Choir History


Margaret Lyons was a choir member; she and Victor Togni married shortly after the first concert. Their son Peter-Anthony, born the following year, is an organist, composer, and radio host.

The Early Years (1958-80)

The Choir was co-founded in January 1958 by 23-year-old Victor Togni, who was organist at St Columbkille Cathedral (and previously Calvin United), and Harold G. “Tug” Wilson, director of the Pembroke Parks and Recreation Association, in time for Pembroke’s Centennial celebrations.  The premiere performance, featuring over 50 choristers, was held at Pembroke Collegiate Institute on April 23, and was very well received by an audience of about 600.  Elva Remus was the first accompanist. 

That summer, Dr James Gayfer, the director of the 1st Canadian Guards Band at Camp Petawawa, took over as director for the next 3 years.  His first concert in July 1958 had over 1000 listeners. The first PCC Committee met in March of 1959 in the Pembroke Observer Office with 5 members in attendance.  For its first performance of a major work, the Choir assisted the Deep River Choral Society in Haydn’s Creation in May, then Handel’s Messiah the following April, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah in 1961. Iva Mai Smith was the rehearsal accompanist. In the fall of 1959, the Committee secured funding for the fledgling choir by arranging for it to be a night school activity at Pembroke Collegiate Institute, with Captain Gayfer as instructor. This arrangement continued, with various directors, through the 1970s. The Fall 1959 concert was also joint with the DRCS, performed in both communities. Deep River invited us to a social gathering after their concert, and we reciprocated after ours, thus beginning a tradition of Christmas socials to which the audience is now invited.

When Dr. Gayfer was posted to B.C. in 1961, the baton was passed to John L. Jarratt, choir director at Holy Trinity Church and Director of Music at Pembroke Collegiate. Sgt. George Adams followed as director in the fall of 1962, and the 32-voice Choir performed in a television program entitled “Favourite Carols” and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury in May of 1963,  Elva (Remus) Merredew returned from Ottawa to be the accompanist once again.

Lt. R. Milne took over in the Fall of 1964, but the committee dissolved the next Spring, and few concerts were performed until Spring 1972, with Norman Baldwin conducting and Lynn Eamer on Piano.  The choir continued to be a night school activity, and mainly featured women’s voices. Adrian Smit, the organist at Holy Trinity, became the regular accompanist.

Upon Dr. Gayfer’s return to Pembroke in 1975 to head the music department at Champlain High School, the choir became an organization in its own right once again. Dr. Gayfer conducted the choir through Pembroke’s Sesquicentennial until June 1980 when he retired to Lindsay, Ontario.  He was a prolific composer of choral and band music, and “his” choir premiered many of his compositions which remain in our library, including A Celebration of Wisdom, which is the Christmas story from the book of John.  For Christmas 1979, The Choir participated in a Service of Carols and Lessons at Holy Trinity, accompanied by organists Adrian Smit and Loreen Scales.

The Eighties: Caryl Clark and Kevin Nieman

The choir’s first foray into musical theatre was the G&S classic H.M.S. Pinafore in the winter of 1981, accompanied by the Deep River Symphony Orchestra and directed by Sean Noll. A second operetta, The Mikado, followed the next year. Out of these performances was born the Pembroke Musical Society (now Streetlight Theatre).

Caryl Clark took over as director, with Robert Price accompanying the rehearsals.  A cheque for $1000 was presented to the Bernadette McCann House during the Spring 1981 show.  The Choir participated in an Ecumenical Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in December 1981.  A talented teenager who had distinguished herself in the Kiwanis Festival, Darlene TerMarsch, became the regular accompanist in 1982. In March 1983, the Choir presented the highly praised Gloria by Vivaldi with the Valott Quartet, then performed it at the Eganville Spring Festival of Music in May.  The Choir participated in the 120th anniversary service at Greenwood Church on October 16, singing “Almighty and Everlasting God” – Gibbons, a capella.


Kevin Nieman

In the Spring of 1984, Choir President Pat Soucie recruited a young florist and church organist who was also a talented baritone soloist, Kevin Nieman, and so started his 26-year tenure as choral director. Did Pat know that Dr. Gayfer had been Kevin’s mentor in high school?  Ontario’s Bicentennial Celebration was enriched by the PCC through its May concert at Festival Hall, with a mass choir of over 110 voices. Guests included the Zion Lutheran Men’s Choir, Deep River Choral Group, Eganville Community Choir and Kazimier Samujlo on trumpet. It was also the Choir’s 25th anniversary, and Dr. Gayfer was the keynote speaker at the celebratory banquet. The honour of Life Membership was created for this occasion, and it was given to several members who had been in the choir since its inception: Henry Akre, Bob Price, Ruth Grant, and Joyce Moore.

Christmas 1984 was celebrated with 50 voices singing John W. Peterson’s cantata King of Kings.  A very successful Choral Workshop was held in April 1985 with Denise Narcisse-Mair teaching 180 area choristers.  The May 1985 concert featured Michael Moore on trumpet and soprano soloist Debra Dent Hopmans. By December, the Choir had grown to 75 voices.  They presented Handel’s “Messiah”, accompanied by a 22-piece orchestra mostly from the DRSO, to a full house 2 nights running at Festival Hall.  In the Saturday performance, the Tenor soloist was unable to continue due to a cold.  The director, Kevin Nieman, stepped in and saved the show!  One performance was videotaped and shown on local Cable 12.

The Nepean Community Choir joined the PCC in May 1986 for a concert in each community, under choral directors Kevin Nieman and Bernice Oak.  That fall, the Choir performed Bach’s Magnificat in Latin, and Cantate no. 142 in German, again with an orchestra of local players. The Sights and Sounds of our Canadian Provinces were enjoyed at the May 1987 concert at Festival Hall, featuring Michael Britton on trombone.  In the Fall, the Choir performed Haydn’s Creation at the newly built Pembroke Pentecostal Church. 

Local music teacher Gerald LaRonde took over as interim director for the Spring 1988 concert, which featured Free-Bass Accordionist Laurie Rosewarne and accompanist Cheryl Schreader. For Christmas 1988, the Choir celebrated with Messiah, with Rosemarie Gilbert as the Choir’s new regular accompanist, and soloists and orchestra.  Rehearsals were held at Wesley Community Church.  The Easter concert was Brahms’ Requiem, with the addition of Janice Hawthorne as second pianist.  The 1986 Celebration of Christmas featured The Youth Singers directed by Gerald LaRonde.  The Spring 1987 concert was a light-hearted Tribute to Gilbert & Sullivan.

The Nineties: Kevin Nieman

Elva Merredew, who performed in the Choir’s first concert in 1958, was interim director for the 1990 Celebration of Christmas, while Kevin Nieman explored Down Under.  He returned to direct “An Evening on Broadway” which featured choir soloists.  In preparation for the Christmas 1991 concert, “Carols with Brass”, the Choir toured 3 seniors’ homes. On Good Friday 1992, the Choir presented Bach’s Passion.  The Christmas program was “Great Choruses and Carols” with Jack D’Arthenay on organ and Cheryl Braaten as guest flautist.


Nigel Smith

Handel’s “Messiah” was performed for the fourth time at Christmas 1993; there was a shortened matinee as well as the full production featuring soloists Debra Dent, Dean Kustra, Mervin Fick, and Nigel Smith’s memorable bass.

While Kevin was studying for his A. Mus. at Western, Stella Callighen from Deep River directed the Choir in a concert of Springtime music and Canadian folk songs in April 1994.  Kevin returned for Carols With Brass II, which included the unpublished A Celebration of Wisdom by the Choir’s second director, Dr. James Gayfer.

Spring 1995 saw the Choir’s first performance of the Mozart Requiem, with guest soloists Stella Callighen, Muriel Smith, Bill Graham, and bass Alex Fleuriau-Chateau.  Another big first was Handel’s Judas Maccabeus in the Spring of 1995, with Rachel Lewis, Michael Schrey, Bill Graham, and Nigel Smith as soloists.

In June 1996, the Choir was honoured by the Ontario Choral Federation for 25 years of continuous operation.  The following year, we hosted InterChoir ’97 at Fellowes High School, with members of 18 choirs participating.  The Choir expanded its Christmas repertoire for the 1997 concert, “International Carols”, featuring the Ottawa Valley Brass Quintet.


Josh Hopkins

On Good Friday 1998, the Choir presented the Fauré Requiem and Bach’s Jesu, Priceless Treasure at First Presbyterian Church, accompanied by a chamber orchestra and James Mayhew on organ.  That Christmas, we performed Handel’s Messiah in 2 provinces:  at St Alphonsus Church in Chapeau, and at Our Lady of Lourdes in Pembroke.  Joshua Hopkins, a promising young local baritone, was featured.

The Choir explored new rhythms and sounds for the Spring 1999 concert featuring Norman Luboff’s African Mass and other African songs, with pianist James Mayhew and percussionist Darlene TerMarsch Millar.  Darlene had just returned as the Choir’s rehearsal accompanist after the Gilberts had coincidentally left to do missions work on the “Dark Continent”.  Choir members wore colourful sashes for this concert. The InterChoir Workshop held in October 1999 at Fellowes High School was hosted by our Choir, which was directed by Kevin. The Grand Finale Concert’s combined choirs performed under the direction of Gerald Neufeld.

A chamber orchestra and Darlene TerMarsch accompanied us when Kevin and the Choir presented “The Creation” by Joseph Haydn on Nov. 28, 1999 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church.  The soloists were soprano Leslie Sara Michaels, tenor Bjorn Kuhn, and bass Olivier LaQuerre.

For a complete change of pace, we presented the music of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado in the Spring of 2000, with choir soloists in costume – both at the concert and at the Mall! During this decade, the Choir participated many times in the Kiwanis Festival, and sang in Summer Sounds at the Marina.

A New Century

To celebrate the Millennium, the Choir was invited to participate in the Canada Day festivities, and joined other choirs at the Pembroke Armouries in a processional parade to the new Waterfront Amphitheatre. We began the 2000-2001 season with G.F. Handel’s Messiah, which we performed at Festival Hall on Saturday Nov. 25 and Sunday, Nov. 26, 2000 under the direction of Kevin Nieman. We were accompanied by Darlene TerMarsch, a chamber orchestra and soloists: soprano Christine Murphy, mezzo soprano Zoe Tarshis (who later married Josh Hopkins), tenor Sarkis Barsemian and bass Olivier LaQuerre.

As a new experience, choir members, Kevin and Darlene (on keyboard) donned their Santa hats and reindeer antlers to sing at centre ice for Carols on Ice on Sunday, Dec 10, 2000 at the Petawawa Civic Centre! It wasn’t a complete success as we hadn’t tested the cold conditions, and the keyboard froze – as did Darlene’s hands! Sadly, our choir president, Maurice Armstrong passed away on Dec 28, and about 20 members of the choir sang Psalm 23 at his funeral at St. Alphonsus Church in Chapeau, Quebec.

While Kevin took a break in the spring of 2001, Gerald LaRonde directed us for our “Best of the West” concert, which we performed at Festival Hall on April 29, 2001 with accompanists Jimmy Mayhew on piano, Rev. Wil Walker on harmonica and Sylvia VanderSluis on guitar. On July 1, 2001, choir members were thrilled to celebrate with director Kevin Nieman as he married Catherine Duhamel.

On Dec 2, 2001, we presented “Christmas Exultation” at Calvin United Church. Kevin directed the Choir, accompanied by Rosemarie Gilbert on the piano and Doreen Korcok on the organ. The concert also featured Kevin’s Christ Lutheran Handbell Choir. Some choir members also performed for the Petawawa Civic Centre’s Carols on Ice in Dec. 2001 – this time with a tape! On April 21, 2002 we gave two performances of Mozart’s Requiem; at 2:30 pm in Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Deep River and at 8 pm in Wesley United Church in Pembroke!  We were directed by Kevin and accompanied by a chamber orchestra and Rosemarie Gilbert at the organ.  The soloists were all local talent: soprano Stella Callighen, alto Debra Bosworth, tenor Sean Keels and bass John Root.


Trevor Grahl

The fall of 2002 saw the choir undertake a new challenge and thrill – a Choral work created just for us by local composer, Trevor Grahl. We performed his “Alleluia” along with others in our “Christmas Alleluia” concert on Dec. 1, 2002 at St. Columbkille’s Cathedral. We were directed by Kevin and accompanied by Rosemarie Gilbert, along with several guest musicians.

Our spring 2003 concert was entitled “Music of the Royals”. It was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, directed by Kevin and accompanied by Jimmy Mayhew on the piano and Jill Renault on the organ. New technology was involved in our Christmas 2003 concert at Wesley United Church: the audience enjoyed video footage of choir members’ Christmas memories and photos while the Choir presented “Our Christmas Gift to You”! The concert was directed by Kevin, accompanied by Darlene (TerMarsch) Millar and featured a few duets by Kevin and Patricia Charette. The audience was invited to join us in the church hall afterwards for refreshments – a old tradition revived!

We performed Brahms’s Requiem, in English, in our “Music for Good Friday” concert on April 9, 2004 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Pembroke. We were joined by soloists Stella Callighen and Sean Keels and a full orchestra. Rosemarie Gilbert was our rehearsal accompanist. For Christmas 2004, we presented “A Christmas Gloria” with the Christ Lutheran Church Handbell Choir. The concert featured Vivaldi’s Gloria with choir member soloists. The Choir was accompanied by Darlene (TerMarsch) Millar (piano), Doreen Korcok (organ), along with violinists. For “Broadway Melodies 2005”, the Choir broke from the traditional concert dress of white blouses for the ladies; they were decked out in colourful blouses. The audience participated in a special treat – a “Sound of Music” sing-along. We hosted our first Sing-Along Messiah for Christmas 2005, followed they next day by a full performance with orchestra. The concert featured choir member soloists as well as bass Phillip Schaus.

Kevin took us back to Africa for our Spring 2006 “African Safari” performance, again featuring the African Mass, accompanied by Darlene (TerMarsch) Millar and Jimmy Mayhew. The fall of 2006 was especially busy for the Choir, as we participated in the Pembroke Kiwanis Club’s benefit concert, “The Last Night of the Proms”, with the Maple Leaf Band to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 80th birthday, as well as our Christmas concert. “Your All-Request Christmas Favourites” concert featured numbers submitted by the Choir members.


Michael Meraw

On Good Friday 2007, we returned to a major work, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, which the Choir had last performed in 1961! Baritone Michael Meraw sang the part of Elijah, and the other soloists were choir members. The concert also featured orchestra, an Octet choir and the alto quartet. In the fall of 2007, we also prepared for two performances. On Remembrance Day, which fell on a Sunday, we presented “Salute to Remembrance Day with Us”, featuring Faure’s Requiem, In Flanders Fields and a violin solo by Kirsten Waymann. Soloists were soprano Rena Detlefsen and baritone Kevin Nieman. This was soon followed by “A Classic Christmas Celebration” which featured choir member soloists.

In 2008, the choir reached its 50th Anniversary. We celebrated over the next two years, because the while the choir was commissioned in January 1958 for Pembroke’s Centennial celebrations, the Pembroke Community Choir Committee first met in March 1959. The celebration began in Spring 2008 with Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, which was performed with an orchestra and featured soloists Jeremy Carver-James and David Lafleur.

Our Concert Chair Extraordinaire, Bentley Horne, was honoured by the community with a 2008 Volunteer Service Award for his years of dedicated service to the Choir. The award was presented to Bentley by Renfrew County MPP John Yakabuski during a ceremony on June 4, 2008. Bentley’s wife Nancy, Choir Director Kevin Nieman and Choir President Janet Pearson were there to cheer him on.

We practiced in the fall of 2008 for our “50th Anniversary Concert” which was planned for Dec 7, 2008. Unfortunately, the concert had to be cancelled at the last minute due to the sudden illness of our director Kevin Nieman. Choir members and ticket purchasers alike were very disappointed but everyone was greatly relieved that Kevin recovered and was able to direct us for the Spring session: G.F. Handel’s Messiah on Good Friday, 2009. It was the Choir’s 8th performance of Messiah and featured orchestra and choir member soloists.

On Saturday, May 23, 2009, 150 current and past Choir members gathered together at the Petawawa Legion Hall for the 50th Anniversary Banquet. The Committee, chaired by Bill and Paulette Bromilow, hosted a wonderful evening with an excellent dinner, celebratory cake, memorabilia, entertainment and loads of fun! Another special event in which the Choir participated was the lighting of the Olympic Torch at the Pembroke Waterfront. The Olympic Torch came through Pembroke on Dec 13, 2009 as part of its cross-Canada tour before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The Choir was ‘auditioned’ via our website concert samplings. We sang the official torch song “There’s a Light/Cette Flamme” at the Waterfront under the direction of Gerald LaRonde. We wore our new red scarves and white fleece hats with the PCC logo.

On Dec 6, 2009, we were finally able to present our 50th Anniversary Christmas Concert at Wesley United Church. The concert was accompanied by Darlene TerMarsch (piano), Jill Renault (organ), Gordon Tapp (trumpet) and Dale Hopkins (percussion) and featured soloists Stephanie Schizkoske and Dan Kletke and an small ensemble of choir members. It was Kevin Nieman’s last concert with us as our director after 26 years of energetic, enthusiastic leadership! At the conclusion of the concert, Kevin was honoured by the President, Janet Pearson, and was presented with a plaque for over 25 years of introducing us to the joys of choral singing.

2010s: Juanita Kennedy and Gerald LaRonde


Juanita Kennedy

Deep River high school music teacher, Juanita Kennedy, took over the reins as our Choir director in January, 2010. With her own brand of warmth, humour and energy, Juanita took on the challenge of working with a choir that was used to Kevin’s way of doing things! Juanita introduced us to new and different forms of choral music and, while it was hard at first, we learned to love it! Wearing our country’s colours of white and red (scarves), we presented “Canadian Rhapsody” in the Spring of 2010, with Darlene TerMarsch accompanying us. “A Christmas Garland” featured guitarist Anthony Ridi and percussionist Owen Stanton-Kennedy. In April 2011, the Choir invited everyone to “Come to the Water”, a concert featuring choir soloist Stephanie Schizkoske, a small ensemble, cellist Marion Arthur and various instruments.


Senior Nuns’ Chorus

In the spring of 2011, some choir members had the privilege of joining Fellowes High School students in the school’s production of the beloved “Sound of Music”, performing as ‘senior’ nuns.

On Saturday, Nov 26, 2011, Gerald LaRonde and 16 choir members braved the cold to sing Christmas Carols at the Pembroke Cenotaph before the Christmas Parade of Lights started. As the Parade got to that location, the choir jumped into the parade to walk and sing along the parade route to Festival Hall. Gerald had undertaken the job of directing the choir for the Christmas 2011 concert entitled “The Glory of Christmas” which featured Vivaldi’s Gloria, choir member soloists, a small orchestra and Robert Patterson on the drums.


Jamie Loback

The Pembroke Symphony Orchestra invited the Choir to join with them in their 20th Anniversary “Spring Fling” Concert for the Spring of 2012. Gerald LaRonde was our rehearsal director and Jamie Loback, (Pembroke native and director of the Ottawa Catholic School Board Chamber Choir and Director of Music at St. Joseph’s Parish, Ottawa) was the guest conductor for the Choir and symphony’s performance of Haydn’s Libretto, Missa in Angustiis, also known as the Lord Nelson Mass. The mass featured soloists Kathleen Radke, Whitney O’Hearn, Jeff Boyd and Christopher Mallory.

On Nov 24, 2012, about 16 choir members entertained Pembroke Parade of Lights watchers with carol singing at the Pembroke Cenotaph. The group then joined the parade, singing songs in keeping with the Caribbean Christmas parade theme. Despite technical difficulties with a too-cold CD player, they kept on marching and singing!  Our 2012 “Christmas on Broadway” concert featured a “White Christmas” collection of Irving Berlin songs.

In the spring of 2013, Gerald LaRonde directed the choir in Karl Jenkins’ exciting work “The Armed Man – a Mass for Peace”.  The concert featured soloist Stephanie Schizkoske, 20 orchestra members, accompanist Darlene TerMarsch and special guest, Muezzin Abdollah Vakily from Cornwall, ON. The fall of 2013 included a few exciting firsts for the Pembroke Community Choir. Choir members manned a booth to raise our profile in the community at the Fall Showcase which was held at the Petawawa Civic Centre from Sep 13-15. Approximately 35 choir members created a Flash Mob at the Germania Club’s Christkindlmarkt on Nov 30, which was very well received!  A group of 6 choir members enhanced the Petawawa Library Christmas Open House on Dec 7, by singing carols in the library foyer. Our “Classical Christmas” concert featured works by Vivaldi, Rutter, Handel, Bach and even his cousin P.D.Q.! During the reception after the concert, choir president Marie Zettler presented Bentley Horne with a framed plaque and Life Membership in appreciation for his 25+ years of service to the choir as a member of the tenor section, Concert Chair, and President; and for his beautiful work designing and printing concert materials, and recording performances. Thank you Bentley!

In the spring of 2014, we had a lot of fun preparing for our “Gospel Jubilee” concert. We were privileged to share our favourite numbers from this concert with the residents of Miramichi Lodge and Marianhill in June, and again on Saturday, June 7 at Grace Lutheran Church in Eganville as part of the two-concert “Festival of Choirs”. This event was hosted by the Ottawa Valley Music Festival and also featured the Deep River Choral Society and the Mackenzie Secondary School Choir of Deep River. Following performances at the Christkindlmarkt and Parade of Lights, our fall 2014 concert was “A Traditional Christmas”.

Bentley Horne created a YouTube channel for excerpts of our recent concerts, including Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man. It was noticed by Distinguished Concerts International of New York, who invited us to perform in the North American premiere of Jenkins’ beautiful work “The Peacemakers” at Carnegie Hall, as part of an international mass choir. Twenty of our members made the trip in January 2015, and were the only Canadian participants. To follow up on our New York debut, we ordered shirts with “New York” in glitter and in April performed “Pembroke to Broadway”. This was our first concert in all-black. We gave preview shows at Marianhill and Miramichi Lodge, as well as a flash mob at the Pembroke Mall. In the fall, we entertained the Parade crowds, then performed music of Advent.

We saluted the Academy Awards in the Spring of 2016 with “Oscar through the years!” which featured award-winning songs from 1933 to 2013 and a Disney extravaganza. Residents at Marianhill and Miramichi got a sneak preview. The December 2016 concert featured Christmas Choruses from major works, as well as Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols with guest soloist (and former director for 25 years) Kevin Nieman. We also entered a float in the Parade of Lights for the first time. The parade theme was a Charlie Brown Christmas; we sang excerpts from the movie and won the Mayor’s Award!

To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, we performed a wide selection of music – from sea to sea to sea, including an Iroquois soundscape. Our guests were Inuit throat singers Abigail and Charlotte Carleton, who gave us a sample of the traditional friendly competition. We took a preview concert on the road to Bonnechere Manor in Renfrew, as well as Marianhill and Miramichi. after the Whitehorse Community Choir performed on Canada Day at the NAC, we hosted them in a joint concert.

Paul McClelland’s Irish pennywhistle, bodhran, and Scottish smallpipes brought a true Celtic sound to a sold-out Christmas 2017 concert. We continued to spread cheer in the community at the Parade of Lights, the Downtown Pembroke Shop Hop, the PRH’s Christmas Home Tour, and the Community Living Christmas Party. The Champlain Trail Museum invited us to participate in their History Days at the Pembroke Mall in February 2018, and perform in June at their Strawberry Social, as they were also celebrating their 60th anniversary that year. To celebrate Harry and Meghan’s big day, we chose a selection of love songs, including pieces that were commissioned for past royal weddings. A slideshow of choir members’ wedding days added a special touch, as did Blaine Sack’s organ accompaniment for some of the pieces. Bonnechere Manor and Marianhill got a sneak preview. At our AGM dinner, several former and longtime members were invited to participate in a Fireside Chat of memories hosted by Kevin Nieman.