An Adventure in the Dominion of Canada

An Adventure in the Dominion of Canada

The gentlemen of St George's Chapel, Windsor and the choir boys of Westminster Abbey on a train platform in Canada, February 1927.
The gentlemen of St George’s Chapel, the choir boys of Westminster Abbey and their Canadian guides at a train platform in Canada, February 1927.

In February of 1927, the gentlemen of St George’s Chapel crossed the ocean and journeyed through the Dominion of Canada. The Council of the Canadian Education Society had invited the St George’s Chapel Choir to tour the country by train on several occasions, wishing to encourage the Canadian public’s interest in music. However, it was not until 1927 that the College of St George had the opportunity to accept when the Chapel closed for three months in order for vital restoration work to be completed.

Several men of St George’s Chapel made the journey, including the Dean Baillie, Minor Canon, organist and then choirmaster, Edmund Fellowes, as well as eight Lay Clerks. Photographs and a book describing their travels, ‘A Joyous Adventure in the Dominion of Canada’ can be found in the collection of Mr Fred Naylor, one of the Lay Clerks. However, the Choir boys of St George’s Chapel did not accompany the gentlemen. There were concerns that if restorations would be completed earlier than anticipated, then they would be left without a choir. Several also worried for the health of the boys in such a cold climate.

With temperatures averaging minus 20 across Canada in February 1927, their concerns were well founded. The Westminster Abbey organist, Sydney Nicholson, was a good friend of Edmund Fellowes and he offered to bring along twelve boys from his Choir in place of the St George’s choristers. It was a suitable arrangement as Westminster Abbey had more than enough boys remaining to form a complete choir.

Any concerns about the cold were met with the purchase of yellow leather coats trimmed in fur for the boys. The party boarded the R.M.S. Montrose in Liverpool on 21 January but poor weather delayed their arrival in Saint John, New Brunswick by a few days. On their first day in Canada, 1 February, they had to quickly make their way to a nearby town to perform at a service in Fredericton Cathedral, before embarking on the Canadian Pacific Railway train that would take them across the country.

They travelled through forests, prairies and mountainous landscapes, often stopping along the way in towns with familiar names like Windsor, Halifax and London, but just as often in others unfamiliar altogether like Vancouver, Ottawa and Montréal. Performances and lectures were well attended, the churches and concert halls overflowing with eager listeners. The Choir sang at twenty-two church services and twenty concerts, and both Baillie and Fellowes lectured nearly as often, the latter renowned for his knowledge of Tudor Era music. Canadian newspapers and audiences applauded their performances wherever they went.[1] In Toronto, the press reported that 15,000 people flocked to see their three performances, even though only a third could be accommodated within the halls and churches.[2]

In their leisure time, the boys and gentlemen were also kept busy by their various hosts. They all enjoyed Canadian wintertime activities such as skiing, ice-skating and eating maple syrup chilled on snow. Fellowes reported a highlight of his trip was when he was taken to see an ice-hockey match between Toronto and Detroit.[3]

The Choir boys of Westminster Abbey and gentlemen of St George’s Chapel departed where they had begun in Saint John on 16 March, reaching London and their homes a little over a week later. Dean A.V. Baillie wrote fondly of his travels: “A few weeks before, Canada had been little more than a name to us. Now it was a land of friends, a land full of infinite variety of interest, a land of incredible possibilities.”[4]

Dean A.V. Baillie, Mr Fred Ney and the choir boys of Westminster Abbey on a train platform in Canada, February 1927.
Edmund Fellowes, Sydney Nicholson and the choir boys of Westminster Abbey waiting for their train in Canada, February 1927.

[1] The Windsor Star. 07 February 1927. ‘Big Crowd Attends. Windsor Castle Choristers Heard at Winnipeg.’
Calgary Herald. 17 February 1927. ‘Dean of Windsor Addresses Women of Canadian Club.’
The Ottawa Citizen. 19 February 1927. ‘Events: Choristers to visit Ottawa.’
[2] Toronto Press Report, 1927 [Fred Ney, A Joyous Adventure in the Dominion of Canada (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1928), p. 175].
[3] Toronto Press Report, 1927 [Edmund Fellowes, A Joyous Adventure in the Dominion of Canada (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1928), p. 104].
[4] A.V. Baillie, A Joyous Adventure in the Dominion of Canada (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1928).

Kristen Mercier, Assistant Archivist

The Queen's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.