Music has long been associated with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. While the earliest date is difficult to determine, it is known that there was a band during the time of the Royal Newfoundland Companies. Between 1824 and 1862 there was a small band attached to the Garrison, most likely funded by the Officers’ Mess as was the tradition with other Regiments of the British Army. The withdrawal of the garrison in 1862 saw the end of this band, but some of these musicians continued to perform with local civilian bands and later to go on to instruct or lead others.
During the First World War, the first mention of a band was actually a Drum and Bugle band. Many of the initial recruits who enlisted to serve came from the local church brigades where this type of band was common. Within the military, the bugle has its traditional role as a signalling device as well a musical instrument. Given that the military procedures followed by the members of these organizations were based in the British Army, it would follow that these members would have brought their use of bugle and drum with them, both to signal daily routine and to aid training on the march.
The tradition of the Drum and Bugle band was maintained on both sides of the Atlantic during the First World War. The members who went overseas maintained a Drum and Bugle band while training in Scotland, while back in St. John’s members of the local Brigades, although underage, were still eager to do their part and served the Regiment as ‘Drummers’ to assist training at home. These drummers were listed as part of the Regiment, but they would not have been allowed to serve overseas. The Drum and Bugle band in St. John’s came under the leadership of Sgt. Sid Bursell, who himself was listed as a member of the Regiment, but not for service overseas.
It was reported in 1915, that Sir Edgar Bowring and members of his family had presented 16 musical instruments to the Newfoundland Regiment that they might be used to establish a band. These instruments remained in storage until January of 1916 when Mr. L.L. Worthington, a member of the village band in Ayr and a former bandmaster of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment was appointed to form the band. He recruited a number of his former musicians and with some of the buglers and drummers already serving, formed the core of Regimental Band. By March 1916 the Band was playing for the troops on the march and at concerts. When the Regiment was disbanded at the end of the First World War, the band also ceased operation.
In November 1956, the Loyal Orange Lodge Band in Topsail, Newfoundland, under the baton of the late Edgar Adams, was asked to serve as the official band of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment. In 1961, the 166th (Nfld) Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery was amalgamated with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. As both regiments had bands of their own, they too amalgamated into one under the baton of the late Peter Stapleton. This band continues as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band we know today.
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band has gone through many changes in organization and size over its history. In addition to the band in St. John’s, there were also sections in Corner Brook and in Grand Falls. As a result of reorganization of the military in the 1960s and ‘70s, the band was centralized in St. John’s. The Band continues to be based at the St. John’s Garrison and has an established strength of 35 members and a number of volunteer auxiliary members.
Although a Canadian Forces Reserve Unit, the Band has remained active over the years and has performed at numerous military and civilian functions. These include routine tasks such as Mess Dinners, Change of Command Parades and Annual Inspections. Other performances for visiting Royalty, Heads of State, and other dignitaries, stand out as testimony to the Band’s colourful history. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band has marched proudly in hundreds of parades within the province and the country; and has also played a crucial role in commemorations internationally.
Over the years, members of the Band have left to pursue musical careers with Regular Force bands. Others have distinguished themselves by their exemplary performances with the Ceremonial Guard Band on Parliament Hill; the Land Forces Atlantic Area Band at Camp Aldershot, Nova Scotia; the Canadian Forces (Reserve) School of Music at CFB Borden, Ontario: and with symphony orchestras and dance bands across Canada.