We remembered those who paid the Supreme Sacrifice in the recent tour of Afghanistan, namely Lance Corporal Stephen McKee, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, Ranger Aaron McCormack, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, Ranger David Dalzell, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment and Lieutenant Neal Turkington, 1st Royal Gurkha Rifles.
We were joined by Officers and Members of East Toronto Ontario Branch No. 11 of the Royal Canadian Legion and also of the 36th Ulster Division Old Comrades Association of Toronto, who have been associated with The Ulster Accordian Band for many years.
The Ulster Accordion Band was founded in 1954 in Toronto by a group of young immigrants from Northern Ireland whose intention was to maintain the musical traditions of their homeland. It is believed to be the first button-keyed, marching accordion band in North America and today it continues to be the only such organisation. During the past half-century members from many different cultural backgrounds, including Italy, Germany, Taiwan and the Philippines, have joined and the band is now a diverse group of men and women, although the Ulster connection remains very strong.
In addition to its marching repertoire, the band’s concert performances include popular, sacred, country, broadway, and light classical. The instrumental sections are enhanced by comedy routines and six very talented vocalists. The result is a very enjoyable and professional variety concert.
The band has travelled extensively and performed throughout Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. Among the highlights are the ceremonies at war memorial sites in France and Belgium, the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall, Disney World, the Calgary Stampede, several accordion festivals throughout North America and a 50th Anniversary Tour of Northern Ireland.
Since its inception, the band has been closely associated with Veterans' organisations and is the unit band for Branch 11 (East Toronto) Royal Canadian Legion and the 36th Ulster Division Old Comrades Association of Toronto. It is a strong supporter of The Somme Association an organisation dedicated to retaining the memory of the contribution of Irish soldiers in WW1. Benefit concerts have raised significant monies for Royal Canadian Legion Branches, the Juno Beach Centre and the Wounded Warriors Fund. Regular performances at Veterans’ gatherings, hospitals, homes and commemorative functions are a significant part of the band’s activities. Other appearances include parades, festivals, hospitals, churches, nursing homes, seniors and cultural groups.
A tribute to the 156 soldiers from Canada who have died in the Afghan War was performed by the representatives of the Canadian Legion, who told us of the Highway of Heroes in Toronto. On August 24, 2007, the portion of Highway 401 between Trenton and the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto was designated the Highway of Heroes, as the road is travelled by fallen Canadian Forces personnel from Canadian Forces Base Trenton to the coroner's office in Toronto.
On Monday 6th June 2011, on the Anniversary of the D-Day Landings, the Band again performed at the Somme Museum at Conlig and I was able to pay a personal tribute to its Musical Director Ed Kenny, who has facilitated our journeys to Canada for so many years. I particularly remember his visit with us to the Mohawks of Tyendinaga, who remain proud of their designation as British Empire Loyalists.