Stratford’s controversial bandshell?  by Betty Jo Belton Stratford-Perth Archives 2023

Stratford's Bandshell as it appeared by moonlight on the day it opened in 1929 Photo: Stratford-Perth Archives. [The bandshell opened September 21, 1929]. 

Stratford's Controversial Bandshell?

Stratford’s bandshell, next to the river on Veterans' Drive, has been the venue for many community events over the years. So many that it seems like this small, handsome structure is a natural part of the landscape that’s been there forever. But its design and location were actually quite controversial choices back in 1929. 

Adelaide Leitch tells the story as well as anyone could in her 1980 book, Floodtides of Fortune: The Story of Stratford.  

She writes: "Like many small cities, Stratford built a handsome downtown bandstand in the nineteenth century, a fine, open octagonal stand that aged gracefully with concerts, the skirling of bagpipes and the martial music of the bands. 

"Like the village pump before it, it became a meeting place for the whole community, and there was an outcry when the aging bandstand was slated to be moved and probably replaced. Three sites were possible for a new stand: in the willows by the river, facing the river on York Street, or abutting on Cobourg Street. There were two choices of style: another open stand or the new shell, which was just becoming popular. 

"In 1929, the matter came, innocently enough before the parks board, and it quickly fanned the biggest row Stratford had seen since the C.P.R. had tried to usurp the tranquil parklands by the river. 

"There was much ado about a bandstand as they battled over location and over style. Opposing sides seemed about evenly matched. All of them circulated petitions, demanded that council intervene, and wrote long, windy letters to the newspaper. The city engineer added the information that the proposed bandstandcontravened the city's bylawsince it was to be constructed chiefly of wood.

"Even within the parks board, there was disagreement, and, in their stormiest session in over two decades, the commissioners finally voted, four to one, for a shell and a location among the willows of Lakeside Park. 

"The boaters were irate. The shell would face away from the river, they protested, and they would be unable to hear, as they floated upon the water. Also opposed, were the people in the trades and labor council and the ratepayers association. The Musicians’ Protective Association was worried about mosquitoes. Besides, the association slyly pointed out, big cities like Toronto, Chicago and San Francisco didn’t have shell stands did they? 

"As for the musicians, who would be most affected, the Perth Regiment Band didn’t want a shell stand, but the C.N.R. Employees’ Band did, although not in the mosquito-laden willows.  The Local Council of Women objected. Alderman Wigglesworth argued plaintively that, as council was paying half the bill, it should have something to say about design. And it did, finally. It approved an open stand to the disgust of Dr. E.H. Eidt, “Father of the Parks Board”, (see Downie Street) who then came out in favor of a shell. 

"After the smoke cleared, the parks board had the final say and clinched it. On June 4, by majority vote, the commissioners accepted a tender, over howls of anguish and shouts of glee, for a band shell, and set about erecting it in the willows. 

"It opened, on schedule, on September 21, 1929. [see photo below].

The original Bandstand stood in Battery Park between Downie and Waterloo Streets opposite the Y. M. C. A.  The stand was moved to the intersection of Ontario and Erie Streets and remained there until it was placed on park property. Photo: Stratford-Perth Archives.

"The Royal Canadian Regiment band came over from London and played lustily afternoon and evening, its leader claiming he had never played on a better stand. There was a display of living statuary. There were Scottish dances and Scottish pipers, and several numbers by the Brunswick Male Quartet. 

"It was proclaimed “Tom Orr Day”, (see Veterans' Drive) in honor of the man who had introduced the idea of a shell stand, after seeing them in southern United States. Later, he was vindicated in his choice. When the Canadian National Exhibition was considering a bandstand, they came up from Toronto and looked over what the Classic City had chosen. Toronto, in 1938, also built a shell. As for Stratford’s old stand, it was given to the Agricultural Society and moved to the fair grounds. 

"As always, Stratfordites had abhorred the unimaginative, the static, the trite and the mass-produced!" 

This article is based on information and images from the collections at Stratford-Perth Archives.  

Union leaders speaking from the bandshell with [some members of] the crowd that gathered to hear them during Stratford's infamous furniture workers' strike in 1933. Photo: Stratford Perth Archives. (see also Flashback: A Treasured Reminder of the Stratford Strike of 1933).

Parades at Stratford's bandshell in the 1950s and 1960s. Photo: Stratford-Perth Archives