Before Laurie Branch came to town, the biggest event at the Burlington waterfront every summer was the Mohawk Canoe Club regatta.
The former Director of Parks and Recreation changed all that when he presented the idea of staging a Sound of Music Festival to city council.
Canada’s largest free music festival, which was held for the first time in 1980, now takes over the downtown for nine days in June annually, highlighted by the Grande Festival Parade on Saturday morning.
Branch passed away on March 27 at the age of 90
The flags were lowered to half-mast outside City Hall in his memory.
“Burlington has lost a true legend and ambassador,” said Mayor Marianne Meed Ward. “We are deeply saddened by this news and offer our condolences to his family, friends, loved ones and all those who knew him.”
Festival organizers say it attracts more than 200,000 visitors and generates more that $12 million in economic activity.
Branch conceived the idea from previous experience as organizer of a festival in Waterloo. As many as 70 bands from Canada and some parts of the U.S. used to compete in that contest in Waterloo Park, just down the street from the current campuses of Laurier University and the University of Waterloo. Its final year was 1958.
Burlington’s reknowned Teen Tour Band also owes a lot of its success to Branch
In 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year, he oversaw the negotiations about its takeover by the City, following a suggestion by band director Elgin Corlett.
The same year the Redcoats performed at Expo ’67 in Montreal.
“The band was having trouble keeping interest and interest was waning in the music society with membership dropping,” he told the Burlington Post in 1989. “If given its course and the City did not take it over, the band would have ceased to operate.”
Branch also was instrumental in helping to organize the Burlington Family Winter Carnival, the City’s twinning with Itabashi, Japan, sister-city relationship with Myrtle Beach and the Burlington International Games (B.I.G.), which was a sports competition between the youths of Burlington and Burlington, Vermont.
The auditorium at Mainway Arena is named the Laurie Branch Auditorium
Branch spent his final years at Cama Woodlands Long Term Care in Burlington.
He is survived by his wife Marilyn, sons Bob (Irene), Jeff (Brenda) and daughter Becky (Rick) Leclerc, as well as six grandchildren.
A private family service will be held at Smith’s Funeral Home on Saturday, April 3 at 1 p.m. For those who wish to view the service online, a link with be available on Smith’s website.
By DENIS GIBBONS