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headshot of Jan Wolanek

Jan Wolanek

The story of the St. Catharines Civic Orchestra (now the NSO) began one wintry day early in the year 1948 when Conductor Jan Wolanek called at the music store of George McKey. He was looking local people interested in forming a symphony orchestra. By that spring, they were ready to perform their first ever concert! The Palace Theatre donated their venue for the evening of May 30th, as the theatre didn’t show films on Sundays. No admission was charged, however, the orchestra raised a total of $800 through a collection that was taken, and ad space sold in the programme. The first guest soloist was William T. Thompson, playing a Haydn piano concerto.

Programme cover of first concert

First Concert Programme

Jan Wolanek and violins in rehearsal

Violins During Rehearsal

By the second season, a three-concert series was offered. There would be concerts in November February, and May. Tickets were still not sold to Sunday performances, and the Palace Theatre generously continued to donate their venue. “Memberships” to the concerts were sold instead.

In November of 1953, the St. Catharines Civic Orchestra performed the Canadian premier of Two Lincolnshire Pieces written by Dr. Sidney G. Bett, the director of music at Ridley College.

5 brass players in rehearsal

Brass Section

This first decade showcased world renowned guest artists such as Glenn Gould, Teresa Stratas, and Maureen Forester.

The first conductor and founder, Jan Wolanek, stayed with the orchestra through their first decade, retiring at the end of the 1956/57 season.  A membership in the first season was just $5, and $2 for students!  By the end of the decade, prices had changed to $6, with a student membership priced at $2.50.

Wallace Laughton conducts the orchestra in a stadium

Wallace Laughton Conducts