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Grand Schemes

The day in 1978 The Boston Pops Orchestra
took over the Grand River.

Tim Ford, December 01, 2021 // Brantford, Ontario

The Boston Pop Orchestra on The Grand River 1978.  Web Photo.


Still being chronicled during the “local history” portion of trivia night, this is the story of the day Arthur Fiedler and his 102 (ONE HUNDRED AND TWO!) piece Boston Pops Orchestra, performed in the middle of the Grand River in 1978. This is a story of scoundrels, deceit, a swashbuckling of finger pointing and is ultimately just another embarrassing paragraph half written in the Brantford diaries but is also a delicious piece of historic click bait.


This is a story of scoundrels, deceit, a swashbuckling of finger pointing and is ultimately just another embarrassing paragraph half written in the Brantford diaries but is also a delicious piece of historic click bait.


Arthur Fiedler, by all measures, can truly be called a legend with no dispute.  The conductor for the equally prestigious and world-famous Boston Pops Orchestra, held the title for a half a century. Fiedler, with his 102 (ONE HUNDRED AND TWO!) piece orchestra had every right to politely decline travelling 10 hours north over the border into our sleepy old village (not yet known for hockey idols) but another Arthur, Arthur J. Kelly, convinced Fiedler to meander his ailing 83-year-old body from Boston to Brantford (no local pun intended) for an ungodly but agreed upon sum of $52,000 ($220,000 with todays inflation) for his performance. This was a number Kelly was sure to exceed in ticket sales, with an estimated 30,000 Brantfordians to line the shores of the Grand around Kirby Island. For those unfamiliar, Kirby Island is the lush mound forking the river on your right as you head to West Brant over the Lorne bridge. The island had to be completely felled and cleared for the 102 (ONE HUNDRED AND TWO!) members of the orchestra to play on. This was done with “free” labour from the near by Burtch correctional institute, graciously volunteered by the correctional minister and close friend to Kelly.

Some townsfolk, a large portion still roughing their hands in the tractor factories, only had eye rolls for Arthur Kelly, who had a bit of a… reputation… for his entrepreneurial ventures around town. It’s who you know, as they say, and the consensus with city hall, and more specifically Mr. Mayor Bowen, was one of starry eyes.  The thought of a famous American conductor performing in their town was too sweet a berry.  Deadlines however were missed, corners were leaped over and essential fencing was not erected. On the day of the show, a day of gusting winds and violent rain (a pathetic fallacy if there was ever such a thing) Kelly and Mr. Mayor Bowen got their tens of thousands of people lining the Grand that they anticipated, but not having finished the fencing, only a scrape above 10,000 folks actually paid the admission.  Why pay a cent when you can just squat on the other side of the river and enjoy the show? The lack of ripped ticket stubs prevented Kelly from upholding his end of the bargain with Fiedler, having never received a dime for his performance. Neither Kelly, Mr. Mayor Bowen or the city of Brantford ever took their share of responsibility for the payment.


Arthur Fiedler.  Web Photo.


In the end, the conductor who had played for presidents, royalty and heroes of war, travelled 1,738 kilometres with his 102 (ONE HUNDRED AND TWO!) piece orchestra to play in the rain, in the middle of a river, to a bunch of gate-crashing cheapskates, for literally nothing. Not even a year later, Fiedler would sadly pass away from heart failure.

Kelly would go on to be both villianized and lionized around town for his grand schemes. Although there is something inspiring about Kelly’s ambition, that poorly planned day in the summer of 1978 was a quiet disaster that he never really took full responsibility for.  Mr. Mayor Bowen would also shoulder a lot of the blame around town and would lose re-election the following year.

There seems to be an eerie pattern of tales like this that present themselves throughout Brantford’s history.  Are we cursed with never learning our lessons?  Hopefully its clear where the metaphor lies in this story.


Tim Ford is freelance hobbyist who lives in his twelfth home in Brantford, Ontario…so…yeah, he knows a thing or two about aluminum siding.

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