Thanks to a retired Kings County school teacher, I have an inkling of how some of us observed Christmas half a century ago.
Gordon Hansford grew up in Wolfville in the ’30s and while in high school he played in the brass and reed band. Every Christmas members of the band would be asked to carry their instruments to the belfry of the Baptist Church; from the belfry they would serenade the town with Christmas carols.
At the December meeting of the Kings County Historical Society, Gordon Hansford spoke about those Christmas serenades from the church belfry. It was a tradition for a long time, Hansford said as he recalled the difficult climb up the ladders to the belfry carrying his drum.
One snowy Christmas night he was unable to accompany the band on their climb to the belfry. His father who ran a barber shop asked him to shovel the sidewalks and while he was removing ice and snow, he heard music from the belfry wafting over the town. Until that moment he didn’t realize how beautiful the carols sounded.
“I’ll always cherish the memory of those Christmas nights in the belfry,” Gordon said as he sat down.
I regretted not taking notes while he talked. His tale of the belfry serenades was a glimpse of a Christmas few of us will ever know and I felt it was worth preserving. I said as much to Gordon later, asking him to tell me the story again so I could write it down and run it in this column. Gordon offered to put the story on paper for me and here it is in his own words. He called it “The Band in the Belfry.”
“Back in the days just before WW11, I lived in Wolfville and attended the high school there. I played the snare drum in the brass and reed band which was directed by the Principal, Rex Porter.
“A week or so before Christmas, in the early evening, six or eight of the band members would climb up into the belfry of the Baptist Church at the corner of Highland Avenue and Main Street. Led by Mr. Porter, we would play carols which would carry over the town.
“It was really an experience hearing the beautiful old Christmas tunes float out over the busy Main Street as the snowflakes drifted down. We could look across the town, the dykelands and Minas Basin toward the far-off lights of Kingsport.
“It was cramped and cold with lots of cobwebs up in the windy steeple, but there was always hot cocoa and cookies to warm us up afterward, provided by Mr. Porter and his wife Ruth.
“We also played for hockey games in the old Acadia rink, now converted to the Atlantic Theater. We played between periods, fueled with hot dogs passed up from the canteen next to the band room.”
Gordon told me he was an original member of the high school band and was a member when the ritual of playing in the belfry first started. He played in the belfry at Christmas for several years and with the band when it was invited to various Yuletide events in the town.
Called away by the start of World War Two, Gordon couldn’t tell me how many years the band serenaded the town from the belfry. “It probably went on for as long as Mr. Porter had a high school band,” he said.