SHE SWUNG HER ALL-STEEL BATON
Answering ad led her to unique marching career
To mark Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Citizen’s Bruce Deachman met and photographed 150 people in the Ottawa area, encouraging them to tell their stories that, combined, painted an intimate portrait of the region and the people who live, work and play here. The series, which was published daily leading up to Canada Day, was called Capital Voices. It continues on a somewhat less rigorously defined schedule.
“I was the first drum majorette for the Ottawa Rough Riders, and the only one they ever had. I was four years a drum majorette, from 1946 to 1949, but when I got married my husband said ‘You don’t need that anymore.’
“There was an ad in the newspaper that they were looking for someone to be a drum majorette. I answered the ad and then one day they came to see me at work and they said ‘Out of 30 girls, we picked you for drum majorette. Do you have any sisters? Because you’ve got to go to Philadelphia to train, and you’re not old enough to go by yourself.’ I had no sisters — I only had a mother, and she was working at Ogilvy’s (department store). But she asked if she could go, and they said ‘Yes, of course you can go with your daughter.’ So she came with me to Philadelphia.
“I had been doing dancing. I’ve danced all my life. I took dancing lessons — all kinds of dancing; I liked lots of music.
“But I was nervous. I trained first, in Philadelphia, until I knew how to swing the baton. We were there two weeks. And I learned how to march. My baton was 28 inches. I’ll always remember that.
“The Americans’ were only 24 inches, to go under the arm. And I was black and blue from here to there. Thank God I had a uniform with long sleeves, because when I was practising, I’d hit my arm and it really hurt. But they got me this baton that was 28 inches and that’s the one I had to use.
LEADING CHRISTMAS PARADES
“But I liked being a drum majorette, I really did.
“I used to go every Friday and practise at Lansdowne. I was leading Christmas parades, and I was teaching boys from Ottawa Technical High School’s band. They wanted to know how to march and all that stuff, so I used to go there on my lunch hour and teach them. I loved those boys.
“There were two boys in particular that I got so attached to. They were with me for four years, and they stuck to me like glue. I accidentally split one of their heads open, the young one.
“I was doing a countermarch and he got too close to me. The American batons had a rubber ball on the end, but mine was all steel.
“Then they came to me one day and said that they joined up. They were going away to join the army. I said ‘Oh, my goodness. That’s what you want?’ and they said ‘That’s what we want.’ I said ‘OK, well I wish you good luck,’ and I never saw them again.
“But I used to go to the hockey games. And the Riders games in Ottawa. And I used to go to the Chateau Laurier and escort people in — any big shots that came.
“And I went to other schools. But any place they’d ask me, I’d go. I got paid. Not much, but I got paid. The Rough Riders were good to me. They were very good to me, and I liked doing it, and I missed it when I stopped. I was in the paper every weekend, and if I walked down Bank Street, different stores had pictures of me in the corner of their window.
“I loved the Christmas parades. Loved, loved, loved them. Of course I was the only one with a short uniform — bare legs and they didn’t have any pants in those days. So they used to pick me up and take me back home after with the police motorcycle guy, in the sidecar, and he had buffalo rugs and he used to wrap me up in that.
“I met a lot of people. It’s how I met my husband. He was trying out for the Rough Riders, but he didn’t make the team. He wasn’t in shape. But I met him and I married him. Alexander Wilkie. That was in 1949.
“He was the first player I’d dated. He was practicing and I was practicing, and I asked someone about him. I said ‘See that guy over there? That sweater that he has on, is that really his name?’ Then he talked to me and wanted to know if he could walk me home.
“He said ‘Do you live around here?’ and I said ‘Yeah, walking distance. I walked here and I walk home.’ So he said ‘Can I walk you home?’ and I said ‘I guess so.’ So he walked me home. That’s how I met him. And then I married him.
“There were two brothers on the team, Frank and Jake Dunlap, and Jake used to joke that I was his girlfriend and that Alex stole his girl.
“(Alex) used to come for dinner on Sundays, and then we’d go for a walk. I just liked him. He was kind and everything. He just grew on me.
“He was a good man who died too young. He was 47 and a firefighter, and had a heart attack at a fire and never came out of the hospital.”
I used to go to the Chateau Laurier and escort people in — any big shots that came. And I went to other schools. But any place they’d ask me, I’d go.
Dorothy (Lepine) Wilkie was the Ottawa Rough Riders first drum majorette.
Dorothy (Lepine) Wilkie