Norman Witham

Norman Witham conducting the Norman Witham singers at the Senior Centre
Written by Canmore Museum

Norman was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, in October, 1920, and grew up there. He studied music, took exams and received the degree of Associate and Licentiate in pianoforte playing for the London (England) College of Music in 1938 and 1939. At age fourteen, he began playing the organ, practicing on a neighbour’s new pump organ and subsequently played for St. Mary’s Sunday School from 1936 – 1942. He also played in the trumpet band of the 20th Field Battery Reserve of Lethbridge from 1940 – 1943.

Norman joined the Canadian Pacific Railway in the station department and was sent to Exshaw in 1943. There he played the organ for St. Columbia Anglican Church, and also took part in a small band playing for dances.

He was posted to Canmore in 1944, moving here on April Fools’ Day. He was immediately requested to play for services at St. Michael’s Anglican Church, on the pump organ which had been purchased in 1912, and was “on the bench” there until 1998 (a total of fifty-four years). He was also asked to play the organ at St. George’s-in-the-Pines, Banff, occasionally, and then that became a regular commitment, and for twenty-five years, he played for the 9 0’clock service in Canmore and the 11 o’clock service in Banff. Back at St. Michael’s, he held the positions of people’s warden and secretary-treasurer from 1944 – 1982.

Thinking back over his years as church organist in Canmore and Banff, he realizes he has played for about 300 weddings in the Anglican, United and Roman Catholic churches. There have also probably been as many funerals but he has not kept track of these less happy occasions. He has been a member of the Royal Canadian College of Organists since 1958.

Norman was pianist in Casale’s orchestra, a seven-piece orchestra, in the late forties and fifties, as well as teaching piano to many young people. He was also accompanist for the November 11th Remembrance Day services at the Royal Canadian Legion from 1944 to 1997, and received his 50-year pin from the Legion in 1998.

In the forties and fifties, Norman was active in the Anglican Young People’s Association as secretary- treasurer and pianist. They were instrumental in raising funds for the new organ in 1947, making St. Michael’s the first church in Canmore with an electric organ. They held regular meetings with various programs of interest, and even helped with church services after their minister joined the Forces. One of their fund raising projects was running the concession at the skating rink, selling coffee and doughnuts. They received special ration coupons to purchase coffee and sugar during the war. Norman was also treasurer for the Board of Trade, of which Alphonso Rodda was president and Spec Maschio a director. Following the flood of the Red River at Winnipeg in 1950, the Board raised $12000 for the flood relief campaign.

Norman left the C.P.R. in 1947, moving to work in the office of Canmore Mines in shipping and accounting, and later as purchasing agent. He was there until 1981, having overseen disposal of most of the equipment after the mine closed in 1979, which totalled thirty-four years with the mining company. He then took a position as purchasing agent for Kananaskis Country at Barrier Lake and Canmore until his retirement in 1984. 

He found time to belong to a casual hiking group, starting about 1946, and also sang in a choral group at the Banff School of Fine Arts (now the Banff Centre), under the direction of Dr. Philmore Hubble of Winnipeg. Also, in the late forties, he joined the Canmore Curling Club and remained a member for twenty years, serving as secretary-treasurer part of that time.

In 1958, he formed and directed the Canmore Choral group of forty-four voices for ten years. They gave concerts in the Bow Valley and also recorded two taped performances for broadcast on the first FM station in Calgary in 1960.

After the Canmore Seniors Association was organized, he became involved there as director of the Norman Witham Singers from 1976 to 1998. He also organized bus tours to Northwest U.S.A., Vancouver and Victoria, Alaska, South Dakota and the Grand Canyon.

Branching out from his music, Norman took oil painting and ceramics classes with Dora Peters (twenty years ago), and has been a ten-year member of Donna Jo Massie’s watercolour classes. He has also exhibited some of his photography, along with his paintings, at several exhibitions in Canmore. He continues to enjoy these hobbies, along with his music, in his retirement. 


Norman Witham conducting the Norman Witham singers at the Senior Centre


Norman Witham beside his garden shed on which he has painted this local scene

In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 305-306.

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