Scout House Heritage Buildings Still In Use Today
More than half a century ago, Preston Scout House band activities revolved around two historic town buildings: the downtown pharmacy operated by band founder and director Wilf Blum and Preston Scout House building a few blocks away near the bank of the Grand River.
These buildings still feature prominently in Scout House operations today. The pharmacy has been transformed into the Fiddle and Firkin, a popular neighbourhood pub in the downtown Preston section of Cambridge. Over the past few weeks, the Fiddle and Firkin has served as a comfortable meeting spot for Scout House instructors Gord Cupskey, Ken Becker, Don Rieck and Wayne Elliott to enjoy some food and drink while they plan the 2014 music and drill routines. Years ago it served a similar purpose as a social centre for Band members who would visit the pharmacy to receive Band information, learn about part time job opportunities around town or just chat with Wilf Blum. He created a system of personal behaviour that required the boys take care of their health and appearance and to take care of each other through a buddy system.
Born and raised in Preston, Wilf Blum returned to his hometown after graduating from the College of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto in the late 1920s. He had become interested in scouting while attending university and helped found the 1st Preston Boy Scout Troop on his return. The troop had no church affiliation, so the charter was issued directly to Blum. Sponsoring churches provided meeting rooms for their troops, but the 1st Preston Troop had no permanent home until the Bernhardt family, prominent in the local business community, turned an abandoned Rock Spring Brewery stable over the group for a minor fee.
That forlorn building became Preston Scout House, renovated by Boy Scouts and community volunteers to serve as 1st Preston headquarters and rebuilt twice more following fires. Under Blum’s leadership, which included initiating a bugle band in October 1938 as part of scouting activities, Scout House became a popular entertainment centre, attracting up to 400 teenagers from a wide area to Saturday night Teen Canteen dances and other entertainment events.
As band activities grew more frequent, other Boy Scout activities dwindled to the point that the troop’s charter was not renewed in 1953. In the spring of 1954, the band emerged on the North American drum and bugle corps scene as Canada’s famous Scout House Band, wearing the stylized uniform including tight black shorts, knee-high socks, white gauntlets, short sleeved burgundy tops and black Aussie hats that set the band apart from every other group on the continent. Scout House roamed the northeast from Minnesota to the Atlantic seaboard through the late 1950s and into the 1960s, winning more than 80 major awards before disbanding in the spring of 1967.
Blum’s creativity and ability to inspire band members to high levels of achievement were widely acknowledged. He received the Founders Award from the Canadian Drum Corps Association 1979. In 1985 he was one of the first Canadians inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame. He received the Province of Ontario Volunteer Service Award in 1987, one year before the Band’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 1988, which led to the formation of a drill team and alumni band in the following decade. He died on December 21, 1993. He was inducted posthumously into the City of Cambridge Hall of Fame in 2005.
Scout House building is much the same now as when it was the home of the 1st Preston Boy Scout Troop and Scout House Band. The Preston Scout House Cadets youth drum and bugle corps rehearses in the building Wednesday evenings. The Scout House board of directors meets at Scout House the first Monday of each month. The Band’s steering committee also uses Scout House as a meeting place in summer. It is occasionally used as a practice site for the percussion section. It is used by a variety of community groups in addition to Scout House.
Now, the Scout House winter rehearsal program is based at the Preston Knights of Columbus building at 333 Speedsville Road in the Preston district of Cambridge, where the third annual Black Thursday pub night will be held on April 17.
Scout House now includes about 200 marching and associate members from more than 20 communities across southern Ontario who had previous marching music experience with more than 75 organizations. About half of the current group marched with the original Scout House Band, some as long ago as the early 1950s. The organization also includes the Preston Scout House Cadets drum and bugle corps for boys and girls ages 12 to 18.
For more information about Preston Scout House Band, contact Activities Director Nancy Weiler at telephone (519) 653-3376, email prestonscouthouseband [dot] adm [at] sympatico [dot] ca or visit the Web site at http://www.scouthouseband.com/