto_optimist at