Alumni trumpet band strikes emotional chord for North Okanagan girls

The Vernon Girls Trumpet Band (left photo) will be the loudest, proudest and largest entry in the Vernon Winter Carnival’s 60th anniversary parade. The band’s roots run deep in Vernon dating back to when the band was started in 1947 and carried on (right photo) until being disbanded a decade ago. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Some of them haven’t played in more than 50 years, yet all of the notes have fallen right into place as the Vernon Girls Trumpet Band gets ready to march one more time.

Alumni from the band have been busy practicing since November in order to make a grand parade entrance during the 60th anniversary of the Vernon Winter Carnival.

“The band is older than Vernon Winter Carnival,” said Cathy Sim, whose grandfather Bob Hodgson started the band.

The first band of 15 girls started in the fall of 1947 by Hodgson, retired regimental sergeant major of the British Columbia Dragoons.

Under the direction of Hodgson and his and wife Marge (the official chaperone), the band practiced at Camp Vernon in the Brigadier Murphy Armouries.

“When grandpa put this together he had two girls and a boy. His son was an army boy but there was nothing for the girls, so he made a band,” said Sim.

The girls started as a Cadette Corps, which was the only way the band could receive funding.

The girls were even given full cadet training, including shooting and map reading.

By the mid 1960s, the band grew to 72 players, with two bands, participants ranging in age from 10-17.

The girls played in competitions and parades throughout Canada, the USA and Europe, collected 172 major trophies and even played for Queen Elizabeth.

By 1997, when the band celebrated its 50th anniversary, there had been more than 1,040 girls, not to mention staff, involved.

“We had a family in this band with seven sisters, all in the band, not all at the same time,” said Sim, whose own mother, June Rigsby, was in the band, along with her aunt, Phyllis Scott, and Sim’s own two daughters.

But 10 years ago, the band’s tune went flat as the family disbanded. But with a major milestone carnival year coming up, several band members thought this would be the perfect time to bring the ladies back for an alumni.

READ MORE: Calling all alumni: Vernon trumpet band seeks former members for Winter Carnival

As people started registering for the alumni band, Sim discovered that there are many third generations that have all come back to play for Vernon Winter Carnival’s 60th Parade.

“It’s becoming its own entity,” said Sim of the nearly 90 registered players, now ranging in age from 20 to +70 coming from all over B.C., Alberta and even the U.S.

“We are going to be the biggest parade entry Vernon has ever seen.”

In fact, former band members will be accommodated right up to the day, but they must register with Sim first by calling 250-540-3739.

“I had an 83-year-old lady call me from Kelowna, she was in the very first band in 1947 and we’re hoping it’s a nice sunny day and she’ll be here otherwise she’s afraid of being cold,” said Sim.

Among the approximately 90 registered alumni is Donna Cornell, who was 10 when she first joined the Vernon Girls Trumpet Band.

“You have no idea what this means to a lot of us. It’s camaraderie, it’s family, for a lot of us it was a sanctuary even” Cornell reflected.

”It was two hours once a week where we could get lost.”

Reuniting with old faces as the ladies practice weekly has not only seen a lot of smiles, but many tears.

“These ladies are going home crying at night,” said Joy Gillies of the emotional experience.

Sherry Mattock played the snare side drum from 1969-75 and is in awe at practice just seeing all the faces she hasn’t seen in years.

“You have all these big sisters. We are without a doubt the biggest family reunion.”

Madeline Taylor, who played the symbols in the ’60s, says it is so much fun.

“Once a band girl always a band girl. You meet really young band girls and you immediately connect with them, like you have a common ground and common spirit.”

Denise Cam played in the 1980s with her little sister while her mom was also in the band in the 1960s. Each of the family members is looking forward to the Feb. 8 parade.

READ MORE: Vernon Winter Carnival less than one month away

“We’ve heard nothing but good things about people waiting to hear us coming down the streets,” said Cam, who appreciates the friendship, family and independence that the band taught her.

“I joined when I was 12 years old and I met my best friend, and we’re still best friends.”

Now, they are grateful for the opportunity to come back together and perform once again for the community.

None of that would have been possible if it weren’t for Canadian Tire donating the old warehouse for the band to practice.

“We didn’t have a place to practice inside. Our first practice was in the Gleaners Furniture Store,” said Gillies.

“We couldn’t march so we just all stood in the aisle and played but it was more fun than I had in years.”

Moving to the spacious warehouse off 27th Street has given the girls a warm, safe place to come together.

“You don’t want to be marching outside in this weather because I have O-L-D and I don’t want to to fall down,” laughed Gillies.

There are a few more things the band needs, including flag dowlings and instruments.

“Unfortunately the marching playing band itself isn’t going to be anywhere near what they hoped because we just don’t have the instruments,” added Gillies, who is hoping for loaners or donations to come forward.

For a sneak peek at the Vernon Girls Trumpet Band, you can come meet past members and check out some memorabilia at a pop-up exhibit at the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Anyone who can help the group find more instruments or flag dowlings is asked to call Sim at 250-540-3739.

READ MORE: Community bands have a long history in Vernon


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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