Drum Corps “Hiker Gang” Still Has Some Distance In Those Legs

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Marching in street parades, contest and exhibition fields for more than 50 years didn’t provide quite enough exercise, so a group of long time drum corps friends, and former rivals, get together every Friday morning and walk for five or more miles.

Their involvement with drum and bugle corps in southern Ontario dates back to 1954 for the oldest in the group. The newcomers didn’t get involved until the early 1960s.

Now, they are retired with plenty of free time to enjoy the social and health benefits of the regular outings, which often take place on the attractive, challenging nature trails between Toronto and Cambridge. Most of them are still involved in drum corps activity with Preston Scout House and the Optimists of Toronto alumni groups.

While walking for about two hours every Friday over the past year, the group covered almost 260 miles of nature trails and urban streets. And, just as health experts advise, persistent knee, hip and foot problems have been relieved through the regular exercise. The social benefits are appreciable too: the hikes are marked by much laughter, endless repetition of drum corps stories from the golden years and the opportunity to vent about changes in the activity.

Hiker Gang members (from left) Del Barclay, Roy Wilson (standing), Doug McHaffie, Mike O’ Callahan, John Malcolm (standing), Lorne Ferrazzutti, Tom Mellors (standing), Paul Blanchard take a break deep in the valley along the bank of Oakville’s 16 Mile Creek. The clay and sediment layers in the ravine wall behind them were deposited about 10,000 years ago when glaciers retreated from southern Ontario, about the same time they first became involved in drum corps activity.

The members of the Hiker Gang are Del Barclay and Mike O’ Callahan of Cambridge; Paul Blanchard of Ancaster; Roy Wilson, Lorne Ferrazzutti and Doug McHaffie of Burlington, John Malcolm of Markham and Tom Mellors of Scarborough. They have recently been joined by Bob Schaus of Brampton and Donnie Matthews of Cambridge.

The Gang members have been associated over time with many of the best-known drum corps in Ontario, including Toronto Western Tech High School (the incubator for many of the top instructors of the 1950s and later), Danforth Tech, Toronto Optimists, the original Jolly Jesters and the later Jesters, Trafalgar Patrolmen, Burlington Teen Tour Band, Canadian Commanders, Hamilton Conqueror, Hamilton Firefighters, Guelph Royalaires and Preston Scout House.

The hiking group originated three years ago when John Malcolm began daily walks as part of his therapy after heart bypass surgery. Wilson joined him for exercise and companionship once a week. The two have been friends since meeting in the fall of 1960 when both were students at Hamilton’s McMaster University. Both are former members of Scout House and Royalaires, although they never marched together until they both joined Preston Scout House Alumni Band.

In the fall of 2010 Paul Blanchard, recently retired at that time, joined the Friday excursions. The others have fallen in step since then. Other long time drum corps friends from Scout House and Royalaires, Bob Schaus and Donnie Matthews, have recently joined the Gang.

Because the Gang members live in different communities, hike master Wilson selects central locations for group convenience. Since the first steps along the way, the group has walked the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail from Stoney Creek to downtown Toronto; nature trails in Hilton Falls, Mountsberg, Crawford Lake and Rattlesnake Point conservation areas in Halton Region; the major creek ravines in Oakville including the deep, steep 16 Mile Creek Valley routes; Cootes Paradise and Hendrie Valley trails in the Royal Botanical Gardens nature preserve; the Speed River trail from downtown Preston to downtown Hespeler; University of Guelph Arboretum paths, river trails and downtown streets in Guelph; High Park, Humber River trail, Harbourfront and Liberty Village neighbourhoods in Toronto; the historic waterfront and streets of downtown Oakville, the Hamilton Harbour trail starting at Dundurn Castle and looping back through downtown Hamilton.

The hikes take place each week regardless of weather conditions. Gang members have braved blizzard conditions to reach Fort York Armouries then hike through deep snow along Toronto’s Harbourfront; near-hurricane force winds and driving horizontal rain while hiking Hendrie Valley trails; suffocating heat and humidity on virtually every July and August outing. All just part of the challenge!

The Friday routine includes early morning carpooling to arrive at the hike rendezvous point by 9:30 am, spending a couple of hours on the trail followed by lunch the nearest restaurant or pub. For most of the Gang, the routine also includes an hour or more of naptime after driving for an hour or more to get home again.

Posted by on Saturday, January 12th, 2013. Filed under Current News, DCA News.