On the day the armistice was signed to bring an end to the First World War, the streets of Nanaimo “wore a fest air.”
Nov. 11, 1918 was observed as a general holiday in the city and next day’s edition of the Nanaimo Free Press described “scenes of great enthusiasm.” The celebrations culminated in a torchlit procession through the downtown. At the head of the parade, flanked by returning soldiers baring the Union Jack and Red Ensign, was the Silver Cornet Band, now called the Nanaimo Concert Band.
Since then the band has had a presence at every Nov. 11 ceremony, and on Sunday, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. – the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice – the 146-year-old ensemble will once more provide musical accompaniment at the Remembrance Day observation at the Dallas Square Park cenotaph.
“Why we do it is because it’s important,” said Shari Barker, who’s played clarinet in the concert band for 37 years and acts as the group’s historian. “It’s important to us, it’s important to the community and its important to Canada that we do it.”
She said she’s seen the ceremony change during her tenure, from “extremely low” attendance in the early ’80s to much larger crowds today. She’s also seen the focus shift from commemorating the First and Second World Wars to more contemporary conflicts.
“It’s one of those events that we wouldn’t even hesitate to do. We’re not even asked to do it anymore. We’re just so part of it,” Barker said. “We don’t get invitations anymore. We’re there. We’re the band.”