WSO Beginnings

The Windsor Symphony Orchestra in various forms has been an integral establishment of culture in Windsor for almost a century.  Opinions vary as to the exact date of the foundation of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra (WSO), but evidence suggests that there has been strong support and a will to have an orchestra in Windsor since the late 1920s.  Angus Munro on WSO 1939 H. Whorlow Bull, a qualified conductor and the Music Supervisor for Public School Board, was an early orchestra director.  He had strong ties to All Saints’ Anglican Church in downtown Windsor, which was one of the largest churches in the region at that time, and was a natural location for sacred and classical music, whether choral, organ, or small orchestral ensembles.   An Optimists Orchestra and a Border Cities Orchestra performed circa 1929 with Frederick G. Vallance conducting Bull’s memorial concert in 1929.  There are mentions of occasional concerts through the 1930s, with a charity concert to raise funds for “delinquent boys” in March, 1936.

Peter C. Allan, local brass band conductor, took a brave step on April 22, 1938 when he decided to don formal wear and – a little nervously – led the performance of local musicians, amateurs and students in a popular full orchestra performance at the “Vocational School” (Patterson Collegiate). Later performances took place at Walkerville Collegiate High School or the Tivoli Theatre.  Under the mentorship of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, particularly the DSO’s Fred Vallance as Concertmaster, and with eager volunteers comprising about 45 music students, teachers and volunteers, a full orchestra was formed. “Last night in Windsor,” claimed an enthusiastic reviewer, “the city’s first real symphony [sic} came to life in a manner which left no doubt at all about its coming of age in a few years” (Windsor Daily Star, April 23, 1938).Early WSO at Tivoli

The orchestra performed twice more in the next eighteen months, again to full houses and enthusiastic response.  A pattern of performance and music emerged: guest soloists, including vocalists, violinists and, that night, even an electric organist played popular songs or arias from operas.  The orchestra would play better-known classical music, such as Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.  Apart from two or three concerts in 1940-41, this orchestra disbanded during World War Two (1939-1945).

Meanwhile, the WSO’s long partnership with public broadcasting began with another ensemble in 1941, comprising many of the same musicians, again called the Border Cities Orchestra, conducted by Ernest Rennie in order to raise funds for troops overseas (Sharpe 2007).  Matti Holli, a talented young violinist, took over as conductor the next year.  In November, 1945, Peter Allan called for local musicians to reconvene after the war at a rehearsal space on Sandwich Street, hoping for about 20 musicians to start.

The two groups apparently merged in the next two years, under the directorship of Holli, and funded by the Windsor Symphony Society.  In 1947, the orchestra incorporated as a professional organization as the Windsor Federation of Musicians Symphony Orchestra.  By May 1948, with the cooperation of the Windsor Federation of Musicians, the Windsor Symphony Orchestra was now an incorporated not-for-profit organization, which had performed seven concerts in the previous two years.


The mandates of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, like the organization, have developed over the years.  At its founding, in 1946, as the Windsor Daily Star quotes, the orchestra’s aims were simply, “to promote musical culture in Windsor” (Oct 29 1949).  In 1998, a grant application for the WSO includes the Mission statement of the day: “To enrich community life and serve as an educational resource through live performance of orchestral music.” 

Today, the Mission Statement is expanded to celebrate the relationship of the Symphony people who live locally: “The Mission of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra is to engage, entertain, educate and inspire people in South Western Ontario through performances of classical and popular music” (Sharpe 2012).

Back to top