The St. Catharines Junior Symphony Orchestra was founded in the fall of 1965 by Paul van Dongen, evolving from the Elementary Schools String and Brass Ensembles.
By the end of the 1960’s, they were known as the St. Catharines Youth Orchestra. The youth orchestra had gained an excellent reputation, and participated in events like Expo 1967, and a festival of youth orchestras in Banff in 1974. By the 1970’s, members of the youth orchestra were also often involved as the pit band for Garden City Production musicals.
After 10 years with the St. Catharines Youth Orchestra, Paul van Dongen resigned as their conductor. Richard Grymonpre was chosen as the next conductor, and Tak-ng Lai followed in 1978. In 1992, Stan Kopac became the conductor.
The Parents’ Committee of the NYO took over its management in 1980, when it broke from the sponsorship of the Niagara Symphony Association. A volunteer board was established and Niagara Youth Orchestra Association was incorporated as a separate entity, relying on grant funding from the Ministry of Education for a few years. The Association has continued to raise funds needed for operation through membership fees, tickets sales, fundraising, and BINGO.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s the NYO attended festivals across Canada, participated in exchange concerts with other youth orchestras, and tours of Europe. During the 90’s a Junior Orchestra was also formed allowing junior members to develop skill and experience first before graduating to the senior group. Laura Thomas was the first conductor of the Junior Orchestra.
Michael Newnham took over the baton of the Senior Orchestra in 2000. He stayed with the NYO until 2008, and during that time they participated in 3 tours. Following Michael, Laura Thomas was hired for the Senior Orchestra, and Michael van Dongen to conduct the Junior Orchestra.
In 2014 a beginner program was established, in hopes of building the program from the bottom up. The NYO has played several “side-by-side” concerts with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra over the years, with student musicians sitting beside professionals during performances, to their benefit and the delight of audiences.
Thank you to Edith van Dongen for providing the information about the NYO.