The Girl’s in the Band

A Tradition of Excellence that spanned over 50 years!

By Bill Trbovich

At their peak they were 80 in number but now as we mark their last performance on Canada Day 2022, they are only 12.

They began as the Durham High School Band Bugle Band in 1949 and in 1954 they became the Durham District High School Trumpet Band but it was in 1968 they became known as the Durham Girls Drum and Bugle Corps and the rest as they say is history.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Pegelo 

When John Jarratt came to Durham High School to teach music in 1948 and extended his efforts by forming an all-girls bugle band. With this nucleus, these Durham girls soon reached championship status, as the Durham Girls Trumpet Band, holding the Canadian Championship title for four consecutive years, 1955-58. However there was change coming on the horizon. Although sponsored by the Durham District High School Board and financially self-sustaining the band faced an uphill battle for survival. When school boards were centralized under the South West Grey Board and eventually the Grey County Board of Education, sponsorship of the band ceased to be board policy. Another blow was dealt when it was announced the Durham District High School would be phased out by 1970. Removing the school would lead to the removal of high school aged girls as a basis of recruitment. Enter the Durham Girl’s Drum and Bugle Corps.

Their school was closing but a determined group of girls assisted by a group of interested citizens would not let the band die! The Durham Girl’s Drum and Bugle Corps was formed in 1968 and about thirty members of the former High school band began fund raising efforts; everything from baby-sitting to car washes were used to raise funds for uniforms, instruments, and flags. Soon the championships began to roll in, Canadian Junior Girls Standstill Champions, Provincial Junior Girls Championship, Provincial Novice Championship, and in 1971they won the National Girls Street Parade title. In 1970 alone, the Corps made 50 appearances across the province.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Pegelo 

Under the direction of Gayle Magwood, a former band member, the titles rolled in and so did the requests for appearances, sometimes as often as three times a week! Each January the Corps undertook a rebuilding, often with a 50% turnover as girls left for university and college. There was no shortage of recruits back then and some of them are now members of the Alumni Band. “When I was a young girl it was the thing to do, it just kind of stays in your blood,” explained Cheryl Reaburn. “I followed in my mothers’ footsteps, she marched in the 2012 Homecoming parade and it was 35 degrees, I don’t know how she did it, but she took part.”

Photo courtesy of Sharon Pegelo 

The trade mark uniforms of pleated white mini-skirts, navy bloomers, navy vests with silver trim over white blouses topped by a white Aussie hats with a blue plume became a staple in the Octoberfest Parade in Kitchener, the Markham Fair, Toronto Santa Claus Parade and the Grey Cup. Their reputation soon spread to upstate New York and Lower Michigan and they made Durham proud.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Pegelo 

Community support for the bands came in many forms such as this bus owned and operated by Wilmer Vollett. Not only did he donate his bus, he painted it in band colours!

Photo courtesy of Sharon Pegelo 

By 1988 the interest in the band had dropped significantly, recruits were hard to come by and perhaps the volunteers were simply too tired of the grind it takes to keep the band going so it was decided it was time to pack it in. But on the eve of the 2012 Durham Homecoming with more than a little nudge from Sharon Pegelo, long time band member and organizer, the band was put back together as the Durham Girls Alumni Band. Over the next seven and a half years the band marched in Santa Claud Parades and took part in Remembrance Day tributes on a periodic basis and then the Covid 19 pandemic struck and once again the band went silent.

Seven and half year old Janessa Terpstra learns how to become a colour guard for the upcoming performance of the Durham Marching Band on Canada Day. Long time band member and organizer of this years’ edition, Sharon Pegelo, teaches the fine art of flag twirling. Photo by author
It’s a family affair as ten year Austin Terpstra takes his turn learning the ropes of being in the colour guard for the Durham Girls Alumni Band final performance on Canada Day. Organizer Sharon Pegelo gave instruction.
Photo by author
Brenda Weaver Wheeler warms up the glockenspiel while Cheryl Reaburn provides the back beat during a rehearsal by the Durham Marching  Band in the parking lot of Spruce Ridge Community School. Their performance on Canada Day during the Durham 150th birthday/Homecoming celebrations will be their last ending a marching band tradition that dates back to 1948. “I said I would never do it again, I was done,” said drummer Cheryl Reaburn, “and then Sharon called and I said OK when’s practice!” Photo by author