The outbreak of the Northwest Rebellion in 1885 made that year one to be remembered in Canada, practically all regiments in the Dominion having been mobilized preparatory to being sent out to the disturbed section to quell rioting. The Queen's Own Regiment of Toronto (with which when going back to the city to study business I once more attached myself by again joining the band) was one of the first to be called out by the Government and ordered to report early one morning at the armory, in full uniform. Of course, that meant a trip for the band, and in order to accompany it I had to absent myself from the store of John Kay & Co., where I was employed. That was not a hardship by any means, and as was only natural for a boy of my age, I found myself all but bubbling over with excitement in imagining I was already a soldier of war and wondering when "we" should start for the "front".
We hung around the armory all that morning and afternoon while waiting for orders. Towards night the adjutant of the regiment came and inspected the musicians, reporting to the Colonel in command after the inspection that his band of sixty-five pieces and bugle corps would head the "Queen's Own," and in that respect the services of the band would not be required - the excuse given being that "bandsmen always were in the way during a battle, besides eating too much!" Flimsy, for who ever heard of bandsmen in the lost connection?
I do not now recollect whether I was disappointed or pleased at the military dictum. Of course, I would like to have had the adventure with chances for playing the cornet every day, yet even now I am not sure that, had the band gone, there would have been much playing done. Anyway, and numbering a thousand strong, the regiment left Toronto with the bugle corps at its head, while the band remained at home to play concerts at Hanlong's Point on the Island every night during the entire summer. These concerts netted me a dollar for each one played, and with the six dollars a week so earned (concerts were not played on Sundays) added to my monthly salary of ten dollars at the store, I managed to live a little better and really was quite happy.
Interest in business for me was now rapidly waning, as all my old fever for music began to assert itself in fuller force. I would spend the larger part of my leisure time at the store in writing and working out cornet solos which crept into my mind, for this purpose drawing out music staves on wrapping paper in order to avoid the expense of buying regularly ruled manuscript paper. This, of course, was all done secretly, yet whenever any customer came into my department I honestly would endeavor to sell the firm's goods. Nevertheless, my mind no longer centered on the mercantile as a career.
My supposed working in secret finally came to the attention of the head salesman, who reported my negligence to the "Governor" (John Kay), with a result that very frequently I received a vigorous "calling-down" for my shortcomings. It also came to the notice of Will, my brother, who not only "lectured" me, but tried his best to impress upon me that I must do more and better work for the firm or else "get fired." I picked up for a time, trying earnestly to improve in business matters, but soon come the full realization that business was nothing more than an interminable grind after all, and not nearly so independent a life as that of the regular musician.
Matters continued to run along smoothly during the summer months, however, and by dint of rising early enough each morning I managed to gain a full hour of practice on scales before it was time to go to the store. Together with working all day until six o'clock and then playing every night at the Island, it may be imagined that but little time was left for me to "loaf' around the street comers and cultivate undesirable acquaintances.
Band playing, as already stated, was not allowed on Sundays in Toronto, everybody being supposed to find sufficient recreation for the Sabbath Day in attending church. About this time, however, and along towards the close of summer, there was organized a new orchestra that rehearsed Sunday afternoons under the direction of Thomas Claxton, the proprietor of a big music store in Toronto. One day Mr. Claxton asked me to join his organization. As there was no concert playing at the Island on Sundays, and my tie, therefore being wholly unoccupied on that day, I gladly accepted and played second cornet. It was a good orchestra, numbering about thirty men, each one of them playing at the various local theatres. I realized that besides affording me excellent opportunity for practice, playing in this ensemble would add to my band experience that of doing orchestral work. My Sunday afternoons were now completely occupied.