In 1960, two Toronto musicians en route to Edmonton were forced to make a side trip to Port Arthur after their car broke down in Longlac. Rene Charrier and Douglas Dahlgren turned up at Saul Laskin’s Furniture Store, sat down at the display piano and began playing. Laskin soon struck up a conversation with these wandering minstrels and the talk eventually turned to their dreams of starting a symphony orchestra. The rest, as they say, is history.
Orchestral music in Fort William and Port Arthur, The City of Thunder Bay since 1970, was rare before the Lakehead Symphony Orchestra was formed. Community endeavors such as the Port Arthur Philharmonic Society in 1903 had met with little success.
Charrier and Dahlgren settled in to Thunder Bay and began to develop the symphony. They secured office space above Hansen’s Pool Hall in Port Arthur, where they also taught piano, voice, violin, and music theory. To help the orchestra, Laskin donated a new piano. In March 1960, Rene Charrier and Douglas Dahlgren established the Lakehead Symphony Orchestra, which was incorporated in 1962.
The Lakehead Symphony Orchestra performed its first concert on November 29, 1960 in the Lakeview High school gymnasium. At the time, the 41 members were all amateur city musicians, many of whom were Lakeview High School students. The only member who was a musician by trade was violin teacher John Norhaugen. Other performances were held at Selkirk High School and the Colosseum.
Back then the association relied completely on volunteers to provide all services from ticket sales to clerical duties. Bud Martin, a late TBSO Life Member, changed his dining room table into service as the official “ticket wicket.” Mrs. Martin processed all the season tickets at this table, mailed them to patrons, and then patiently awaited the return of the monies.
1964: C.H. Bateman, a graduate of the Royal Marine School of Musicians in England, was appointed conductor. During his tenure, he founded the Youth Orchestra which provided players for the senior orchestra. From 1967-1968, he was the assistant conductor and Youth Orchestra conductor.
1965: The Lakehead Symphony Orchestra sponsored a concert by the Toronto Symphony under Seiji Ozawa.
1966: The orchestra brought in its first guest artist. Over the years the guest artist list has included Maureen Forrester, Lois Marshall, Norbert Kraft, Hagood Hardy and the Canadian Brass.
1967: Boris Brott, who came from the Northern Sinfonia, was appointed conductor.
1969: The musician-in-residence program began, when the orchestra engaged the Princeton String Quartet to perform and to teach full-time for the association. This also marked the beginning of the first Symphony School of Music.
1970: The Lakehead Symphony Orchestra changed its name and incorporated under the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra Association.
1972: Symphony violinist, Manuel Cereous was appointed conductor.
1974: Dwight Bennett became the Music Director/Conductor. Under Mr. Bennett’s guidance, the Thunder Bay Symphony Chorus was formed to perform choral works. The number of full-time, professional orchestra musicians was also increased. Currently, the TBSO has a total of thirty professional musicians in residence. This “core” orchestra is augmented by community musicians and imported musicians depending on the programming requirements. Maestro Bennett also initiated touring in Northwestern Ontario, taking quartets, quintets, the chamber orchestra, the full orchestra, and chorus to various towns in the region. TBSO On Tour provides an opportunity for smaller Northwestern Ontario communities to attend live symphonic performances.
1989: Glenn Mossop became the conductor and music director of the TBSO. Under his direction, audiences drawn from the area enjoyed a variety of musical concerts, which included Main Series, Pops, Candlelight Series, Family Concerts, and others involving both the Orchestra musicians and the Thunder Bay Symphony Chorus members. Audiences had many opportunities to see and hear spectacular concerts featuring the orchestra, the chorus, the youth orchestra and an outstanding collection of fine artists. Glenn Mossop also developed several Educational Concert Series, reaching students from Junior Kindergarten to OAC. During his six years as music director, the “Musicians In the Classroom” (MIC) program brought small ensembles into Grade six classrooms of schools in Thunder Bay.
1995: Stéphane Laforest became staff conductor, and in 1996 became Conductor/Music Director. Laforest established the Classical Series concerts which were held at St. Paul’s United Church. This series drew a small audience that has grown steadily over the years. He also founded the Society of Living Composers of Thunder Bay in order to encourage local composers of classical music. The orchestra has performed many works emanating from this program in the Classical Series.
1999: David Bowser was appointed Conductor Designate while a search for a permanent Conductor/Music Director was undertaken. During his brief tenure, a 4-day Beethoven Festival was held in addition to the regular schedule series concerts. He helped get the orchestra through a very difficult time in late 1999 – early 2000.
2000: Geoffrey Moull returned to Canada to be the TBSO’s Conductor/Music Director after 24 years experience conducting in Germany. Moull led the TBSO through its “Miracle Season” in 2000-2001 when the orchestra reestablished itself after coming close to vanishing. Prior to his TBSO position, Moull was Principal Conductor of the Bielefeld Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera in Germany. Moull continued the established programming of the orchestra with the intent of building on this foundation. He programmed little heard European works and during his tenure, a Conductor-in-Residence position was established. He also had an ability to invite up-and-coming Canadian guest artists to the Masterworks programs.
2009: During the period of autumn 2009 to April 2010 eight candidates were invited to conduct the TBSO with an end to selecting one as the new music director.
2010: The 2010-2011 Season marked the TBSO’s 50th Anniversary. In late April 2010, Arthur Post was announced as the successful Music Director candidate. He began his tenure in the autumn of 2010.
2017: April of 2017 marked Arthur Post’s final concert as Music Director of the TBSO. Paul Haas was chosen as Music Director in the summer of 2017 and the 2017-2018 season marked his first with the TBSO.
Through the years, the TBSO has experienced many good times along with the usual growing pains. No matter how tough things got, many stalwart members of the community have remained positive and supportive. There is a commitment to keep the TBSO strong and of superior quality so that it will continue to thrive for many years to come.
In the words of Sir Ernest McMillan, founder of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, “You always need a beginning.” From the billiard hall to one of North America’s finest auditoriums, you’ve come a long way TBSO!
TBSO's Music Directors
2017 – present: Paul Haas
2010 – 2017: Arthur Post
2000 – 2009: Geoffrey Moul
1999 – 2000: David Bowser
1995 – 1999: Stéphane Laforest
1989 – 1995: Glenn Mossop
1974 – 1989: Dwight Bennett
1972 – 1974: Manuel Suarez
1967 – 1972: Boris Brott
1964 – 1967: C.H. Bateman
1960 – 1964: Rene Charrier