THE BANTAM OPTIMISTS
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.
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.
Bantam Optimists (East York Stadium, 1960)
Ronn Prokop instructing the Bantams
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.
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 contact us.
Optimist Bantams outside Union Station for the Optimists Convention (1960)
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)
The Optimists Bantams (Winter, 1962/63)
The Beginnings of the Optimist Cadets
In 1967 two men who were to exert much influence discovered the Optimists. These were brothers, Al and Greg Tierney. The Optimists realized that unless people could be recruited and trained, the Corps could run into difficulty in the future. The original “Peanut Squad” (as the Bantam Optimists were sometimes called) had been disbanded in early 1964 to keep the main corps alive. Now, it was decided that a feeder Corps was, once again, needed. The process was set in motion.
Recruiting was tough and practice facilities almost non-existent. This was not good. In fact, the whole summer was spent looking for recruits and practice facilities. It was felt that the suburbs of the city were the best place to pursue this idea, and this led to a lucky break. The Scarborough Knights of Columbus were looking for another youth activity. With baseball and hockey already well covered in the community they were open to new ideas. Like everyone, they were short of money; however, they did possess a practice facility.
Optimist Cadets, 1969
A Grand Knight attended an Optimists practice and was impressed by the discipline. A meeting of the executive of the Optimists and the Knights of Columbus took place. Later there was a second meeting with the general membership of the Knights of Columbus.
Attendees at these meeting saw slides of the Optimists as well as the 1965 movie of the Optimists that was filmed at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton. All of the K of C men were in favour of this promotion. While they could not contribute financially they agreed to provide their clubhouse for practices as well as assisting with the recruiting drive. On September 1st a final decision was taken to accept this offer. A plan was developed that culminated in a recruiting day on September 17th.
Optimist Cadets, 1969
Handbills were distributed with much of the work being done by the Knights (at this time of year the Optimists were busy preparing for the Nationals). On the 17th, the Corps paraded from the Knights of Columbus Hall to a church. There, on the church steps, they played to a crowd of a thousand. Slides were again shown and short speeches were given by Mr. Daber and Mr. Greg Tierney, Chairman of Youth Activities for the Knights of Columbus. Applications were handed out and, by the end of the day, forty–seven had been completed and returned. The first rehearsal was set for September 23. During that week a small article in the Toronto Star brought a sudden increase in phone calls to everyone who was involved. Suddenly, the recruiting drive became not only a success but in danger of being swamped. At the first rehearsal, the original forty-seven recruits were there along with another ninety-five newcomers. Now, membership in the Optimist Cadets, as they were called, stood at 142, with the prospect of more to come as time passed. Thus, money notwithstanding, we now had “The Optimist Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps”, Mr. Al Tierney, Director, Mr. Greg Tierney, Manager. It was a Parade Corps for boys 10-14. Both of the just mentioned men had played a large part in this activity. They would play even larger roles in the future, but this endeavour was most important for the future survival and success of the Corps. They even began their own newsletter, “Cadet Capsule”, edited by Al Tierney.
In 1975 the Optimist Cadets merged with the Optimists Lancers to form the Cadet Lancers.
Note: much of the above material was taken from Colin Hedworth's History of The Optimists (with modifications)
The Etobicoke Optimist Lancers were formed in the autumn of 1969 and were the creation of Richard (Dick) Brown. The Lancers were to be a 'feeder corps' to the renowned Toronto Optimists, a drum and bugle corps who competed successfully at the Junior A level and had multi-national titles to their credit.
In the spring of 1970, the fledgling drum corps from Etobicoke became known as the "Lancers" in tribute to the 27th Lancers of Revere, Massachusetts. The 'corps colours' were orange, green and white complete with a rakish white Australian style bush hat. As the summer of 1970 progressed - the Lancers forged into a very strong street parade unit with a very strong drum line, a competent horn line and a graceful colour guard. A Drum Major (David Burgess) and Colour Guard Captain (Debbie Brown) were selected to complete the package. The repertoire for that summer consisted of "Perot" and "Red Sails in the Sunset". Highlighting the summer - the Lancers had the honour of being the first drum corps to play at Ontario Place for their opening day celebration.
1971 saw the Lancers evolve into a very solid and well received street parade unit. The Corps added two new musical numbers to their repertoire ("Song of the Vagabonds" and that time honoured Bob Dylan classic "Blowin' In The Wind") and the song "Perot" was mercifully 'retired'! The Lancers had their first taste of competition on the field at the Ontario Provincial Championships that summer. They competed in the Standstill Class and placed second. It was a terrific first time effort and made the Lancer members interested in further competition somewhere down the line.
The year 1972 was a banner year for the Lancers Drum Corps. New musical numbers were added to illustrate how much the Corps had progressed with the additions of "Games People Play" and "Wagon Wheels". Both songs featured soprano bugle soloists (John Burgess and Scott McCabe respectively doing the honours) for the first time. The Lancers took their 'show' west that summer and wowed the crowds at the Calgary Stampede. Upon their return to Ontario, the Lancers decided to try their luck again in competition and entered into the Canadian National Championship in the Standstill Class. This time, their hard work and dedication was rewarded with a First Place being awarded to the "Orange, Green and White"! To top off that victory, the Lancers also won the Canadian National Street Parade Competition.
1973 saw the Lancers make the 'jump' to M&M (marching and manoeuvring) competition at the Junior C level. Under the watchful eye of Russ Blandford and the rest of the superb Lancer instructional staff (including the likes of Bill McLeod and Lorne Ferrazzutti), the Corps showed that their years of dedication to marching in countless street parades had paid off. The Lancers kept "Games People Play" as their off-the-line and "Wagon Wheels" as their exit number. Added to this exciting mix was "Put Your Hand In the Hand" (into concert), and "Aura Lee/Cecilia" medley for the concert number and a beautiful, stirring rendition of "British Grenadiers" for their colour presentation. The Lancers completed an undefeated season at the Junior C level - capturing the "C" Canada title, the provincial title, the Canadian National Junior C title and repeating as the Canadian National Street Parade champs.
1974 - After the successes of 1973, it seemed only logical that the Lancers make that "big jump" into the Open Class ranks and try competing against such stellar drum corps as the Etobicoke Crusaders, the Toronto Optimists and De La Salle Oaklands just to name a few. The Lancer staff decided to retain two "tried and true" musical numbers from their Junior C success by keeping "Wagon Wheels" (exit number) and the colour presentation of "British Grenadiers." Added to the mix was an off-the-line from Masterpiece Theatre called "The Masterpiece", a really 'kicking' drum solo based on the number "Smoke On The Water" and a concert medley of "Cecilia" coupled with the amazing "MacArthur Park." The Lancer members approached the 1974 season with "optimism" based on their previous undefeated season in Junior C. However, it was not to be for the "Orange, Green and White" that summer. Outside of Canada, the Lancers did reasonably well in competition but inside Canadian boundaries, the story was completely different. The Lancers took heavy defeat after heavy defeat despite their best efforts on and off the field although they did successfully defend their street parade champion status at the Canadian Nationals. Ultimately, the continuing defeats eroded morale right down to almost zero. At the end of the 1974 season, many of the Lancer members decided to continue their drum corps careers elsewhere and it looked like the Optimist Lancers would fold operations and fade into drum corps history.
1975 looked mighty grim for the Lancers until the Optmist Cadets Drum And Bugle Corps (Scarborough) under the guidance of Mr. Edward (Ted) Baker graciously offered to merge their operation with what remained of the Etobicoke Optimist Lancers. The "Cadet Lancers Drum and Bugle Corps" was born! The two separate Corps merged together quite well although there were a few rough spots and some "ruffled feathers" as the two became one - not unlike any sort of "marriage"!! The Corps kept both styles of uniforms with the horn line adopting the Optimist Cadet style tunic and pants topped off with white plumed shakos while both the drum line and the colour guard went with the Lancer-style blouse and pants/skirts. The drum line went with the white plumed shakos and the colour guard opted for the 'beret' style hats. All in all, the look was stylish and worked well on and off the field. The music for 1975 included an off-the-line of "Paint Your Wagon", an into concert of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo", a concert of "Eres Tu" and an exit of "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers In Your Hair)". The Cadet Lancers did very well and managed to win the "C" Canada Championship and came second at both the Provincial and Canadian Nationals in the Junior C categories, just being edged out by the London Midlanders. The Cadet Lancers did win the Canadian Nationals Street Parade Competition for 1975.
In 1976, the Cadet Lancers built upon the solid foundation of the previous year and came out with a truly dynamic show that featured an off-the-line from the overture from the rock opera "Tommy" made famous by the "Who" and a new exit number from "Jesus Christ Superstar" - the ever popular "I Don't Know How To Love Him". Retained from the previous year was the ever popular swing tune of "Chatanooga Choo-Choo" and the concert production of "Eres Tu". The 1976 Cadet Lancers fielded a horn line of 38, a drum line of 24, a colour guard of 24 flags with 8 rifles, led onto the field by two Guard Captains and two Drum Majors. This unit was successful in winning the Canadian National Junior C championship against a solid unit from Simcoe, the Golden Lions. The Cadet Lancers also posted a victory as the Canadian National Street Parade Champions for 1976.
(This was taken from the Lancer & Cadet Lancer Website)