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Noteworthy for her breakthrough as the first professional female bassist to play with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Ruth June Budd earned notoriety for something she wasn’t allowed to do. In 1951, along with a handful of other TSO musicians, Ms. Budd was denied entry to the United States, where the orchestra had been invited to perform.

The occasion was to be a series of concerts at Detroit’s Masonic Hall. Management, including TSO director Sir Ernest MacMillan, viewed the invitation as a gateway to the glory of more international invitations and increased financial success. A decision was made to substitute the banned musicians, dubbed in the press as the Symphony Six, with temporary replacements so the show could go on. When the orchestra returned to Canada, the Symphony Six would get their jobs back. Debate over whether or not the orchestra was doing the right thing by pandering to U.S. immigration policies died down. It was common knowledge that the politics of McCarthyism, then in full sway in the U.S., was based on extreme fear over communism: The U.S. government suspected the Symphony Six of having communist ties or, at least, leftist political sympathies.

Ms. Budd, who died of cancer in Toronto on June 30, aged 97, had once been a member of a left-wing youth group. She surmised that was the reason for her ban. “Nobody had to prove anything,” she said, referring to McCarthyism. “You had only to be suspected of left-leaning and that was enough. As I was walking past a dressing room I heard one of my colleagues say, ‘Well, she reads a lot so she must be a communist.’ ”

Ruth June Ross, born in Winnipeg, on June 20, 1924, was the second of four children in the family of Jack Ross, a portrait photographer for Eaton’s department store and his wife, Olive (née Barrett), a homemaker. The Ross children all studied piano and mandolin. Practice was mandatory and strictly enforced by their mother. Ruth added violin to her musical repertoire in high school where she played in the school orchestra. She might have remained a violinist but for an accident on the football field: the school bassist broke an arm. When the conductor asked for a volunteer to replace him, 16-year-old Ruth put up her hand and said “I will.” The conductor was dismissive. “Don’t be silly,” he said. “You know a girl can’t play bass.”

The most obvious impediment was the unwieldy bulk of the instrument but Ruth, an average sized girl with a strong will, didn’t see a problem and set out to prove the conductor wrong. She understood that the strings on a bass were similar to a violin but arranged backwards. She told herself, “If I think in negatives, I should be able to do this.” She practised hard and convinced the conductor that she was the musician for the job. That year her school won in their class level at a music festival. The adjudicator remarked it was the first time he’d ever seen a girl playing bass. Ruth had found her instrument.

Despite her family’s passion for music, Ruth’s mother did not consider it to be a viable means to make a living and encouraged her second-oldest daughter to take up pharmacology after high school. Ms. Budd lasted a year at a college in British Columbia, where she studied chemistry.

Of the opinion that the world of pharmacology had had a narrow escape from her, 19-year-old Ms. Budd took a low-level assistant’s job at a shipyard where dock workers made fun of her naiveté by sending her off to find things such as a left-handed screwdriver.

Undaunted, Ms. Budd ferreted out the musically inclined around her. She organized them into small groups to play or sing, something she continued to do throughout her life. As a side job she played bass with the Vancouver Junior Symphony Orchestra, graduating to its main orchestra as an occasional extra player.

Eventually Ms. Budd joined an “all-girl” touring band paying their way to Toronto by performing one-night engagements across the country in dance halls and clubs.

Other band members were thrilled to have found an impossibly rare female bassist so they didn’t object when Ms. Budd refused to wear the band’s frilly Can-Can attire on stage. Instead, she insisted on a black gown more suited to the formality of an orchestra. After she earned a scholarship to study music at the University of Toronto, a growing ambition to join the prestigious TSO seemed attainable. Although Ms. Budd never earned a degree, she honed her talent to the point that she passed a gruelling audition, playing solo in front of an exacting TSO committee. She was offered the gig.

In 1947, barely 23 years old, she’d landed her dream job and was about to marry Philip Budd, a professional oboe player. The Budds had two children, a son, Kevin, and a daughter, Gillian. Kevin Budd remembers their Toronto household frequently filled with artists and musicians including, on one occasion, Oleg Popov, a famous Russian clown, plus several other performers from the Moscow State Circus. After almost three decades together, the Budds’ marriage ended in divorce.

After the Second World War, politics was a frequent topic for Ms. Budd and her crowd of friends. She became particularly interested in social justice and labour laws after her father was fired from his job at Eaton’s shortly before he became eligible for a pension.

Her political views, however, were never a problem until she became one of the Symphony Six. Controversy surrounding them reignited when their yearly contracts were not renewed after the U.S. ban. The reason given for non-renewal was that a condition of employment with the symphony had been breached: the ability to travel. Their visa refusal had not been a one-time event, it extended to life. The six appealed to the Toronto Musicians Union, Toronto mayor Allan Lamport, the American Federation of Musicians, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the Canadian Congress of Labour, among others.

While many were sympathetic, nothing could be done to refute the terms of their contract. Reported widely within Canada and the United States, the firing of the Symphony Six after being denied entry to the United States came to the attention of Lester B. Pearson, then Canada’s foreign minister.

Mr. Pearson blamed the Cold War and said Canada was simply supplying U.S. officials with security information. He said he saw no point in taking the matter further.

Two members of the TSO board resigned. Sir Ernest, the TSO director, refused to address the topic publicly, which prompted further criticism in the press. Subscriptions to the orchestra were cancelled. Colleagues and others crossed the street to avoid speaking to Ms. Budd. The Symphony Six had no choice but seek employment elsewhere.

Undeterred by the setback, Ms. Budd continued working in small theatres, with the University of Toronto’s Hart House Orchestra, the CBC Orchestra, the Halifax Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company, the National Ballet of Canada and the Stratford Festival. She became known as someone who arrived on stage just as the conductor was beginning his downbeat to signal the beginning of the performance. In Stratford, she’d once driven across her own, and her neighbour’s backyard, as a short-cut to avoid being late. “She cut it close but she always made it on time,” Timothy Dawson, a fellow bassist and friend, said.

Ms. Budd’s early exposure to labour relations, and strong sense of justice, led to her becoming the founding chair of the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians. She was also affiliated with the Toronto Musicians Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. During an interview with writer Matt Heller, Ms. Budd explained, “It sounds as if I got really involved in the political stuff. You know, I didn’t. I didn’t hang around and get to know the managers of the orchestra, or even the union officials. The only time I got really involved was during the negotiation period. You want the best possible orchestra in a city? How do you attract really good musicians? Offer a really good package. Then we’ll all have what we want.”

In 1983, the YWCA honoured Ms. Budd’s contribution to the arts with its Women of Distinction award.

With the passing of time, the plight of the Symphony Six faded from public memory. Not only was Ms. Budd allowed to enter the United States, she was rehired by the TSO in 1964. Under their educational program she gave hundreds of presentations to school groups, including some in the Arctic, before retirement in 1989. After retirement she founded the Toronto Senior Strings group and joined the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra. When not playing or rehearsing music, she indulged another love at which she excelled: making pottery.

Part of Ms. Budd’s legacy is a scholarship fund in her name at the University of Toronto. She donated five high-quality bows and a valuable bass to the university, making only one stipulation for her prized instrument: Whenever possible, it must be played by “a girl.”

Ms. Budd leaves her son, two grandsons and one great-grandson. Her daughter, who had multiple sclerosis, predeceased her in 2017.

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