Bill Ewing listening in (from 2m away) to his birthday tunes.
In a world turned upside down because of Covid 19, it’s good to know that music can help comfort some of those isolated in their homes, condos and retirement residences around the Lower Mainland. That’s what I did this past week.
It was Bill Ewing’s 90th birthday, and his daughter in Toronto wanted to do something to commemorate the occasion. But like most folks, Bill (a former CFL Calgary Stampeder) is social-isolating in his high rise condo in North Vancouver, with no visitors. What to do?
Well, that’s where a bagpiper comes in. Daughter Lori contacted me last week and asked me to be her birthday present to her loving dad. A friend told Bill he needed to be outside at 11 am. I showed up outside his building. and for an hour I played Scottish melodies for Bill and quite a few neighbours who joined him around the front of the building, listening to a bit of piping and being transported away from the worries of this world for a brief moment. Of course, I also played Happy Birthday. Unfortunately, there was no cake.
I don’t know how they found out, but CBC Vancouver also showed up and did a story about Bill, his birthday and bagpipes. The photos are from the CBC story.
I’ve also been visiting some of my favourite clients who I play for on Remembrance Day or Robbie Burns week. These are the senior homes and companies who hire me each year to play for special events. Now, it’s my turn to give back, and provide a bit of comfort during World War C. With the Rocky Mountaineer season cancelled, these performances keep an old piper like me in playing shape and hopefully delivering a bit of comfort during these topsy turvy times.
It was a great week of Celtic music. Lots of piping, fiddling, Gaelic singing and plenty of dancing. The 23rd Celtic Colours International Festival, held from October 12-19 all over Cape Breton Island drew sell-out crowds to all the official events, and many of the unofficial ones. Hurricane Dorian stripped much of the “colour” from the surrounding hillsides, but it was still spectacular driving through Cape Breton to small communities all over the island (like Broad Cove, above), enjoying visits with friends and even a bit of autumn fly fishing for elusive Atlantic salmon on the Baddeck, Margaree and other local rivers.
Brebach and Beolach were two of the great bands playing at Celtic Colours. Hopefully one day soon they will be out in the BC area for everyone to enjoy. Now, with November upon us, it’s time to start thinking about Remembrance Day. It will be a busy time for pipers as they march through many small towns and communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.
St. Patrick’s Day in Vancouver can be one of the busiest weeks of the year for a Scottish bagpiper – and it’s not even a Scottish celebration. As a Nova Scotian Scot, I find it amusing in Vancouver that there seems to be little difference between Scottish & Irish culture. For Irish events, like St. Patrick’s Day, pipers are a busy lot, playing at pubs, concerts and parades. the majority of our tunes are Scottish, with a few Irish ones thrown in. It’s fun and thoroughly enjoyable to bring a bit of pipe music to various events. And while not strictly speaking an Irish instrument, the great highland pipes seem to work wonderfully in the hands of Irish men and women. Two Irish Grade 1 pipe bands (Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band from Lisburn, Northern Ireland and the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band from Dublin) have won 13 world pipe band championships between them, and that’s not even counting the lower grades. \
We have lots of Irish pubs in Vancouver (at least in name), and while not all of them hire pipers, you can certainly find me piping at The Blarney Stone in Vancouver’s Gastown for my 5th year. Come on down on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. It’s a full-day of fun on Sunday with lots of other entertainment for the adults and kids.
Ok, it’s not the Stanley Cup, but it’s just as old. The Cup is amazing. Dented, beat up and losing a bit of its shine. It’s absolutely perfect. Thanks to the SFU football alumni for inviting me to lead in the Cup. I’m now waiting for a call from the Vancouver Canucks to lead in the Stanley Cup (someday, I know it will happen.)
Rocky Mountaineer president Steve Sammut, Armstrong Group CEO Peter Armstrong and RM Piper Mike Chisholm in the new RM tartan livery.
It’s been a great 2018. As both the bagpiper for Rocky Mountaineer Rail Tours and the chair/executive director of the BC Highland Games & Scottish Festival, we have had a very busy year.
The Rocky Mountaineer season is wrapping up next week, with another great year and thousands of international guests passing through the main RM station in Vancouver. This year the company unveiled its new company tartan, representing the colours of the Rocky Mountaineer trains that depart and arrive in Vancouver from Seattle, Whistler, Jasper and Banff, Alberta from April until October. The fabulous tartan was designed by Vancouver designer Gordon Kirkbright and registered with the Scottish Registry of Tartans last spring. It has proven very popular with guests and hopefully we will see more of it in coming years.
Lafarge Lake Park
As the new executive director of the BC Highland Games, we are also in a major transition. After 27 years, we have decided to move from Percy Perry Stadium in Coquitlam, across the street to the redesigned Lafarge Lake Park. This is a major move for the Games, and it will present plenty of challenges. However, our Games committee along with the City are focused on making this move to what we believe will be a much better venue in 2019. More grass, more shade and more room to move around. Hopefully we will see the stock dogs return to herding sheep around the field along with more bands, more music and new attractions. It’s a big job, but the Games are getting bigger so this new venue should be a great fit.
Now, with the days getting shorter and colder, it’s time to look forward to Remembrance Day events around the region. I hope to see you out there someday.
It’s a busy year at the Rocky Mountaineer. Record number of guests from the US, UK, India, China and many other countries are discovering the luxury train through the mountains. I am pleased to be playing for my 8th season with this company of great people.
Here’s an article about the Rocky Mountaineer trip from Vancouver to the rocky mountains from a guest from England, published in the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
“The Rocky Mountaineer has a dedicated terminal on the outskirts of Vancouver and a bagpiper, in full Scottish regalia, piped us aboard. As we rolled away the piper continued to play as the company’s staff waved us off, prompting a flurry of photography from carriage windows that are cleaned before each day’s travel.”
And here’s another one from a guest
“The Rocky Mountaineer does things with a nice touch of class. We were greeting by a guy playing Beatles music on a baby grand when we entered the terminal, got complimentary coffee and juice, and were piped aboard the train by a bagpiper in full Scottish regalia. Now we’ve been given a “sunrise toast” with orange juice and bubbly to start our journey.”
It’s only half way through the season, the weather has been fantastic and it looks great for the remainder of the summer. I look forward to meeting many more guests as we head towards fall.
It may be St. Patrick’s Day, but when the Celtic nations get together for a party, it’ll be tough to miss the Scots.
Downtown Vancouver will resonate with music this weekend as the 2017 Vancouver Celtic Festival kicks off on St. Patrick’s Day, Friday March 17. Vancouver’s Robson Square is the center of the action with musical acts, pipe bands, singers, dancers, beer gardens and some big name acts to keep the party going all day.
Check out the Vancouver CelticFest website for more details. Or wander down to Robson Square on Saturday for the “Salute to Scotland”. The four-hour event on Saturday afternoon will feature the RMM, VPD and RCMP pipe bands, Heather Jolley and Stave Falls highland dancers and of course our heavy event athletes and some of their implements for guests to handle. The afternoon Salute is sponsored by the BC Highland Games & Scottish Festival (June 17) in Coquitlam. Tickets for the Games will be on sale all day. The event is being emcee’d by CKPM announcer Rod MacBeth and wraps up with the mighty sound of the massed pipe bands at 4pm.