The un­known his­tory of Cana­dian mu­si­cal cul­ture

CBC’s Robert Har­ris de­liv­ers his lat­est Strat­ford Sum­mer Mu­sic se­ries lec­ture

The Beacon Herald - - LOCAL NEWS - TERRY BRIDGE STAFF RE­PORTER tbridge@post­

Canada’s mu­si­cal cul­ture has been heav­ily in­flu­enced by a group of Ger­man Jews dis­placed by the Sec­ond World War.

Five men left a last­ing legacy de­spite be­ing held as in­no­cent pris­on­ers in Cana­dian in­tern­ment camps dur­ing the early 1940s.

“This is an un­be­liev­ably in­ter­est­ing story,” said Robert Har­ris, who has been pre­sent­ing a se­ries of lec­tures con­nected to Strat­ford Sum­mer Mu­sic with a Canada 150 theme.

His lat­est les­son, called Cit­i­zens of the World, delved into the im­pact a group of tal­ented Euro­peans had on the coun­try from a mu­si­cal per­spec­tive in the decades af­ter D-Day.

Har­ris, a CBC and The Globe and Mail jour­nal­ist who is writ­ing a book on the his­tory of O Canada, told the story to a group of about 50 Wed­nes­day morn­ing at the Univer­sity of Water­loo Strat­ford cam­pus. But it’s not a well-known tale. “Vir­tu­ally no­body knows, and I mean like no­body in the whole coun­try,” he said.

The group of young Jewish men – some in their teens – fled from Ger­many be­fore the war broke out in 1939. Many set­tled in Eng­land and con­tin­ued their ed­u­ca­tion, but were ar­rested and de­tained in May 1940.

The rea­son? Their cit­i­zen­ships. Ini­tially im­pris­oned at the Isle of Man, 2,300 of them were shipped to Canada later that fall.

“These peo­ple were ba­si­cally refugees, and they were guilty of nothing,” Har­ris said. “In fact, they were Jews who were flee­ing Hitler so they had al­ready been vic­tim­ized.”

Many were held in Cana­dian prisoner-of-war camps un­til 1943. They weren’t treated harshly, but were sur­rounded by barbed wire and armed guards while wear­ing a uni­form with a large red cir­cle on their backs.

“So if they tried to es­cape they would be eas­ier to see and shoot,” he said.

Once the war ended and they were re­leased, at least five of the for­mer pris­on­ers – called the Camp Boys – were in­te­gral to the cre­ation of Cana­dian mu­si­cal cul­ture.

“With­out them, who knows what we would have to­day?” Har­ris said. “The bedrock of our in­sti­tu­tions were cre­ated by these five guys.”

The group in­cluded Wal­ter Hom­burger, who ran the Toronto Sym­phony Or­ches­tra for 25 years, pi­anists John New­mark and Hel­mut Blume, Hel­mut Kall­mann, a his­to­rian who es­tab­lished Cana­dian mu­sic schol­ar­ships, and CBC mu­sic TV pro­ducer Franz Krae­mer. A pioneer in the in­dus­try, Krae­mer was be­hind the world’s first TV pro­duc­tion of The Turn of the Screw by Ben­jamin Brit­ten and Wil­liam Shake­speare’s A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream.

“We did them on TV in Canada be­fore they were done on TV in Great Bri­tain be­cause of Franz Krae­mer,” he said. “Franz was un­be­liev­ably im­por­tant to the his­tory of this coun­try in terms of its mu­sic.”

Har­ris spoke at length, while ges­tur­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally with his hands, about the im­pact of Kall­mann.

“He was a men­tor to every sin­gle aca­demic in Canada who de­cided to make Cana­dian mu­sic their spe­cialty,” he said. “Lit­er­ally every sin­gle one.”

Yet the re­ac­tion and con­tri­bu­tion of the quin­tet af­ter be­ing held in cus­tody as in­no­cent men was un­be­liev­able, Har­ris said.

He added up un­til that time Canada was es­sen­tially a cul­tural waste­land. One of the causes was a colo­nial men­tal­ity.

“We were very much un­der the thumb of English cul­ture,” he said.

Har­ris’ next lec­ture – the fifth of six – is Wed­nes­day at 11 a.m. Tick­ets are $25 in ad­vance or $30 at the door.


Robert Har­ris speaks to a group at the Univer­sity of Water­loo Strat­ford cam­pus on Wed­nes­day. The radio and news­pa­per jour­nal­ist de­liv­ered his lat­est Strat­ford Sum­mer Mu­sic lec­ture.

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