The Armdale Choir
For more than four decades, Halifax music lovers enjoyed the performances of the Armdale Chorus on radio, television, and live concerts. Starting as a Rhythm Band in 1934 under the direction of Mary Dee (later Mary Dee Girroir), the Armdale Glee Club was formed in 1937 from members of the Rhythm Band. This very young choir won the Festival Shield in the 1940 Provincial Music Festival. The group of girls, many of whom joined at the ages of eight, nine and ten, remained with the chorus throughout their adult lives. Most were from the communities of Melville Cove, Kline Heights, Jollimore, and Spryfield. When the group was first formed, practice took place in Melvilla Hall, a small building behind St. John the Baptist Church on the Purcell's Cove Road.
Mary Dee was the daughter of John Dee and Margaret Buchanan. The Dee family, with its roots in Ireland, settled in Ferguson’s Cove where Michael Dee and his son, Michael, Jr., appeared as stonecutters at Queen's Quarries during the mid-1800s. Mary Dee's father was the son of Michael Dee, Jr. and Anne Hilchie. As a young girl in the 1920s and early 1930s, Mary Dee spent her summers in Ferguson's Cove and taught piano and singing lessons to the local children.
Following her graduation in music from Mount St. Vincent College, Miss Dee studied voice and choral conducting at the Juliard School of Music in New York. She founded the Girroir School of Music and, as director of the Armdale Chorus, she and her group of talented young women achieved national and international prominence through their weekly performances on CBC Radio, reaching listeners from across Canada, in South America, and Europe. Their theme song, "Out of a Dream," became well known to audiences around the world. Their music consisted of a variety of classical, romantic, religious, spiritual, and modern songs.
Annual choral concerts were given at the Nova Scotian Hotel in Halifax, and at Christmas they performed favourite songs for the veterans at Camphill Hospital. During the war years, they sang for the services. In 1946, the chorus performed on an illuminated floating stage on Lake Banook for Dartmouth Natal Day, and on several occasions travelled throughout the province to perform at local festivals such as the Apple Blossom Festival in Wolfville and the Festival of the Arts in Tatamagouche. They were featured in a short film by the National Film Board of Canada in 1953 and made two recordings with London Records of Canada. On one occasion, they toured the country with the Leslie Bell Singers of Toronto who were considered Canada's most popular group of girls' singers during the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1953, the Armdale Chorus became known as the Armdale Choir although people continued to call it by its old name. The Armdale Choir continued to perform into the 1970s, making regular television appearances. Over the years, many of Mrs. Girroir's students obtained music degrees, pursuing careers as teachers, church organists, and supervisors of music in the schools. A junior choir was formed during the 1950s from Mary Dee Girroir's younger students. Peggy Mahon and Caroline Romo were two of its members who went on to pursue professional singing careers.
During her lifetime, in addition to the Armdale Choir, Mary Dee Girroir conducted the choir at St. John the Baptist Church in Armdale and the Mount Saint Vincent University Chorale. She was the organist for all Synagogue weddings in Halifax and head of the vocal department at the Maritime Academy of Music.
Mary Dee Girroir died on May 19th, 1981, at the age of 65 years leaving behind a musical legacy that would never be forgotten by her students or the appreciative audiences with whom she shared her many talents. She was survived by her husband, one daughter, and four grandchildren. The Mary Dee Girroir Endowed Memorial Scholarship was established by her friends and is awarded annually by Mount Saint Vincent University.