8 Days On Tour with the SVRSS Band

Submitted by: Glenda Turton

Day 1: Late on May 14, 2019, thirty-five SVRSS band students, 6 chaperones and band directors Glenda Turton and Mark Matejka boarded a bus bound for the Winnipeg airport. By noon on the 15th of May, they were already landing at Pearson International Airport in Toronto; the beginning of an 8 day whirlwind performance tour of Toronto and Niagara Falls.

Day 2: Everyone was up early and on the road before school began the next morning. Our first stop, Bloor Streets infamous Long and McQuade to pick up our rental instruments. It turned out to be an adventure for everyone as this L&M location was spread out between 3 separate buildings with 3 separate entrances and plenty of stairs between main, upper and lower levels.

Done at the music store we proceeded east on Bloor to the Royal Ontario Museum, (ROM). The ROM is the largest museum of its kind in North America, with permanent displays and temporary features. Students had time to explore displays from Ancient Egypt, Medieval Times, Prehistoric ages, the bio-diversity of our world, treasures from underground and much more.

Following a gourmet hotdog lunch from a street vendor, followed by ice cream, we proceeded to our clinic at the University of Toronto.

Our clinician was Jeffrey Reynolds, director of bands from the U of T. He helped us with many aspects of our performance music, prepping the band for their adjudication the next day at the Festival of Music at Canada’s Wonderland.

After our clinic everyone dressed for supper at a real Italian-style Pizzeria. It was followed by an evening at the symphony where the entire group was wowed by a very intense and moving performance of Mahler’s 7th Symphony, by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The Roy Thompson Hall, pictured below, was an incredible venue to hear a musical performance.

Day 3: Up early again, we dressed in performance clothes and arrived at St. Emily’s Elementary Catholic School right at the beginning of the day. We performed a full concert for the entire school. This school does not have a band program, so the kids in the audience were very interested in our horns and of course, the drums. They clapped enthusiastically and moved to the beat with every song we played.

The school was our warm up. From there we headed over to Canada’s Wonderland and found our way to the Kingswood Performance Stage. It is a huge stage on the edge of the Wonderland roller coaster park, capable of holding a band of up to 100 members. It was a little cool and quite windy. In spite of the elements working against them, the band turned in a first-rate performance, impressing the adjudicator with the high quality choice of music, their ability to play expressively and their overall skill.

With the big performance over, kids couldn’t wait to get started on the roller coasters. Some rode every one more than once. Others rode just one to see what it was like. In either case, there was plenty to see do and snack on during our half-day at Canada’s Wonderland. Lots of kids had fabulous stories to tell about riding the Yukon Striker or other rollercoaster experiences.

Day 4: Saturday; A full day of sight-seeing around the Toronto Harbour front. First stop: The CN Tower with 360 degree breath-taking views of the city and the lake.

Sailing on the tall ship Kajama offered a spectacular view of Toronto’s lakeshore. As well, students had the opportunity to take turns hoisting the sails. This helped to get the blood moving and warm kids up as it was chilly on the lake that morning.

The group also went “under the sea” for few hours at Ripley’s Aquarium and some even had time to explore the CN rail museum across the street.

There were also several other strange but interesting sights from around downtown Toronto: garbage displays, human statues, green army men, a spiderman and sea turtles.

Our adventures continued with supper at Medieval Times Dinner Theatre where we broke all the rules of etiquette. We drank our soup from a bowl, and ate our chicken and roast potatoes with our fingers.

As dinner guests of the Medieval times King and Queen, we cheered for their knights during the jousting match and yelled insults at knights they didn’t want to see win. The louder, the better!

Last stop of the day, tho’ now into night; Toronto City Hall park for a group shot at the neon sign. What a day!

Day 5: A little slower-paced day today. We loaded the bus; which by coincidence matched Mr. Matejka’s outfit for the day, and headed around Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls.

We stopped for a picnic style lunch at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, just south of the city of Grimsby.

Students had time to run off steam on the hiking trails, and discover new vegetation. The views out over Lake Ontario were fantastic!

That same evening in Niagara Falls, we performed at the Greg Frewin Dinner Theatre.

Following our performance, we enjoyed the magic show by world renowned magician Greg Frewin, complete with magically appearing tigers!

Day 6: Today was all about the Niagara Falls. We began by taking a 25 minute walk to the Niagara Falls Table Rock visitor centre, which hosts the Journey Under the Falls. Everyone watched a video that explained the creation of Niagara Falls and the erosion process it is now undergoing. It was followed by some fun going into Niagara’s Fury to physically experience the creation of Niagara Falls through snow, rain, wind, and earth shaking. Then came the actual tour through century old tunnels 40 meters below the falls.

The water was thunderous! The viewing portals were actually bored into the rock behind the falls and we were able to actually watch the water pouring over the edge of the escarpment. The sheer power and force of the water close up was incredible. No one left disappointed.

We hustled back to our hotel, dried off, changed the headed out to our concert at the Emerald Retirement Home, a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The performance area was a little small, but everyone adjusted and we put on what we all felt was our best show of the tour. The audience sang along to some tunes, for others it brought back special memories and they even called for an encore! They were so happy to have us that they provided us with juice and cookies after the show. Everyone left with a deep sense of satisfaction after our performance there.

Then it was back the water. Down the hill created by the Niagara escarpment again, and onto the Hornblower for our cruise to the bottom of the falls. This was like an amusement park thrill ride all its own. We slowly chugged up the Niagara River and hovered at the bottom of the falls close enough to get splashed as the water fell from the falls and feel the spray in the wind. Just watching the turbulence of the water as it hit the bottom and swirled around was a show in itself. We all returned wet and amazed again by the power of nature.

To cap off the evening, students were divided into random teams for a scavenger hunt around Niagara Falls. Tasks involved everything from performing the Macarana in Queen Victoria Park to getting a picture with a parks worker and unscrambling words. They may have been tired, but the groups had an excellent time, completing for first place.

Day 7: Our last day. What a whirlwind of activities! But we weren’t done. Everyone jumped on the Niagara Falls Wego bus and headed out to the Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory. There we were educated about the life cycle of butterflies and got to spend some time in butterfly conservatory. It was a beautiful sunny, enclosed garden with semi-tropical and tropical flowers and trees. There were over two thousand types of butterflies to observe and let perch on our fingers. For some it was a show of courage to brave the one on one butterfly encounters.

That afternoon our final concert was in the Romanesque-looking Oakes Garden Theatre on the corner of Clifton Hill and Fallsview Blvd. The weather was warm, sunny and—windy!! This most beautiful setting came with many challenges as during our performances the wind not only blew our music off our stands but all blew our music stands right over.

People came and went. We had a good audience assembled, many people from other countries such as a priest from Lebanon, who wanted pictures with the band, several tourists from Japan, some retired couples from Italy who danced to our tunes, others from the former USSR, making requests. It was very enjoyable and you couldn’t beat the fact that we had both sets of falls, the American and the Horseshoe Falls as our backdrop.

On our last evening, everyone had some well-earned free time. The majority of our group spent time at the Clifton Hill amusement park. The highlight of the evening had to be riding the Niagara Skywheel high in to the evening sky, and chasing each other around on the Mario Cart Speedway. Some others wandered the souvenirs shops looking for the perfect item to take home, others went for one last beaver tail.

Day 8: Our bus arrived at 9:30 am and we loaded up and headed back to Pearson International airport. By 5:15 pm, following an uneventful flight, we were landing in Winnipeg and boarding another bus for our final leg of the trip home to Swan River. We were all tired, but excited to be home and excited to share our experiences and memories with friends and family. It was a wonderful, magical 8 days with incredible people; something we are all sure to remember.