Manitoba Historical Society
     Keeping history alive for over 141 years


Personal Memoirs: Extracts from the Diary of the Late James W. Matthews

Transcribed by Gregor Macgregor
from the Manitoba Free Press, 3 January 1925

This paper, which is now valuable from the standpoint of Winnipeg’s early music history, and is characterises of the diarist’s kindly insight and quiet humour, was written by the late J. W. Matthews in response to a request made to him of organists to address them upon the topic, “An Early History of Organs and Organists in Winnipeg and Manitoba”. The paper was read to the college members at the November meeting, 1923.

“It was in the fall of the year 1892, that baring discovered that life in Western Canada could not be entirely maintained on fishing and shooting and other forms of open air sport, and that farming as then practised, repaired both experience and capital, in both of which requirements I was somewhat deficient, that I turned my attention very reluctantly to music as a profession, intending at the time to merely follow it as a temporary avocation, to tide as over a winter season, as an improvement on bumming on some kind relations, or doing farm chores for my board. The offer of a position on the teaching staff of the Institution which has since developed into Brandon college, as director of musical studies, seemed the alternative to starvation or ignoble dependence on charitable friends, so with an intrepidity which has often since astonished us, I accepted the post and started on my career as a professional musician, it is fair to say I had been fortunate enough to receive so mo training as an organist and in music generally from a pupil of S. S. Welsey‘s in my native town of Bristol, and had been engaged for several years as organist of an important nonconformist church in that city, and as in the realm of the blind the one eyed man is king, I was able with the undeveloped state of music in that part of Manitoba in those days, to maintain my somewhat unsubstantial pretensions to fitness for the musical profession with a fair, though fluctuating degree of success.

Brandon’s Early Musicians

Brandon in those days was, as it still is, an ambitious little town, largely populated by settlers from Great Britain who had been attracted by the boom which followed the construction of the C. P. Railway. Many of these were people of birth and education and the strangest contrasts were noticeable in a musical sense. For instance, there was an elderly gentleman who kept a somewhat promiscuous second-hand store on Rosser Avenue who might be heard from time to time playing, and playing correctly and tastefully, Bach and Beethoven on some dilapidated instrument which formed part of his stock. There was an elderly German who maintained a penurious and precarious existence in a hovel on the river flats, who was called on to play at a few hours’ notice a heavy programme of accompaniment for R. Watkin Mills, then in the days of his prise of a basso, and who acquitted himself so creditably at the piano that the story of his feats has often been related by Mills and has been printed in various musical publications in Great Britain.

There flourished my old friend and crony, Herbert Hancock, a pupil of Arthur Page, of Nottingham. Hancock was organist of the English church and was one of the most remarkable and cleverest improvisers I have ever encountered. Too temperamental was he, and also so eccentric that he used unconsciously to hum or sing whilst he was playing the voluntaries in the church, to the great astonishment of the listeners. I have lost touch with him for many years, but as last heard of, he was musical director of an important American Opera company, a position which he was fully qualified to assume. A very capable amateur was Captain, now Colonel Francis Clark, still residing there. The success with which he conducted the Brandon Opera company was very marked, I had the pleasure of playing the piano and organising and leading a small band for them. We did “Erminie,” “Pirates” and “Trial by Jury,” and such was the success of the society that it was invited to Winnipeg on one or two later occasions.

Ed. Hughes, an amateur conductor of the choral society, must not be overlooked. He now resides in Winnipeg, Professor Grainger (we were all professors then), a somewhat eccentric tot undeniably clever pianist and composer who used to scour the country giving lessons at various points and invariably making his itinerary on foot.

Mrs. Ovas now residing in Winnipeg, an excellent pianist; also Mrs. Brisbin - Indeed there was a capable array of talent for so small a place. There were no pipe organs in Brandon in those days. There were reed organs or other substitutes of varying degrees of viciousness. As organist of the First Methodist church, I presided over one such, having the able assistance of the late T. F. Butcher, a most skilful and capable clarinettist, and A. M. Megget, a capable violinist, now residing in Winnipeg. I must diverge to mention for Mr. Egerton’s benefit, the organ at St. Matthew’s church at Brandon. It was purchased from All Saints’ church, Winnipeg, and it truly was a marvellous instrument. It had three annuals and I know not how many sets of reeds, but also as a friend of mine says of Tobias Matthay: “He has written seven books and all he has to tell might have been written on seven pages”, so of this organ one might say it had three manuals of six octaves, but all it had to say might quite well have been compressed into one five octave manual. I often wonder what became of it ultimately.

In the spring of 1894, at the instigation of my kind friend, the late James Tees, whose name at that time stood for everything in musical progress, I was invited to play before the musical committee of the Central Congregational Church of Winnipeg, with a view to becoming organist. Having satisfied them at a trial at which I had to borrow music from the organist of Grace Church, Miss Kate Holmes, afterwards Mrs. Holmes Cowper, and again to make very heavy demands on my nerve, I received the appointment which, with a short intermission I have held ever since.

Few Pipe Organs when Winnipeg was a Hamlet

Winnipeg was then a hamlet with a population of 25,000. A quarter of an hour’s walk in almost any direction from the City hall would land one in rural scenery. It was a delightful place, barring the superfluity of mud in the spring break-up. The winters were especially cheerful. Gaily decked sleighs drawn by spirited horses, to the musical accompaniment of bells, bounded along the highways. Good fellowship was the ruling order. Parties, dances, concerts at which all were welcome, and the price of admission, if any, was negligible, abounded. Amateur singers of splendid powers found appreciative audiences and in general there undoubtedly was an air of gaiety and festivity which is sadly lacking in these later years. In the summer one could enjoy a delightful swim in clean water at the foot of Lombard Street or at the Norwood bridge canoe club. One could catch an excellent string of fish at the foot of Kennedy Street, and one could tramp in the fall into the woods about where the C.N.R. shops and the thousands of residences in Fort Rouge now flourish, and be reasonably sure of a few partridges and jack rabbits falling to one’s pin.

Organs and Organists

But we are here to talk of organs and organists, and I must pass up the far more interesting topics of pheasants and jack rabbits. I will try and enumerate the organs in Winnipeg at that date, relying entirely on memory. Such organs were all tracker action, electric and pneumatic actions being then in an experimental stage.

Grace Church; Small two manual warren, subsequently sold to the Methodists at Portage and ultimately destroyed in a cyclone.

Knox Church: two manual Warren, somewhat larger than Grace church, subsequently sold to Knox church, Regina.

Holy Trinity Church: Three manual Warren with some finely voiced stops, but mechanism that made it a straggle to play on when couplers were drawn. Subsequent fate unknown.

St. Mary’s Church: Largo two manual Mitchell organ, with strange French names to stops and couplers; very bewildering at first sight.

Central Church: Two manual Warren of good tone; larger than Knox and still giving useful service.

Zion Church; Very small one manual organ of execrably harsh tone, reminding one of Wombwell’s Menagerie steam organs.

St. George’s Church: two manual organs. (Referred to later).

All Saints’; Small two manual organ very limited capacity, now, I believe, in St. Alban’s Church. Fort Rouge.

Christ Church: Somewhat cumbrous two manual organ, maker unknown. Of this organ it should be related that it was the custom of enthusiastic experimenters in organ improvement or construction, to try their handiwork on Christ church organ, so that ultimately the condition of it became appalling. I think Mr. Gee, who presided at it for some years, could verify this statement.

St. Boniface Cathedral: A small organ of which I know-little or nothing, although an organ was erected in the Church of the Immaculate Conception somewhere about that period.

I can recall no other pipe organs in Winnipeg, although there was even then and still is a pipe organ of some kind in Emerson, the only instrument of the kind in Manitoba outside of Winnipeg in those days. Such other churches as existed at that period were served by varieties of the reed organ species, or in some cases by atrocities termed vocations, or compensating organs, of which the less said the better, and which the hearer should be very generously compensated for listening to. Even Westminster Church, then or shortly after housed in the building, now used as a second-hand furniture store on Notre Dame, had only a small reed organ for use in service.

And now I must make mention of organists. There had undoubtedly been some very capable organists and musicians in Winnipeg in years preceding ay acquaintance with the city.

Dr. Maclagen, of Holy Trinity, is a name which you will hear old timers mention with enthusiasm. Dunster, of Knox Church, seems to have been a musician of undoubted talent and versatility, Jowett of Christ church, had formerly been for some years organist of the church at Hawarden, made famous by the attendance of the Gladstone family. F. E. Clark. who preceded me at Central, was unquestionably a musician of conspicuous ability, who most lamentably went insane and became and possibly still is an inmate of Selkirk Asylum. Mrs. Billington, who also presided at Central church for a considerable period and. I believe, still resides and maintains interest in music in the city. These worthies, however, were all before my time and I know some of them only by reputation. As far as memory serves, the following is the list of organists in the month of April, 1894:

Holy Trinity - Vincent Green, a notable player of Bach, subsequently prominent in Quebec, who left very soon after my arrival and I had not the pleasure of meeting him.

Grace Church - Miss Kate Holmes (now, as stated, Mrs. Holmes Cowper), a charming and talented player to whom I was greatly indebted for loan of music and other courtesies.

Knox Church - Mrs. F. Mayhew, who still so capably and worthily presides at Knox Church organ.

St. Mary’s - Albert Evans since deceased. A competent all-round musician who had previously been at Holy Trinity.

Christ Church - Albert Bush, a brother of Dr. Bush, the present organist and choirmaster of St. Michael’s Church.

Baptist Church (reed organ) – Mrs. Duff.

Westminster Church (reed organ) - Harry Lunt, a very versatile and capable musician.

Zion Church - Miss Gertie Wells, now probably with a changed name residing in California.

St. Boniface - Professor Sale, still. I believe, hale and hearty, though no longer undertaking the duties of the organ.

Immaculate Conception - Albert Bétournay, a competent and volatile musician.

All Saints - Laurence Minchin. for some time supervisor of music in Winnipeg schools, now organist of All Saints, Vancouver, and representative of the Associated Board, R.A.M. and R.C.M.

Some reference must be made to other organists who later assumed office at the various churches enumerated. In Holy Trinity, Vincent Green was succeeded by Mr. Strathy, an amateur player of great taste, who also presided at Grace church for a period after Miss Holems’ resignation. Mr Strathy was succeeded by Dr. R. D. Fletcher, still a prominent resident of Winnipeg. Mr. Fletcher at that time was a medical student and an enthusiastic amateur. His exercise or thesis for his Master of Arts degree was, I believe, an elaborate treatise on the organ. Mr Fletcher was succeeded by Mrs Landry, who presided there for some years, but at various times Mr Minchin, Mr Blackett and Albert Evans held more or less extended terms at that instrument. At All Saints, Mr Blackett, a competent musician and a B.A. of Oxford University, held sway for four years to be succeeded by Melsom Gee, whose comparatively recant death deprived us of an excellent musician of cathedral training and an all-round good comrade, for whom I personally entertained the earnest admiration and friendship. Of his talented son, Fred Gee, who follows his father’s footsteps, with such distinction as an accompanist and organist, I need not speak further.
I must not forget two rather eminent musicians of the name of Dore. One, known as Herbert Dore, organist and choirmaster for a time at Christ Church, and a journalist of repute, now residing in Chicago, I think, and the other known to most only as Professor Dore. The latter was an elderly gentleman who played for a time at Holy Trinity and subsequently was organist of the Anglican church in Portage la Prairie. He had the hallmarks of a fine musician and claimed, I have no doubt with truth, to have been a fellow chorister with Sir John Stainer and Arthur Sullivan. He was a remarkably clever improvisor and a genial soul, and I think of him with kindness as a man with the instincts of an artist and gentle organist. Christ church engaged for many years the services of a lady organist of skill, Miss Florence Morgan.

Recalling Early Organists

During a short intern from Central church I played at Grace church for over a year, I recall a somewhat amusing experience during my tenure as organist of Grace church. I had a few pupils for the organ, including Miss Johnson (now Mrs. R. D. Fletcher) who was organist of St. George’s; which reminds me that there was a two manual Warren organ in St. George’s Church, now in the pro-cathedral at Kenora, most ably presided over by my excellent friend, C. H. Carpenter. One day at the conclusion of a lesson an elegantly attired lady came up to the console and explained that she was a highly trained piano player, and could I give her some instruction in organ playing, especially the pedal obligate, which she assumed could be quietly and readily mastered. I explained to her that in addition it was necessary to cultivate a smoother style of playing and warned her the instrument before us required very careful playing in order to avoid blurring the tones. I particularly emphasised this point, so that she might be on her guard. Then I invited her to try a hymn tune on the organ and she cheerfully assented. The effect, as I expected, me as if a hymn had fallen into a wayside ditch and emerged from a bath of liquid mud which still clung tenaciously to it. I was going to proceed to concentrate her attention on the requisite cleanness of manipulation. but before I could utter a word she gave me a look in which fury and indignation were blended with mortification and without another word fled from the church.

A Pupil of Cullmant

I must not forget to refer to Mr. Murray, who was organist of St. Stephen’s succeeded by Mr. Guy Dingle, still a resident of the city. Mr. Murray had been an occasional pupil of Guilmant, i.e., I think he had benefited on several occasions on courses of lessons designed for pupils, who could have the time to ran over to Paris from Great Britain and sit at the feet of the great Master. Mr. Murray was a superb player and maintained the highest traditions of organ playing. He was a man of delicate constitution, in fact, his later days were a constant fight, waged with courage and high spirits, against ill health. But his playing had a charm and finish that will not be easily forgotten, and he was a most generous fellow-artist, as I have good reason to testify, having received much kindness and hospitality from him in the matter of permission to indulge in practise on the instrument at which ha presided - a very excellent specimen of Casavant’s build. His sadden and untimely decease was a great loss to musical Winnipeg. His widow, now Mrs. Murray Cameron, is organist at Zion Church.

During the interim in which I was absent from Central Church the position of organist was capably filled by Miss Lulu Chambers, a very gifted lady, now residing under a changed name in Saskatoon.

It is not my intention to make any reference to organists at present functioning in the city, but the untimely accident (He drowned in Kenora, Ontario on 13 August 1921) which deprived us of the genial and skilful predecessor of Hugh Boss, Mr. Cyril Musgrove, is a matter for great regret, sad I am afraid that with all my efforts with memory I shall find I have overlooked someone. Yes, indeed, I have overlooked the late Mr. Eric Hamber, who for many years conducted the service and played the organ at St. John’s cathedral, and in addition was music master at St. John’s college, and the possessor of a fine tenor voice. He is recalled by many with gratitude and affection. Yes, and Mr. Marsh at Westminster old church for some time, an eccentric and kindly old gentleman, who, fallen on hard tines in his declining years and whose lot it was my privilege to somewhat brighten by securing him a position as teacher in a western town, and where some friends of mine showed him great hospitality and gave him an opportunity to use his talents to within a few months of his decease. Indeed there is a touch of tragedy in recalling these matters pertaining to organ playing in Winnipeg, especially in the case of Professor Dore and Mr. Marsh, both evidently men who had moved in well-established musical circles in Great Britain, and both giving evidence of having that considerable degree of musical culture, but in each case handicapped by somewhat impaired powers caused by defective vision and other weaknesses of declining years. I was nearly forgetting Mr. Herbert Cope, of Carberry, an occasional visitor to the city in early days and always appreciative of a gladly extended opportunity to spend an hour or so at the organ. Mr. Cope was a gentleman of majestic presence and had been organist for many years of Bombay cathedral, India. He had settled with his family at Carberry and gone into extensive agricultural activities, and was a most interesting raconteur of his experiences in Bombay and the difficulties of keeping organs in shape in the climatic and insectivorous conditions prevalent there. Judging by hie organ repertoire, he must have been an organist of conspicuous ability and wag, I believe, the fosterer of much musical effort in the part of the province in which he resided.

Worthy Names Recalled from Earlier Music

There are a few names wall worthy of recollection. Foremost of these I would place William Dichmont, now organist and schoolmaster of the First Congregational Church, Vancouver; and Henry Jordon, of Young church, a very fine musician, who joined up with the forces at the beginning of the war and subsequently decided to remain in Great Britain. Dichmont was a superb pianist and excellent violinist, as well as organist. He was also a composer of much originality and merit. Several of his songs have attained a wide, well-merited popularity, and he was successful in writing several excellent piano numbers. whilst here he was organist and choirmaster of the Fort Rouge Methodist Church. James Bending, a fellow-townsman of mine, who was organist and choirmaster of St. Paul’s church, Bristol. For 17 years - strangely enough, the church which my parents attended, and in which they were united in marriage - was a pupil of George Risely, of Bristol cathedral and an experienced choral conductor. He was for some years organist of St. Luke’s Church and subsequently of Nassau Street Baptist Church. I was associated with Mr. Bending about 14 or 15 years ago in an earnest effort to fora an orchestra for consorts and oratorio work. For several seasons we maintained our efforts, but ultimately, what with the lack of adequate and financial support and difficulties with the musicians. union, we were compelled to relinquish our efforts. We were able, however. during the time referred to, to present for the first time Barnett’s “Ancient Mariner,” Brahms’ “Song of Destiny,” Parry’s “Blest Pair of Syrens,” in addition to some of the standard oratorios.

Woman Organists

I must not forget some other members of the fair sex, who, while not now filling any position, have in years gone by given excellent service at the organ. foremost of these I would mention Mrs. Earnest Dwyer, for many years organist of the First Baptist church, an earnest and capable musician. Mrs. J. V. Dillabough, for some time organist of Knox Church during the protracted of Miss Mayhew. and subsequently far a considerable period organist of Fort Rouge Methodist. Miss Ina Polson, now Mrs. J. C. Fillmore, a superb pianist and pupil of Scharwenka, who has played for some of the leading record manufacturers of New York. She presided at the organ at St. John’s Presbyterian church for a considerable period. There her talents were limited by the scope of a small reed organ. Miss Lulu Leslie, of St. Giles’ Church, now Mrs. James Buchanan, was a player of great merit.

Such names as Robert Wilkinson, Mr. Durden, Andrew Grieve, Joe Yates should be remembered as old-timers who have faithfully exercised their talents at the smaller class of instruments, and indeed there are probably a host of others who are equally deserving of mention.

“Large was their bounty, and their souls sincere.”

Tees Choir Included Musical Aristocracy of Early Winnipeg

Foremost amongst choir leaders of Winnipeg’s past stands the name of James Tees. Mr. Tees was a busy, successful city merchant, whose great and abiding hobby was choral music, and so zealously and successfully did he pursue it, and so well endowed with talent of the very loftiest order, the for many years the Tees choir had a reputation which I think can be truly said to be Dominion wide. To be a member of Tees’ choir was to belong to the musical aristocracy of Winnipeg, and I doubt if any finer sample of singing could possibly be than was demonstrated by the various choirs of which he was the conductor. An amateur in the sense that he exacted neither fee nor reward for his efforts, on the contrary disbursed most liberally from his own resources with the view of building up and maintaining bis choruses, he acquired the well deserved reputation of s conductor of tbs finest rank. Primarily as choirmaster of Grace church he maintained the chorus at a most remarkable standard of excellence. In private and social relationships he was the kindest and most generous and companionable soul one could wish to meet, but at rehearsal he was a martinet, and woe to the unlucky singer who deviated by a hair’s breadth from the most careful attention to the matter in hand.

Rhys Thomas, of Knox Church, succeeded David Ross and upheld the reputation of that choir in a remarkable manner. Mrs. Satterwaite, of Central, a most amiable and gifted lady, who excelled as an artistic or soprano soloist, it was my good fortune to be associated with an organist for several yearn. J. M. Johnson, of St. George’s, a faithful and energetic worker in the causa of church music, the father of Mrs. R. D. Fletcher, who played the organ at that church for some time, succeeding Miss Mary McGregor, very gifted pianist, whom I had the pleasure of assisting to obtain the L.A.B. diploma Miss McGregor is now in Vancouver.

Other choirmasters of note ware: Tuckwell of Holy Trinity, who also conducted a private school for boys, a choir leader under whose baton many excellent productions of oratorio ware heard, and who also sac cess fully engineered and conducted many operatic performances. C. E. Mitchell, of Westminster Church, now of Vancouver, an enthusiastic amateur who gave a great deal of time and energy to the training and the maintenance of his choir, His daughter, Grace Mitchell, was organist for some years. Fred Warrington, an excellent baritone, who succeeded C. E. Mitchell and was one of the conductors of the Elgar society. I remember three successive performances of the Elijah, conducted by F. Warrington, at which I played the grand piano and Mrs. Landry played the organ - each of which was crowded to the doors, and hundreds were standing: daring the whole of the performances. This was in old Westminster church. Other choirmasters were; Wylie, of St Andrew’s; Monorieff, of Augustine, who introduced many new works; Downard of Christ church, now of Victoria; Mawson of Central; Barrowclough, of Central. Barrowclough also conductor of the City band, and a very defer cornetist. Cadle, of Holy Trinity, who trained the choir for the occasion of Sir Frederick Bridge‘s visit and demonstration of cathedral I had the honour of playing the organ.

Splendid Basses

Material for choruses was plentiful in those days. In basses we had Crick, a former soloist of Salisbury Cathedral; George Bailey, Magness, who used to drop in my house of an evening and get me to play chants whilst he sang the base an octave lower than it was written. He would drop from the B flat in the second bass line to the B flat an octave lower with a rich, full sonorous tone. In my childhood days we were occasionally the entertainers of the late Mr. Merrick, solo bass of Bristol cathedral, and I well remember the somewhat terrifying effect on my youthful susceptibility when his stentorian tones were uplifted, or rather I should say submerged in song. There were in Winnipeg at one time at least five basses, Crick, Magness, Bailey, Marwood and Angus, of Merrick’s class, and the foundation that they gave to a chorus was simply wonderful.

In tenors we had Jackson Hanby, now choirmaster of a large church in Victoria, a most remarkable voice; Norman Douglas, Jim Perkins, who was choirmaster of St. Ignatius church, and also for some time conductor at St. Andrew’s; Percy Hollingshead, tenor soloist of Grace church, Hew York, since 1917, end quoted in Ditson’s latest bulletin with a portrait and a paragraph highly complimentary to his powers as e tenor soloist. Percy sang in my quartet for several years. Whilst Magness sang an octavo lower, Percy was glad if possible to have the average tenor song raised a fourth, as he could sing a beautiful and soul-stirring high C natural. At this time I believe I had a quartet that would be very hard to match, in the persons of Bickle, now of Woodstock, Ont., soprano; Miss Prestwich, of Vancouver, contralto; Percy Hollingshead, New York, tenor, and Geo. Eaton, of Edmonton, bass.

We also had some excellent sopranos and contraltos in those days. In Mrs. Vernor there was a singer whom nature had endowed with a voice of wonderful sweetness and purity. It was the deliberate opinion of no mean judges that had circumstances been favourable and had her ambition urged her, Mrs. Verner’s name might have been classed with those singers whose names are of worldwide and age long celebrity. Miss Jean Forsyth, Mr. Tees’ leading soprano, was another singer of prominence. I well remember with what delight I used to accompany her at the piano on the occasion when in the course of a tour she would visit Brandon and subsequently on many occasions in Winnipeg. Mrs. Mclvor Craig whose specialty was Scottish songs and ballads, could be always depended to rouse a St. Andrew’s a society to the point of wildest enthusiasm. In contraltos, Edith Miller, who subsequently under the patronage of Lord Strathcona, moved to London and held a place in the front rank of British singers, now, I believe, married to one of the scions of Nobility of Great Britain. Miss Annie Pullar, now supervisor of music in the public schools, contralto in Mr. Tees’ choir, was a singer it was a delight to listen to. Mrs. Counsell, also, then Miss Nellie Campbell is still Winnipeg audiences with her lovely contralto voice.

Mrs. Parker was a contralto of great merit and the wife of one of the most capable amateurs in music, Charles Parker was a genius. He, in collaboration with Geo. Bowles, who furnished the music for one, and Frank Lambert, who wrote or assisted to write the music for the other, composed two delightful comic operas of the Gilbert and Sullivan type. One was named “Opoponax“, but I have momentarily forgotten the flame of the other. Sufficient that they were performed and ran successfully and profitably for several nights at the theatre, and were most entertaining and enjoyable. Chas. Parker, who, by the way, was a splendid bass, had a genius for writing humorous, or seemingly humorous rhymes and libretto. He drifted into a large advertising concern in Detroit, where his talent found such scope that in a few years he acquired a considerable share in the concern and sold out for an ample fortune. He now resides in Los Angeles.

Winnipeg Old Timers Realised Enjoyment from Their Music

I must not forget to mention David Ross, who for many years conducted the choir at Knox church, a very earnest and successful teacher of singing. We have now In Winnipeg many singers who owe a great deal to Ross. There was considerable rivalry between the Ross and fees choirs and singers were frequently tempted by of; ore of increased salaries to exchange from one to the other. Boss was an exceptionally able conductor of oratorio, whereas fees excelled in music of the delicate part or madrigal type. Ross was the possessor of a most cutting humour, and contrived to get the utmost out of his singers, many of whom would be fit to assassinate him at the end of the practice. He was also a fine baritone singer and for many years I was his sole accompanist in his song recitals. A volume might be filled with humorous stories about Ross. I am tempted to relate one: A small concert party, including Mrs. Verner, Miss Campbell (now Mrs. Counsell), Jackson Hanby and Ross, with myself as accompanist, were filling a concert engagement at Selkirk. One of Hanby’s numbers was Wallace’s well-known song, “He Like a Soldier Fell.” In the waiting-room Immediately adjoining the platform, there happened to be a large piece of crockery and just as Hanby reached the high note climax at the end of the song, Ross deliberately and mischievously dashed the plate on the floor In the ante-room, and as the door was wide open it formed, a smashing forzando to Hanby’s climax. The audience was convulsed, but Hanby said nothing. A few numbers later Ross was to sin some serious number, and being somewhat particular as to his stage appearance he fussed around the mirror in the ante-room considerably, then as he stood waiting in the doorway leading to the platform, for the chairman to announce his number, Hanby seized his opportunity for revenge. Creeping quietly up behind Ross he gave the latter a tremendous push from the roar, whereby his entrance changed from a dignified walk to a most undignified sprawl, in which he had the greatest difficulty, with his arms extended, to maintain any kind of equilibrium. Again the audience was convulsed, but it needed almost a League of Nations to prevent Hanby and Ross from mixing in a fray in the anteroom at a later hour. We were a merry band in those days.

Robert Craig Campbell, brother of Mrs. Counsell, was also a gifted and versatile genius. A pupil of Ross, he was frequently heard on the concert platform in Winnipeg, as a tenor leggiero. Ho excelled as an Illustrative artist also, and loft winning to taka an important position as a designer to the Butterick Pattern of New York, but subsequently developed into one of the foremost operatic tenors in that city.

It might be mentioned that in 1894 in Winnipeg, there was an excellent orchestral organization known as the Apollo club, which could furnish a thoroughly satisfactory accompaniment to our oratorio and cantata. It was conducted by Paul Hennsberg, now of New York, a musician of Teutonic extraction, a virtuoso flute player and violinist. His brother, Otto Hennsberg, was a really nice fellow; his specialty was the French horn, but ho could play almost any instrument in the orchestra, including the cello.

No review of music in Winnipeg would be complete without reference to the late Charles wheeler, for many years musical critic for the Tribune. Mr. Wheeler was an architect by profession and designed many handsome buildings in Winnipeg, amongst which may be named Holy Trinity Church. He was for some time choirmaster of Zion Church, but for years he sat in the seat of judgment on music in Winnipeg and while it would be idle to claim infallibility for all his decisions he wielded so clever and trenchant a pen that his opinions carried great weight. His comparatively recent death at an advanced age deprived Winnipeg of a picturesque and powerful personality.

I remember an early occasion, while residing in Broaden, being connected with a small amateur orchestra which undertook at abort notice to contribute the Poet and Peasant overture to the programme of an important festival of main. At the last moment wo had unfortunately to switch conductors, and as a result our performances suffered somewhat. C. H. Wheeler happened to be in town and dropped into the concert. A day or so later wo were horrified by a large-typo heading is the Tribune; “Double Harder in Brandon - Harder of the ‘Foot and Peasant’ by the Brandon Orchestral”

Some incidents in connection with Sir Frederick Bridge's visit in 1906 are worth mentioning. Holy Trinity Church was selected for the festival of cathedral music. The organ, although in respect of tone quality a fine instrument., had been allow ed to get rather out of condition, and the tuner evidently had not sufficient time to thoroughly couple to the job, the worst trouble being that it was impossible to detach the oboe, a rather course-toned reed, from the swell organ, so that this rather prominent stop was over present in passages where subdued effects wore desired. Furthermore, the switch of the electric motor was on the organ bench, and when turned on gave off a very generous pyrotechnical display of blue flame. In the course of the programme Sir Frederick, who was arrayed in a very voluminous surplice and cassock with various coloured bauds and trimmings to indicate his eminence in music, was to play a funeral march of Purcell’s. Shortly before the service he came to the organ to try It over. On seeing the illuminations from the very intimate switch, ho absolutely declined to venture on the stool, I and no coaxing could pomade hi that there was really no ole- wont of danger.

I quite sympathised with Sir Frederick, as I had felt rather nervous about the wretched thing myself. Ultimately the good offices of a neighbouring grower wore invoked and a soap box or some other wooden receptacle which would cover the offensive display of electricity was procured. Sir Frederick was pacified except that his remarks were far from inspirational when he found that Warren’s rather course oboe stop must perforce be hie constant companion through his interpretation of the sweet melancholy of Purcell’s mournful strain.

Not a Deadly Serious Business

I think la those pant days many of us did not take ourselves seriously as musicians, or not with that deadly and devastating seriousness which is now la vogue. Many of us had left the old sod to escape the drudgery of the desk and the counting house. and did not propose to substitute the confinement of the studio and the music bench. We liked oar music and did our test to sake it worthy of acceptance, but we had come to the west with a longing for the virile life of outdoors and the broad outlook of the prairies, and did not propose to be entirely deprived of it. I think sone of us were secretly chagrined that wo had teen compelled to fall back on music as a means of livelihood and longed again to attain the standing of interested amateurs, so I find that many names I have mentioned night be connected with other activities. Jim Tees was an ardent horseman. He always rode or drove a handsome specimen of the equine. at his romantic retreat at Idyleworld you would find a small menagerie of prise horses sad prise dogs. He was an art connoisseur and had a magnificent collection of paintings, many of which were destroyed la the fire which demolished the magnificent Manitoba hotel.

Tuckwell was a star cricketer, and no representative teas was complete without him. C. S. Mitchell journeyed every year to Wimbledon or Bisley as Manitoba’s crack rifle shot, and many wore the trophies ho scoured, including some of the highest prizes offered. Hamber wee an oarsman of international repute and ho also had trophies in abundance. Jackson Hanby was a mighty hunter. Many hundreds of miles have Jack and I journeyed together la canoe or punt or on foot, and for a genuine sleuth after game I would place him as a remarkable specimen. A. W. Megget could give you a discourse on the stars which would do honour to an astronomer royal and permit you to see wonderful things through is splendid telescope. So almost everyone had a hobby outside of music, and both himself and his music were the better for it. I firmly believe.

There is, I think, one more name I should mention, vis., that of the late Dean Coombes, for some time conductor of the Apollo Club. Whatever music of any value was to be heard or encouraged you might surely find the genial and gentle dean.

He was a most lovable man, a true and constant friend to music and musicians. And with this reference I must indeed close, suggesting humbly, as before my superiors in the art, that if there be any truth in Carlyle’s famous dictum, that the true test of good workmanship is not what can be done with good, but rather what can be done with inferior tools, then perhaps some of the names which I have enumerated are not entirely unworthy of credit or even of praise.

THE END

See also:

James Matthews, 1865-1924 by Gregor Macgregor

Page revised: 1 September 2020

MHS YouTube Channel

Back to top of page

For queries on the above page, please contact the MHS Webmaster.

Home  |  Terms & Conditions  |  FAQ  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy  |  Donations Policy

© 1998-2020 Manitoba Historical Society. All rights reserved.