BOY SCOUT BAND
Back in 1952, before there was even a hint of The Optimists, there was the 18th Toronto Boy Scout Troop, founded by Mr. Bud Parker. The scouts met in a church at the corner of Dovercourt Road and Davenport Road in Toronto. The scout troop had a band and that band eventually became the Toronto Optimists. But that happened later.
A lot happened in 1955. Firstly, the Scout Band moved to the church next door and it became the band for the 157th Boy Scout Troop. No one seems to remember exactly why this happened; however, some people think that it was tied into going to a Boy Scout Jamboree and the new church needed a band.
By 1955 the scouts were getting older and would very soon have to leave the scouting activity. At this time Mr. Al Baggs, who worked with the Boy Scouts as the District Commissioner in charge of Badges, stepped in. He saw the potential of the band and decided to find a way to keep the band together.
Davenport Trumpet Band
After the Scout Jamboree the boys had to leave scouting. At that point the band became the Davenport Trumpet Band with Bud Parker as the head and Al Baggs as Business Manager. As Business Manager he took it upon himself to find a sponsor for the band. Mr. Baggs approached a number of groups, including the Downtown Toronto Optimists Club, but all refused. His second meeting with the Optimists Club was successful and they agreed to sponsor the band. (Rumour has it that Mr. Baggs asked for $300 and promised that the rest of the money would come from performances.)
There is a video on YouTube showing footage from the 1955 Waterloo Band Festival which, in addition to other groups, includes footage of the Davenport Trumpet Band (whenever I could I've identified the individual bands in the video). The music used as a backdrop is the Davenport Trumpet Band. If you listen closely you will hear the announcer say that the band is looking for a sponsor.
(from a 1957 Lions Show programme)
Front Row (L-R): Harry Clark, ?, Ron Cook, Bob Bond, Phil Hennings, Roy Clark (standing), Bob Brown, Peter Coward, Don Yeaman, Charlie Sokol
Back Row (L-R): Phil Taucher, Larry Cheavers, Ian Robertson, Hector Roberts, ?, Mike Layton, Jim Fletcher, Eddy Nanni, ?, Jim Patten, Bill Coleman, Barney Sharp, Al Baggs
In 1955 Mr Baggs convinced the Downtown Toronto Optimist Club to sponsor the Davenport Trumpet Band. Having obtained a sponsor the band changed its name to the Toronto Optimists Boys Trumpet Band, commonly known as “Opti–Corps”. Blue and Gold, the colours of the Optimist Club, were used to create uniforms. These consisted of blue pants, wedgie hats, and gold T-shirts, and later blue jackets with gold trim.
The band began in the "Junior Novice" category which meant that it performed mostly in parades and standstills. In April of 1956, at Stouffville, Ontario, the band placed third and received an award for most improved unit. At the end of the year they returned home from Merritton, Ontario, as the Canadian Novice Junior Champions. In a single year they had risen to the top of their division.
In 1957 the band moved to the Junior “B” Division. This level entailed the use of a counter-march, a preliminary form of marching and manoeuvring, used commonly by marching bands. During this year, the Optimist Club sponsored the first annual Ontario Junior Drum and Bugle Corps Championship. In competition were the Leaside Lions, 180th Squadron Skyraiders, Danforth Crusaders, Preston Scout House, Western Tech, and Grantham Police Boys’ Band. This was a Junior “A” competition, under the auspices of the then aptly named, Canadian Bugle and Trumpet Band Association. This contest presented the corps with a vision of its next step.
Opti-Corps' next major contest, in their own class, was the Canadian Championship in Galt, Ontario. Their debut in the Junior "B" division showed the calibre of the Corps. They capped off an already successful season by winning the Canadian Championship. This was an ambitious group of kids and they were ready for their next big challenge.
In their two years of existence Opti-Corps had won two National titles: in their first year as a Junior Novice Corps then as a Junior "B" corps. After the 1957 season the Corps changed its name to The Toronto Optimists and entered the top-rung drum corps category, Junior "A". Would they be able to dethrone Preston Scout House, the reigning Junior "A" Champions, and take first place in the Junior "A" division?
Optimist Club of Toronto Trumpet Band — “Opti–Corps”
This band is a newly sponsored project of the Optimist Club of Toronto (Downtown Club). At Merritton they won the Canadian Junior Novice Championship, 1956 — they placed first in the Welland Chamber of Commerce parade, third in the Maid of the Mist Festival, and more recently were third in the Parade of Champions held in Stouffville, April, 1957. At that contest the judges awarded the Opti-Corps the special trophy offered to the band that, in their opinion, had made the most progress to date.
The Corps is led on the field by Drum Major Phil Taucher; drum instruction is under Don McVicar; trumpets, Rolly Formica, and the musical arrangements are taken care of by Drum Sergeant Harry Clark. The business manager is Optimist Alan Baggs.
On July 6th, at East York Memorial Stadium in Toronto, the Optimist Club and their band is sponsoring the Ontario Junior Championships. This promises to be the outstanding junior show of the year. Six top bands of Ontario will be competing for the Provincial title. As well as cash awards and trophies, the Optimist Club is inaugurating a Provincial flag to be awarded to the winner. The Colour Party of the Opti-Corps is presently carrying the new flag on their left so that the folks and corps fans at this show may get a glimpse of it. There will also be an exhibition by one of the most exciting corps in New York State, St. Joseph’s Drum and Bugle Corps of Batavia. Tickets are available from any member of the band or the Optimist Club. This will be too good a show to miss!
(Text taken from an old contest program.)
Optimist Club of Toronto Trumpet Band — “Opti–Corps”
The Opti-Corps is a relatively new project of the Optimist Club of Toronto. Sponsorship of the band was taken over approximately two years ago. Since then the corps has been expanded to almost twice its original strength by the addition of new instruments and a colour party.
The band has given a very good account of itself by winning the Canadian Novice Championship 1956 at Merriton. It placed 3rd amongst the many bands competing in the Maid of the Mist Festival at Niagara Falls, N.Y., and 1st at the Welland Chamber of Commerce parade. More recently they won the trumpet band class at the Kiwanis Music Festival 1957, and at the Parade of Champions held during April at Stouffville, placed 3rd. At this latter contest the judges awarded a special trophy to the band for having made, in their opinion, the most progress. On June 1st of this year the Corps traveled to London, Ont. and entered the Junior Open Class in the London Music Festival where they placed 1st amongst bands from Galt, Simcoe, Kitchener and Waterloo.
The Corps is led on the field by Drum Major Phil Tachauer, drum instruction is under Don McVicar, trumpets, Rolly Formica, and the musical arrangements and special numbers are written by Drum Sergeant Harry Clark. Business manager and director of the band is Optimist Alan Baggs.
(Text taken from an old contest program.)
The Optimists trace their roots to a Boy Scout Band that started in 1952. By 1955 the boys were too old for Scouts so they left Scouting to form the Davenport Trumpet Band with Mr Bud Parker as Director and Mr Al Baggs as Business Manager. Mr Baggs managed to convince the Downtown Toronto Optimist Club to sponsor this fledgling group. The new groups was affectionately known as Opti-Corps.
In 1956 Opti-Corps competed in the Novice Class Championship and took first place. The band not only moved up a level in 1957 but managed to win the Junior "B" Championship. For 1958 they decided to move to Junior "A", the top competitive category, and compete as the Toronto Optimists.
Barry Bell and Lorne Ferrazzutti had been members of the Western Tech Trumpet Band. They were also instructors of the Danforth Tech Drum and Bugle Corps. At the end of 1957 Danforth Tech dropped support of the corps. Mr Baggs, by now the Corps Director, recruited Barry and Lorne for this new corps. A number of former Danforth Tect and Western Tech members joined Barry and Lorne in this new corps.
When word got out that a new Corps was starting, people came from Leaside Lions, Don Mills Sky Raiders, St. Marys, and other established units. The first rehearsal was at Jarvis Vocation School, the corps' "home" for the next few years. Rumour has it the there were about 100 boys looking to be part of this new group! That might seem small by today's standards; however, in the late 1950s the average size of a corps was typically 30-50 members!
It was clear that not everyone who was at that first rehearsal would make the line. Over time many people left, perhaps as a result of other things in their lives, possibly insufficient interest in all of the work required. Who knows? In a way, this attrition was a blessing since it brought the corps size to a manageable level. The photo above shows the 1958 corps on the steps of De La Salle "Oaklands". There are only 39 members.
Up to 1968
During the following years life was not always easy for the corps. On the level of personnel it seemed that every two years we'd lose large numbers of our members. We lost so many members at the end of 1963 that we almost did not field a corps in 1964. Thankfully we had a feeder corps. In the Spring management held a meeting at which a decion was made. We would compete and we would get the much-needed members from our feeder corps. In order to do that we had to drain the feeder corps and shut it down. That decision had long-term consequences but, in the moment, those kids saved our butts! No one outside the corps was aware that we had been in such dire straits.
On the competitive side, De La Salle had a very good corps in 1961 and became the first Canadian corps since 1958 to beat us. We managed to win Nationals but the margin was only 1/20th of a point! By 1966 another corps, the Cadets LaSalle from Ottawa, were looking to kick us out of first place. In both 1966 and 1967 they managed to beat us in prelims at the Nationals but we held them off in finals.
One of the challenges that arose from winning Nationals so often was that it created a "psychological" burden on our members. None of us wanted to be the corps that ended the winning streak. Each year that we won that burden became heavier. Our winning streak also affected the audience side. They began booing, hoping that another corps would win. The 1967 Nationals were in Ottawa, LaSalle's home. The boos were so loud that we could not even hear commands from our drum major. Having said that, by the end of our performance the cheers were louder than the boos.
At the end of 1967 a great many member of The Optimists aged out. In addition to age-outs we always lost members through attrition. The Bantam Optimists, our feeder corps, had been shut down in 1964 and this meant that 1968 would be a challenging year. The last time that Optimists had started a season losing to another Canadian corps was in 1958, when Scout House was king. In 1968 De La Salle started on top with Optimists in second and LaSalle in third. This lasted situation lasted until Optimists won a September contest at the Canadian National Exhibition. Optimists also won Nationals for their 11th consecutive win.
At the end of the 1968 season the Downtown Toronto Optimist Club, our sponsor since 1955, announced that they would drop their sponsorship of the corps at the end 1969. There would be money to compete in 1969 but nothing for extras, like new equipment.
A new reality
The 1969 season started like 1968, with De La Salle on top. The Optimists did their absolute best, working as hard as they could, in an attempt to create a repeat of 1968. After trailing Del all year the Optimists managed to beat them by a solid 2.3 points only five days before Nationals. This year, though, there was a different outcome at Nationals. De La Salle took first place, beating the Optimists by 1/20th of a point, the same spread by which the Optimists beat Del in 1961! De La Salle was now top-dog and the Optimists would now have to play catch-up.
If you remember, 1969 was the last year that the Downtown Toronto Optimist Club would be sponsoring the corps. Those who had marched in the Optimists loved the corps and would do everything possible to keep the corps alive. A group of former Optimists banded together to create the York-Toronto Optimist Club and the new club assumed sponsorship of the corps. As for the corps, they continued to work hard.
Both 1970 and 1971 were years of rebuilding for the Optimists. By 1972 the corps was looking very promising. They had an excellent musical repertoire as well as a great deal of potential. The 1972 season started off, much like 1968 and 1969 with De La Salle beating everyone. Once again, the tide turned in September. The day before Nationals the Optimists beat Del, in both prelims and finals, at the Big "10" contest in Hamilton, ON. The next day the Optimists won the tightest contest in the history of the Canadian Nationals. The final scores showed Toronto Optimists with 81.40, De La Salle with 81.30 and Cadets LaSalle in third place with 81.25!
In 1973 the Optimists experienced the most serious challenge in their history. The corps had a "no drugs" policy and, at their May camp, members were told that management would resign if this rule was broken. Unfortunately a number of corps members broke the rule. Both the Corps Director and the Music Director resigned, some members were expelled while others were forced to stand on the sidelines while the corps performed. This was less than a month before Nationals. It looked like the Corps might fold. Instead, they managed to pull together and finish the year. Once again, scores at Nationals were tight. De La Salle should have been the outright winner but they received penalties totalling 2.6 points. Cadets LaSalle lost 0.3 points in penalties. There was a tie for first with both De La Salle and Cadets LaSalle scoring 79.6 with the Optimists in Second place at 79.0
By 1975 DCI had become the dominant force in drum corps. It was clear that one of the requirements of competing at the top levels of DCI involved having a large corps and lots of money. The Optimists did reasonably well in 1975, beating some good corps, but they finished in 16th place at DCI prelims. Optimists had neither the money nor the members for a DCI calibre corps and the likelihood of that changing was very slim.
After 18 years of competition and 12 National titles the Toronto Optimists folded at the end of 1975. In January of 1976, they merged with the Seneca Princemen to form a new corps, the Seneca Optimists.
In 1976 a merger took place between the Toronto Optimists and the Seneca Princemen. The new corps was called the Seneca Optimists. This corps accomplished something that no other corps had managed to do – in its very first year of existence they made the top 12 and joined the ranks of the DCI elite!
The beginning of all this had its roots in 1975. Al Tierney and Wolfgang Petschke, directors of the Optimists and Princemen, were watching a competition. They observed that without size no corps had much of a chance of getting anywhere in DCI. Unfortunately neither of their corps was large enough to compete at the top levels of DCI. From there, it was a short step to discussing a merger. Many details had to be ironed out, politically as well as technically.
In some quarters, this was regarded as a takeover of one Corps by a bigger Corps. Had it been seen as such, it would not have worked as well as it did, with executive and members of both units meshing almost immediately and working smoothly, together. There was some dissatisfaction, which resulted in a falling away of some people.
What helped all this to happen was the selection of a uniform distinct from that of either of the founding Corps. A brilliant yellow, cadet-style uniform, replaced the green of the Optimists and the red of the Princemen. If any tears were shed, they were not evident. What was evident was a common desire to get on with it, win Nationals, make D.C.I. These goals fuelled the machine and inspired the events of the next few years.
From the first day, there was much enthusiasm. Attendance at winter and spring rehearsals averaged 90% and this helped the program move forward at a fast pace. Numbers even grew a bit, as others, from outside, were attracted. Anyone could join; you did not have to be from the original Corps.
The Seneca Optimists had a local rival, the Oakland Crusaders, who had taken 6th place in the 1975 DCI finals and the competition between these two corps promised to be interesting. They met in competition for the very first time in June of 1976. This was also the first field show for the Seneca Optimists. Seneca won that contest. A week later, at a contest in Waterloo, the Seneca Optimists once again beat Oakland. The Crusaders won the next competition which was in Ajax; however, Seneca beat them the following day in Peterborough. For a new corps, the Seneca Optimists were off to a very good start.
When they began competing in the USA the Seneca Optimists started off well. They finished third in Michigan City, just over 6 points behind Phantom Regiment and about 4.5 behind the 27th Lancers. They did, however, beat both the Cavaliers and the Blue Stars. As the summer progressed it was clear from the scores from other contests that some their competitors were improving more rapidly. In an August 10th contest in Pontiac Michigan they placed 5th. This time, however, they were behind the Cavaliers but ahead of the 27th Lancers.
DCI arrived and the Seneca Optimists placed 11th in the prelims; however, scores were tight and they were less than a point away from the 8th place corps. Seneca moved up one spot in the finals for a 10th place finish. This was an exceptionally good outcome for a corps in its first year of competition.
Seneca Optimists' 1977 show included the Finale from Gustav Mahler's 7th Symphony, Children's Dance, a West Side Story medley, Drum solo and Pippin. Mahler's 7th, the only holdover from 1976, had been modified for 1977. Congas and bongos were added to the percussion section. One challenge that arose was the West Side Story Medley being played for concert. It didn't arrive until the Victoria Day weekend (late May) and the Corps' first competition was on June 3rd, only 2 weeks away.
Oakland Crusaders pulled out of that first show because they weren't ready. The Seneca Optimists, although rough, handily beat their closest Canadian competitor in their first two contests. Their next two contests were in the USA and they came second in both, about 2 points behind the Garfield Cadets. In late June they met the Oakland Crusaders for the first time and beat them by over 6 points. 1977 was looking pretty good!
Seneca came in 6th place at DCI East, beating Garfield by over 3 points. The next day, though, at the CYO Nationals they were again 6th but less than a point ahead of Garfield. The next couple of contests had Seneca about two points behind the leaders, Madison and Phantom Regiment. In early August, Seneca placed 3rd at DCI North, behind 27th Lancers and the first place corps, Phantom Regiment. This Corps was doing very well!
Two days later the Seneca Optimists won the US Open in Marion, OH, the first Canadian corps to win this show. Interestingly, the Cardinals of Precious Blood won the Class "A" Division so it was a double win for Canada. My recollection is that there were a bunch of rain delays during the show. I do remember the post-win celebration - BBQ steaks, potatoes and salad at 1:00 am! (Thankfully the corps had a day off before their next competition.)
In a couple of shows leading up to finals Seneca placed 3rd, behind 27th Lancers and the first place corps, Phantom Regiment. In another they were in second place, 4 points behind the Santa Clara Vanguard. Seneca placed 9th at DCI prelims. In spite of taking top drums at prelims the Oakland Crusaders never made the finals; however, during the finals they sat in the stands, loudly cheering for Seneca who moved up one place to finish in 8th place. Audiences loved the parachute routine near the end of the show.
With top twelve placings in each of its two years of existence this corps was promising to be a real powerhouse!
At the end of 1977 things could not have looked better for this Corps. If nothing had changed, they could have carried on where they had left off, probably surpassing the accomplishments of last year. Unfortunaately, something did change in ways that counted most. After the 1977 season the Corps lost almost half of its marching members! In addition, they had another serious problem and that was money. Two of the requirements for a top-level DCI corps are members and money. This year looked challenging.
The corps had multiple contests scheduled for 1978; however, they did not have sufficient members to compete. After much thought and discussion a solution was found. Someone mentioned the Peterborough Krescendos. They had move from being the "B" division to the "A" class, perhaps before they were ready. The corps was taking a sabbatical from competition for one year. Meetings were held to discuss having their members march with the Seneca Optimists for one year, after which they would return to their own corps. Members of the Krescendos were quite interested since this might be their only opportunity to march in a DCI corps. An agreement was reached and details were worked out. Perhaps things would have been different had these arrangements been made earlier; however, all of this this happened in May!
Members of the two corps smoothly meshed together. They worked very hard to learn the music and the drill. They did their absolute best; however, the challenge of beginning a DCI show in May was monumental! The corps had a tough year and they ended up in 23rd place in DCI prelims. Still, should be very proud of all that they accomplished. They took on an impossible task and did their absolute best. No one could ask for more.
The Seneca Optimists disbanded after the 1978 season.
Here's a link to an Acrobat format article about the 1978 Seneca Optimists in The City Magazine (a publication of the Toronto Star)
The story begins in 2002 when it was announced that the 2004 G.A.S. show would be held in Hamilton, Ontario, a mere 40 miles from Toronto. Over a brew (or two) some former members of the Toronto Optimists and the Seneca Optimists contemplated the creation of an Alumni Corps that would perform once, at G.A.S. 2004. The plan was to gather together a bunch of former Optimists, find some instruments to use, practice, perform at the G.A.S. show in Hamilton then disappear forever.
With a lot of work they managed to borrow instruments and gather together enough bodies to form the nucleus of the corps. The new Corps included former Toronto Optimists, former Seneca Optimists and representatives of many other corps! Special thanks go to Simcoe United Alumni who loaned us a great many of the horns that we used.
Having gathered instruments and bodies to play them, they needed to develop the talent that had lain dormant for so many years (some members hadn't touched an instrument in over 50 years!). Terry Warburton, who marched with the Toronto Optimists in the 1960s, joined the corps and commuted from his home in Florida. Terry manufactured mouthpieces and he donated mouthpieces to all of the brass players.
Putting it together
Kevin Matthews became the music director and one of his tasks was to get those lips in shape. He did a fantastic job. When it came to music the corps decided to focus exclusively on Truman Crawford arrangements. Why? In the 1960s most of The Optimists music was arranged by Truman Crawford. In fact, there was only one other drum corps that played more Crawford arrangements than the Optimists and that was Truman's own corps, the Chicago Royal Airs!
Fairly quickly the members coalesced into a group focused on doing a great job at G.A.S.. The enthusiasm and camaraderie that developed was amazing. That made a big difference because preparing for the show was time consuming. In addition to personal practice time there were rehearsals every Thursday plus full weekend rehearsals at least once a month. In between official rehearsals, the various sections would schedule meetings at members' homes to clean up the music for their section. After a great deal of blood, sweat and tears (and many choice words) their work bore fruit. In September 2003, at a Toronto Optimists – Seneca Optimists alumni picnic, the Optimists Alumni Corps first performed — to a very enthusiastic and, dare I say, extremely partisan audience! By the way, a big Thank You goes to the Preston Scout House Alumni Band who graced us with a performance at that picnic. It was a delight to see and hear them.
As time marched on we continued to gain more members. By the time the G.A.S. show finally arrived we had about 50 horns and 30 people on percussion! That corps was larger than any with which I had marched in my five years with the Toronto Optimists. We now wore the "traditional Alumni Corps Uniform" - Golf Shirts, Black Pants and Baseball Caps with the corps Crest". Performaing at G.A.S. was an amazing experience! For those who are interested there is a video on YouTube showing the Optimists Alumni at G.A.S. 2004.
The Optimists Alumni had been created to perform at G.A.S. then disband. Life, it appears, wanted something else. The Corps had already performed at a show sponsored by St Joe's and they had invitations to march in a number of parades. Preparing for G.A.S whetted the appetites of many corps members and they wanted more. Somehow that "one show" grew into a second show, a third and more. The borrowed instruments were replaced with a set of well-used horns and a new set of custom-made drums was purchased.
An organization without goals is likely to wallow in lethargy and this organization did not want that to happen. The next goal was to perform at the DCA Alumni Spectacular.
Over the next couple of years the Corps continued to work hard and improve. Some members who had joined strictly to perform at GAS did not want a long-term commitment and left. At the same time, some people liked what they saw and joined us. Enthusiasm remained high because every year the Corps had more opportunities to perform.
In 2006 we performed outside as part of the MuchMusic Awards. For those of you who don't know, this is an annual awards show broadcast on Much to honour the year's best music videos. Performers at this show included featured performances by Fall Out Boy, Hedley and Rihanna. This was definitely not what we were about (newspaper reports mentioned the Geriatric Marching Band) but it was fun and a BIG step out of the box.
Each year we added more musical numbers, now from a variety of arrangers. As our musical skills improved the arrangements became more challenging and more interesting. We knew the corps was improving and we were enjoying ourselves. All the while, in the back of our minds, was our goal — to perform at the DCA Alumni Spectacular. A corps had to be invited to perform so we knew that we had to keep improving.
2007 was a year of change and, with those changes, came a new challenge. One of those changes signalled our graduation from "novice" alumni corps to Alumni Corps. We got real uniforms – Green Cadet tunics, black pants and shakos. Gone were the Golf Shirts and Baseball caps. Together with the uniforms there was a rise in performance expectations when the goal we had set for ourselves back in 2004, after G.A.S., was finally realized.
In the Spring we were invited to perform at the 2007 DCA Alumni Spectacular. As excited as we were, this brought a new challenge. In order to perform at the Alumni Spectacular we were told that we would have to perform drill! The only marching we had been doing was in parades. Could we design a drill and perform it in the next few months? If we turned down the opportunity it might be years before we were, once again, invited. Hey, we always loved a challenge.
Jack Roberts, an Alumni Corps member and former Optimist who had written drill for the corps in the 1960s, offered his services. He designed a drill show to accompany the music we were playing. We only had a few months to remember how to march and to learn a drill. During those months we dedicated almost all of our time to drum corps. We had music rehearsals every Thursday while drill occupied two full weekends every month. Sometime we spent other days and holidays on drill. In fact, if there was a field available, we would sometimes spend post-parade time working on drill. Looking back, we were VERY dedicated.
I think that we acquitted ourselves very well at the Alumni Spectacular. Video of that show is on YouTube. Want to check out how we did? 2007 Optimists Alumni at DCA
2008 – 2015
Over the next few years the Corps continued to improve. We learned new music, new drill, did all of the other parades and shows that we had been doing as well as going to the Alumni Spectacular. In many ways, though, these next few years were a time of maintaining the status quo.
In the past we had a goal of performing at G.A.S. Once we had accomplished that we set a new goal to perform at the Alumni Spectacular. That, too, was accomplished. During these years we had no goal and it affected all that was happening. There was nothing to drive (or pull) the Corps forward. At the same time, issues like time, health and death meant that members were leaving. Unfortunately, it was a challenge finding replacements. As a result, membership started declining.
In 2014 the Alumni Corps was still doing a drill show; however, the corps only had about 18 horns and about 8 drums. In 2015 the Optimists performed once – at a show in May. Clearly it was a time to either fold or reinvent ourselves.
A meeting was held in September of 2015 to decide the future of the corps. Many members wanted to keep going so the Corps decided to reinvent itself.
We sold off our G bugles and got traditional Bb instruments. All of our music was dropped and a new repertoire of New Orleans, Mardi Gras style, music was selected. The Cadets tunics and such were replaced by Mummers Costumes. We would no longer be a traditional drum and bugle corps. Instead, we would be a "Party Gras" Band! A goal was set and that was to compete at Soundsport in 2016.
In 2016 the Optimists Alumni competed at Soundsport in Indianapolis and returned home with a Gold Medal. In 2017 the Corps had a very successful trip to South Korea where they were very well received. 2018 saw a return to Soundsport and another Gold Medal and, in 2019, the Band enjoyed a return engagement to Jeju, South Korea.
Who know what the future will hold? What can certainly be said is that we will continue to have fun, to enjoy the company of friends, to entertain others and, of course, to strive for excellence.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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)