SHE SWUNG HER ALL-STEEL BA­TON

An­swer­ing ad led her to unique march­ing ca­reer

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - CAP­I­TAL VOICES BY BRUCE DEACH­MAN — Dorothy (Lepine) Wilkie, Stittsville, Oct. 4, 2017. bdeach­man@post­media.com

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.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY CATHY WILKIE

Dorothy (Lepine) Wilkie was the Ottawa Rough Riders first drum ma­jorette.

Dorothy (Lepine) Wilkie

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