My bagpiping career began in Halifax where I first squawked out a semblance of a tune under the tutelage of Pipe Major Barbara Stewart of the 33rd. Service Battalion. I credit Barb’s daughter Heather for my entrance into what has become my long affair with the pipes. She was the first to strongly encourage me to take lessons from her mother. As I moved to the Halifax Police Association Pipe Band, I also met many good friends in the band and friends of the band, most of whom hailed from Cape Breton and Antigonish. The New Year’s Eve celebrations inevitably led to the Lower Deck in Halifax’s Historic Properties. Long line-ups are a breeze when you’re in a crowd of people being marched, in no recognizable formation, into the pub by a bagpiper, with the bouncer holding the door for you. If John Ferguson and his band McGinty were on stage, you were guaranteed to be called up to help keep the party going.
Within a few years, I was one of the bagpipers at the head of the unruly and disorganized gang of revelers from Antigonish, Cape Breton and various other places stumbling around Halifax’s downtown or into house parties around the city. And in Halifax, bagpipers were always welcome.
As I moved around the country with work, I continued to play for New Year’s Eve celebrations in Goose Bay, for the Canadian and British Air Force, and later in Edmonton at an Irish bar on Whyte Avenue. Here in Vancouver, a large ex-pat Scottish community has been calling the past few years, and I’ve joined them at three p.m. on New Year’s Eve for an informal “hogmany” to ring in the New Year as it happens in “the old country”.
Today, the revelry of past years has tapered off (thankfully) but the memories of good times and lively music are still fond and vivid. In a recent conversation with a bagpiping friend from Cape Breton, he told me he was returning home from the U.S. to visit family after Christmas. Other family members, most of whom are very good pipers, are also gathering and a lively night of bagpipe music is planned for one evening. No doubt the pipes will ring out in their Richmond County, Cape Breton home one of these days, filling the house with tunes and reminding everyone of the connection between family, friends and music. As my friend told me, “it will be pipes until dawn”. Just like the old days.