The Pipes & Drums of Lindsay at 50

Just in Time local history series

By Ian McKechnie

The skirl of the great highland bagpipe has the poignant potential to bring a lump to the throat of anyone — even those who do not claim Scottish ancestry. Others may rush to cover their ears whenever those drone pipes get going. Regardless of how we might feel about them, there can be no question that bagpipes are a unique part of our musical heritage.

While the Pipes & Drums of Lindsay marks its fiftieth anniversary this month, pipers and pipe bands have had a presence in this area for more than 125 years. An event organized by the Sons of Scotland in Glenarm on Sept. 5, 1895, was, naturally, graced by the sound of bagpipes. “About 2 p.m three pipers left the village for the grove,” recounted the Watchman newspaper a week later. “Mr. Lunan of Bolsover, who was beautifully dressed in Highland costume, [was joined by] Mr. Frasier and Mr. Davis, both of Kirkfield. On their arrival at the grove various selections of soul-stirring Scotch music were given, which enlivened the merry hearts of Scotland’s noble sons.”

Lunan was apparently in demand as a piper, for he continued to put in appearances at a variety of functions over the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1910, Lunan and his son were invited to play their pipes alongside a Lindsay-based brass band at a Civic Holiday parade in Fenelon Falls. “At half-past one,” the Gazette reported, “the members of the curling club lined up behind the Scotch pipers and in front of the band and marched to the park, each one armed with a broom.”

Other events at which local pipers played were not so regimented. Woodville residents, assembled for a meeting of the St. Andrew’s Society on Nov. 30, 1899, danced to the music of bagpipes and violin, while in 1908  George Sutherland, of Palestine (north of Hartley) provided pipe music at a big dance organized by John Torrey of Centre Eldon that apparently lasted well into the morning.

On occasions where a full pipe-and-drum band was required, it was typically brought in from elsewhere. In 1913, the famous 48th Highlanders band of Toronto performed in downtown Lindsay during the annual Winter Carnival. “Many were disappointed that the band did not appear in full regimentals, including the kilts,” observed a Lindsay Post reporter on February 21. “It was pretty cold weather for this outfit.”

A local band was finally formed in 1972. “At that time,” explains former pipe major John Hunter, “there were only two known pipers in Lindsay: Ian Watt and Phil Cadick.” Watt began weekly practices to teach beginners and attracted people from not only Lindsay but also Cannington, Peterborough, and Sunderland. As Hunter recalls, “they had no uniforms but were able to get some discarded blue RCAF jackets, and with a variety of kilts they went on parade.” (As the Pipes & Drums of Lindsay, the band eventually donned the ancient tartan of Clan Lindsay, which members wear to this day.) Longtime piper Reid Torrey, who joined around 1974, remembers that practices took place for several years in a former factory building adjacent to the Scugog River before moving elsewhere.

Apart from Watt and Hunter, pipe majors have included Ken Grace, Al Harding, Colin Hill and Glenn McDonald. Under their leadership, the band has performed at many Robert Burns suppers, highland games events, tattoos and parades throughout this region and across the province. Highlights have included playing at the internationally famous Cowal Gathering in Dunoon, Scotland, as well as at the Juno Beach Centre in France during its inauguration almost 20 years ago.

Longtime band members can tell tales about going on parade in all kinds of weather. Brian Gowan, who was in the band from 1978 through 2014, remembers when the band showed up in Bobcaygeon for a parade figuring that the rain would hold off. “It was just threatening rain — just a Scotch mist,” Gowan recalls. “We started off without our rain capes, and then when we reached Bolton and King Streets the skies opened up, soaking my Glengarry bonnet and causing sweat to run down my face.”

Weather woes aside, the band has long been a source of camaraderie for its members. John Bebbington began playing the bagpipes as a teenager with the Boys’ Brigade in Scotland, more than 80 years ago. He hadn’t played for decades when he heard the Pipes & Drums of Lindsay perform in Victoria Park in the late 1990s. He signed up and spent 14 years in the band. Like Gowan, Bebbington has fond recollections of travelling to Europe where they performed with massed bands in France and the Netherlands. “We enjoyed each other’s company,” he reminisces.

Shirley Park was inspired to take up the instrument after hearing a 14-year-old girl play bagpipes at a Girl Guide camp in 1961. “It was always something I wanted to do,” she says. Park and her late husband joined the band in 2000 and she admits that she once thought bagpipes were of interest only to elderly men. Today, she is one of many senior band members who play alongside a new generation of trophy-winning pipers. Whether they play competitively or for sheer enjoyment, pipers young and young-at-heart are still attracted to the Pipes & Drums of Lindsay 50 years on.

1 Comment

  1. Janet Risebrough says:

    Hi Ian
    This was very interesting. I love the pipe bands. I am happy that John had this opportunity to play and go to Europe and France with the band.

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