Canadian Commanders

1964 - 1973

Commanders and Jesters Photo's from Ed Law's Collection

Photo of Bill Coy
"Running of the Gantlet"

The Canadian Commanders were formed in late 1963.  The Viscounts from Hamilton, and the Jesters from Toronto, were both struggling to maintain a respectable presence on the Canadian senior drum corps scene.  Fred Hawkes of the Viscounts and Vince Macciocchi (spelling?)of the Jesters got their heads together and gained the sponsorship of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association.


The corps started rehearsals in the fall of 1963.  On Tuesday night it was in Toronto, Thursdays in Hamilton and Sundays in Oakville.  Attendance at rehearsals was so large that one never quite saw or met everyone else.

The very first public appearance that the Commanders made was in an indoor arena in St. Catharines.  They had all components of their uniform, except for the bright orange tunics, so they went on in corps "T" shirts.  The director had the idea to split all sections in half and send them on separately.  The first half marched in, to thunderous applause, and lined up across the arena floor.  They covered the floor from one side to the other, and then some.

Don Chisholm, the Drum Major, very theatrically brought the corps to a halt, brought the horns up and made as though the corps was about to play.  Then he slowly brought his arms down, the doors opened up again and the second half of the Corps marched in, to the total surprise of the audience.  The corps spread across the width of the arena three times.  No-one had ever seen a corps that big before.  The audience clapped, cheered and screamed for a very long time.   Anyone who played in the corps that first show had goosebumps that lasted for hours and will remember that experience for the rest of their life.

In 1964, the first competing season, the Commanders took second place at the Canadian Championships, being narrowly beaten out by the Guelph Royalaires.

The Commanders sister corps was the Rochester Crusaders.  It was not uncommon for corps members to borrow each others instruments or play in each others' lines during the retreat.  The Rochester Crusaders were, themselves, an amalgamation of two smaller Corps in trouble.  Vince Bruni brought the remnants of the Rochester Grey Knights and the Crusaders of Clinton New York together to form Rochester Crusaders.

The Commanders crest, above, was conceived and designed by Norman Kennedy.
Norm was a Jester at the time of amalgamation and one of the original 1964 Commanders.

This photo from the 1964 Commanders EP record, shows Norm on the bass drum during the concert number at the Canadian Championships, Varsity Stadium, Toronto, September 12, 1964

1964 Repertoire (the original)
    Off the Line - Hello Dolly
    You Do Something To me
  Concert - Night & Day
                      - Black Bottom
Besame Mucho
Red, White & Blue
    Alone Together

1964 - Hamilton Civic Stadium Photo- Don Price
 1964 - Hamilton Civic Stadium     Photo courtesy Don Price

Rudimental Bass: Rick Splonic, Jerry Demers   Photo courtesy Jim Inrig                                                              Photo courtesy Jim Inrig
Snare: Ed Law, Lorne Ferrazutti, Bill Robinson
Tenor: John Snowball, Norm Kennedy, Lloyd Francis

1964 - Civic Stadium   Photo courtesy Ed Law

  Courtesy Ed Law

Photo's courtesy Don Price

Photos courtesy Dave "Bomber" Carr

This page is, of course, under constant construction.  I realize that, to many past Commanders, it is woefully inadequate, and probably contains errors.
If you have anything that you would like to add, or any corrections you would like to make, please e-mail to me, and I will incorporate it.
Please send me any materials that you can spare: photo's, anecdotes, statistics, membership rosters, e-mail addresses, whereabouts of ex-Commanders, etc.

Commanders Reunion
May 6 after the St. Joes' Classic

Harry McGhie - lead soprano 1971-73 (now living in Kitchener Ont.)
Paul New - mellophone 1971 - 73 (now in Atlanta, GA.)
Dave "Bomber" Carr - guard member 1965 - 68 (time out for a tour in Vietnam with the U.S. Army),guard captain 70-71.
Bob Bond - legendary drum major with Jester-Viscount amalgamation of 1964 Commanders. Now on corps executive of Empire Statesmen, Rochester NY. Inducted into the Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 2001.
Bruce Lindsay - contra and tympani line 1970-73, now in St. Catharines, Ont. and contra with St. Joe's Alumni 98-?
Don Smylski - flag waver and rifle line, Commanders 70-73, winter guard judge (retd) and living in Niagara Falls


Glen McMillan, bass drummer with Canadian GAS Ensemble passed away December 3, 2001, in Bradford, Ontario.
Glen started in the "271 Squadron Air Cadet Band", as a snare drummer around 1953, as did a number of Toronto area drum corps people.
Glen went on to the "Governor Generals Horse Guard Bugle Band" in 1956, as a snare drummer.
In 1960, Glen joined the "Jesters Drum & Bugle Corps" (Jolly Jesters), in the colour guard.  He was involved in the Jesters' 1963 amalgamation with Hamilton's "Viscounts" and became one of the original Canadian Commanders.

(Photo courtesy of Tom Mellors' archives)

Bill Coy was the first Colour Guard Captain of the Commanders. Bill is shown here in front of the Rifle Squad.

Bill, known affectionately to his friends as "Captain Video - Keeper of the Sword" joined the Jolly Jesters as a rifle man, in the guard, until Ron Ballantine (the old guard captain) went to the Port Dalhouse Guardsmen. Bill became guard commander and stayed with the corps through the Jolly Jesters, the Jesters and the Canadian Commanders. When Commanders went to Burlington, Bill went to Guelph Royalaires. Bill died 9 years ago. He was working selling cars and it was his turn to lock up. He was found dead in the morning of a heart attack.  Poor old Captain Video, lost to us forever, but we have his photo and a lot good memories and hilarious stories.  (Ed Law)

Dave Carr hosts a radio talk show in Owen Sound, Ontario and also writes a weekly newspaper column for the town newspaper. This article appeared after last years "Classic" in Rochester NY and sort of says it all...Hope you all will think seriously about joining us for the the annual "Running of the Gantlet" and then seeing the finest indoor show in the area.

And another thing . . . .when you wake up Sunday and realize you probably left your sunglasses in a biker bar in upstate New York, just what kind of weekend have you had, anyway? Well, O.K. not "you" so much as "me", as once again on an April weekend a time-honoured tradition was played out by a bunch of the boys -- Running the Gantlet.

Now the first thing we need to clear up is the difference between "gauntlet" and "gantlet" You can wear the gauntlet; maybe throw it if you are so inclined, and irritated enough, but you "run the gantlet". I first heard about this as a young and impressionable child, horrified at what young Iroquois braves did for fun, sport, and a kind of communal self-flagellation. Word descriptions made me shudder. I vowed then never to grow up an Iroquois brave, and so far, have been true to myself. What I should have done is promise myself never to run the gantlet, because once I started, I learned this particlar form of self-abuse can be fun and addicting. And the more things change, the more they remain the same, if you'll allow them to.

Now, this is also a tradition for a bunch of us, tied to the world of Drum & Bugle Corps. 30 years ago and more, we all marched together in the Canadian Commanders (later just Commanders). We share a passion for this unique brand of music, and the word "passion" is an  understatement. At various levels, we crave it; we travel for it, and not just across town; we threaten our health for it, and our marriages with it. In the end, only our wives seem to be forgiving.

We are no longer boys, yet we continue to do a boyish thing -- running the gantlet. In Grey-Bruce, you might call it a gravel run -- a road trip with several bar stops. I can't tell you when it started, exactly; only when we were, shall we say, younger. There is only one gantlet, though I have vague recollections of others. This one is New York state highway 104 that runs from Lewiston, New York into Rochester. Our mission is only to get there on time, but not until we have made a stop at each bar along the route. We have mostly made it through the years, and mostly, pretty much, almost intact.

Lots of people don't condone this sort of thing; I don't think we plan on stopping. There is a saying about boys growing to men and putting away their boyhood toys. But there is much to say about tradition, and for a core group of us, whose fringe players change from year to year with the usual pressures of family, job, and life in general, this is tradition. We have never said more than "see you next year" at the end of it, but I think there is for the moment, an unspoken pact that for us, running the gantlet will continue. It is a thread that binds us together. Some of us see each other more than this one day, of course, but some do not. At least two good friends did not run the gantlet this year and I know I won't see them until the bars open in New York state on an April Saturday next year.

There are differences. We are older. None of us acknowledge that, of course, but afterwards, in the recovery phase, it is true. We have a designated driver now. We never used to, you know; no one did. We were young and thought we'd live forever and did "I'm gonna live forever" things. They are often things that guarantee you will not live forever. Now, we think we're young again, and try to hang on to forever, mostly by having a designated driver. We don't hit all the bars anymore; we don't start as early as we used to. It takes us longer to have that single beer in each bar than it used to; we sip it; don't chug it. It used to be a beer and a peppermint schnapps in each place. Now, the schnapps happen at the first stop, and the one after lunch, and you swagger back to the van feeling good that you can still handle it, man . . . .and you laugh.

And now we know we can't make every single bar, not even the one with the girl who showed us her tattoos last year, and we all felt bad about that this year. I think we missed her bar by accident. But we did make Boyers, home of the Road Vultures Motorcycle Club. We're never quite sure, you know, why we stop there, but we do, and it is a highlight. Lunch at the Seebreeze; that one is kind of an added tradition. First beer at the Coyote . . . . well, we didn't even see the Coyote this year and will all check your optical prescriptions before next April, wondering how that happened . . . . .

I think we are proud of running the gantlet every year, and I think we sense not everyone shares our boyish enthusiasm at getting together every year in this particular manner. But this is tradition; manly companionship not easily surrendered. We are safer now, I think, than we were in the glory days but then, aren't we all? But, are we having any less fun?

Not on your life!!! And we know, next April, on a spring Saturday, amidst the garage sales and blooming trees and flowers and the blue of Lake Ontario off to the left somewhere . . . .  the gantlet is waiting for us. And we will run again.


This photo was recently noticed hanging on the rec room wall of one of the original Viscounts/Commanders.
L - R Lorne Ferrazutti, Ron Dwyer, Don Chisolm, Dave Peters, Mel Dey

Send your comments and suggestions to: Peter Mason,
Last Updated on September 20, 2006