Rotary secured the future of the music festival after difficult early years


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We now know it as the Kiwanis Music Festival, but it didn’t start that way. Rotarians organized the first music festival in Kingston in 1950.

Warren Black, as chair of the new projects committee, and George Maybee (a non-Rotarian) attended a conference in Niagara Falls on how to organize music festivals in Canada. They returned enthusiastic and at the club assembly on August 15, 1949, the club approved the project. Ray McPhee became its first president. Almost all club members were on the committee.

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On February 13, 1950, a young boy from the United States played a piano solo at the opening of the Eastern Ontario Rotary International Music Festival at Memorial Hall in City Hall.

A significant expense was incurred in bringing in judges from Britain, but they added legitimacy to the event. The first festival was scheduled for seven days in February, but disaster struck in the form of a major snowstorm, which shut the city down for several days. As a result, the club suffered a significant financial loss. The 1951 festival was also severely cut short by an influenza epidemic. The choirs, groups, contestants and audience just didn’t show up. Another defeat for the club. These two calamities almost ended the project.

The 1952 festival was canceled as the club restructured its approach. Rather than attracting judges from England and famous Canadian composers, like Healey Willan of Toronto, they offered to appeal to the locals. Fred Pense is now president and the 1954 festival is a success. However, with Fred’s death and the fear of teachers that the festival was too close to Easter (held in March), there was no festival in 1955.

Former President George Stirrett took over and the 1956 festival was a success, securing the future of music festivals in Kingston. The 1963 program was labeled the 11th and it appears to be the second to last, as the minutes of a Rotary board meeting in 1964 asked Eric Bronskill to collect all the trophies and return them. to their sponsors. The Kiwanis Club relaunched the music festival in 1973 with Bob Crowson and Peter Davy as the original team, giving the festival its current name: the Kiwanis Music Festival.

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Rotarians were very proud of their role in the Fête de la musique. One of them observed that it was “a project that has given thousands of people the opportunity to become more proficient in the field of music. From toddler to adulthood, festivals have provided instruction, inspiration and fun, and have provided Rotarians with yet another opportunity to practice their motto, “Service Above Self”. And another observation: “The Rotary Club, through Music Festivals, has reached more homes than any other club activity.

This is the 40th of Rotary’s 52 Reflections published in 2021 to provide an overview of the impact Rotary has had in Kingston over the past century. Your comments are welcome at [email protected] For more information on 100 years of Rotary in Kingston, visit


Gerald R. Schneider

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