The Royal Canadian Artillery Band
Many excellent military bands – both brass and reed and pipe and drum – have worn, and continue to wear, the badge of The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. They play an important role in reflecting our heritage, expressing our pride and connecting with Canadians on behalf of all Gunners – past and present.
Several bands are associated with individual units of the reserve component of The Royal Regiment.
- 5 th (British Columbia) Field Artillery Regiment Band
- 15 th Field Artillery Regiment Band
- 26 th Field Artillery Regiment Pipes and Drums
- 49 th (Sault Ste Marie) Field Artillery Regiment Pipes and Drums
- 7 th Toronto Regiment Band
- La Musique du 62e Regiment d’artillerie de campagne
- 3 rd Field Artillery Regiment (The Loyal Company) Band
There is, however, but one regular component band associated with the Regiment and that is the Royal Canadian Artillery Band (RCA Band) stationed at Steele Barracks, Edmonton Garrison.
The current iteration of the RCA Band traces its direct lineage to the RCA Band formed in Montreal in 1969, however, its historical roots are much deeper, extending as they do to Quebec City in 1879. It was in that year that the Band of B Battery of Garrison Artillery and School of Gunnery (today’s B Battery 1 RCHA) was formed and which eventually became the first permanent military band in Canada. The band was composed of professionally trained volunteer musicians from France and England and was a concert favourite in Quebec. In 1899, this band became the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery (RCGA) Band under the baton of Joseph Vézina, a prominent Quebec musician whose achievements are noteworthy.
Vézina not only formed and directed numerous military and amateur bands, but was the first director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec. He also led over 100 musicians for the first public performance of O Canada, which took place June 24, 1880 at a Saint-Jean-Batiste Day banquet in Quebec City. An article in the Montreal Star of 16 August 1916 attests to the high standard maintained by the RCGA Band: “The band of the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery, stationed at the Citadel in Quebec City, is justly known as one of the best bands in North America. Its repertoire is remarkable, and it is doubtful if a more diversified series of programs is given by any other band in the country.”
A second permanent artillery band – The RCHA Band – was formed at Kingston in October 1905 with an initial establishment of 25 members as a vehicle to attract recruits for the RCHA. For the next twenty years, the band flourished under the accomplished baton of Major A.L. Light, late of the British Army. During the First World War, the Band’s contribution to recruiting was considered so valuable that its members were denied the opportunity to serve overseas. The Band was present at the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial in 1936, and during that European tour, played at Buckingham Palace before King Edward VIII. After the Second World War, the RCHA Band moved to Winnipeg from where it traveled extensively in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Northwestern Ontario, performing at military and civic functions and giving numerous public concerts. The Band played its last public performances as part of the Canadian Armed Forces Centennial Tattoo in 1967 after which it was disbanded subsequent the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968.
In 1941, Captain Streeter, Coordinator and Director of Music for Canadian-based units, organized three bands to go overseas. One was The Royal Canadian Artillery (Overseas) Band. The calibre of the bands was high, and they became immensely popular. Much like today, The RCA band was versatile, and included a dance band, an old-time band, a salon orchestra, a choir, and instrumental and vocal soloists.
By 1944 there were ten full-time bands stationed abroad. At the end of the war, all regular force bands were disbanded with three being re-formed including the RCHA Band in Winnipeg. In 1952, the Royal Canadian Artillery Band was re-formed in Halifax under Captain E.R. Wragg, and, in 1953, travelled overseas to entertain troops in Korea. In 1955, Captain Kenneth Elloway became the new bandmaster and put the RCA Band on the international stage. He arranged appearances on BBC radio and led the RCA Band in the 1957 Bermuda Tattoo. Back in Canada, they regularly appeared on CBC and were a very successful in helping keep the Army in the public eye in Halifax.
In 1968, the RCA Band in Halifax was dissolved and reformed in Montreal where it attained new heights of popularity. In 1988, the Band performed for over 100,000 spectators in Canada and Europe, and in 1989 was the central feature in a cross-Canada tour of CF musicians. In 1994-95, The RCA Band participated in the “Canada Remembers” program which commemorated Canada’s contribution to victory in the Second World War. This took the band to Asia; England; France, where it represented Canada on the 50 th anniversary of D-Day; Holland; and, Belgium.
The 125th anniversary of the creation of A and B Batteries occurred in 1996 and the band played a central role in celebrations traveling across the country playing at unit ceremonies and giving public concerts. That same year, a further re-structuring of CF Bands saw the band move from CFB Montreal to CFB Valcartier where it was split in two, with one half forming a new Royal 22e Regiment Band. The next year, the remaining half took up a new station in Edmonton where the reconstituted RCA Band gave its first performance on December 4th, 1997 (St. Barbara’s Day – the Patron Saint of the Artillery) to an audience of local Gunners including the Garrison Commander, Colonel J.J. Selbie (Late RCA).
Since arriving in Edmonton, The CF Band has travelled extensively. In 2000, The RCA Band was chosen as Canada’s representative at the Kangwon International Tattoo in Wonju, Korea which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. In 2004, the RCA Band toured Bosnia-Herzegovina and returned to Korea. They travelled to Sweden in 2006 where they performed to capacity crowds and glowing reviews. The tour culminated with The RCA Band’s participation in the 20th Swedish Military Tattoo, where they marched to the Royal Palace playing Voice of the Guns, Glorious Victory and Barren Rocks.
The RCA Band made two trips to the Netherlands in 2009 and 2010. The first was for the Nijmegen Marches. This is the largest marching event in the world, with thousands of participants and over a million spectators. The band performed at various points along the route and led the entire Canadian contingent for the final five kilometres of the march. The second was as part of the Canadian Forces Contingent commemorating the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of The Netherlands.
They were present for the 100 th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and with the 2 nd Battalion PPCLI, mounted the guard at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle – a great honour and highlight of the band’s history.
In 2008, for the first time in its history, a Regular Force piper was posted to The RCA Band. Since then, pipe and drum music has formed an important part of the band’s repertoire.
The RCA Band Today
Today, the RCA Band comprises 35 full-time musicians. Applications for positions in the band submit to a competitive audition process, and selected musicians often have multiple music degrees and extensive professional experience. Each musician must also complete a full range of military training including weapons handling and battle fitness testing.
The RCA Band performs as a 35-piece Brass/Reed Parade Band, a 35-piece Concert Band, and in various smaller configurations:
- The RCA Pipes & Drums
- Jazz Big Band: The Rhythm Gunners
- 10 Piece Ensemble: The Windage Salon Orchestra
- The Pop/Rock Band: Soul Orchestra
- The Small Jazz Ensembles: Jazz Task Force
- Chamber groups:
- The Woodwind Quintet
- The Brass Quintet
- The Heavy Artillery Clarinet Quartet
Commanding Officer and Director of Music
Captain Christopher Embree, CD
Band Sergeant Major
Master Warrant Officer Daniel Keels, CD
The RCA Band
PO Box 10500 Station Forces
Edmonton, AB T5J 4J5
Telephone: 780-973-4011 ext 2924