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Antigonish Legion “A” Pipe Band, of Antigonish

  The Antigonish Legion Junior Pipe Band made its first public appearance in a short concert outside the Legion Hall on Main Street on November 11th, 1966. Though classes had only started on March 10th of that year with piping instructor Sandy Boyd and drumming instructor Dorothy Chisholm, pipes and drums were ordered and received by the summer. Sandy Boyd soon left for warmer climes, and the piping came under the direction of Dorothy’s older sister, Mary.

     Long before they were ready to march, the Junior band stood at attention and played “Scots Wha Hae” and “The Brown Haired Maiden” under the direction of Mary and Dorothy Chisholm in a special concert for the veterans who were lined up on the street in front of them, following the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies. Despite the cold, and standing in formation in a mixture of different tartan kilts, assorted ties, knee socks and white shirts, the local press and the general public heaped praise on the young musicians, and thus started them off on a road that would lead them to the very heights of the pipe band world.

    Fund raising began in earnest the next spring as the parents’ auxiliary set about trying to outfit the band in a uniform which would consist of Clanranald tartan kilts, black jackets, white shirts, black shoes with silver buckles, tartan hose, ties and a mixture of glengarries and balmorals. Eventually, military jackets, plaidies, waist belts and cross belts would be added to the uniform and feather bonnets or glengarries would replace the balmorals.

    Practices were held twice weekly. Arthur MacPherson started coming along to help the tenor drummers with their skills, and the band gradually moved ahead to meet the goals it had set. In early April 1967, the junior band paraded for the very first time through the town to the Parish Centre where they performed in a Scottish Concert. When the warmer weather came, they used to go out to a section of the old Route 4 at the Addington Forks-Brierly Brook intersection, west of Antigonish, and there they would practice marching, first to commands, then to drum beats, and finally to music.

    In June, they took part in the Veteran’s Day Parade and performed at a track and field meet on Fitness Day. A photo of the new band appeared in The Casket on June 8th. By July, the kids knew how to march and their repertoire had been greatly extended. The band participated in its first competition at the 1967 Centennial Highland Games in Halifax. The complete results are not listed in The Casket but, according to one member, the band placed fifth out of seven in that event, and were pleased that, in their very first year, they had actually beaten someone else in a real pipe band competition! That November, the band played in the Remembrance Day Parade, just one short year after it had made its debut performance.

    In 1968, the band began to travel a bit more. In May, the band participated in the Maude Burbank Memorial Maritime Band Festival in Moncton, NB, placing second in the Junior Pipe Band category. They went on to compete at the Antigonish Highland Games, again placing second in the Junior band event. An article in the July 25th issue of The Casket stated that it was hoped that, as the boys in the band grew older, they would take their places in the Antigonish Legion Senior Men’s Pipe Band. This was not to be, however, for the boys remained with the junior band as it rose to a much higher level of performance than possible with the Senior band of that day.

    The Junior band went on to compete in Montigue, PEI, and Glace Bay, Cape Breton placing third in the Junior band events at both contests. They also performed in Broad Cove Chapel, Iona, L’Ardoise, and New Glasgow later in the summer.

    In October, the band consisted of the following members: piping instructor Mary Chisholm, P/M Francis Beaton, pipers Allan Beaton, Anne MacDonald, Leo MacDougall, Janis MacLellan, Anne Grant, Patricia Hawley, Joan Grant, Jean Gillis, Sandra MacKinnon, Janis MacLellan, Susan Bezanson, and Joan Fraser, drumming instructor Dorothy Chisholm, drummers Jerome MacKinnon, Dennis Chisholm, Aileen Fraser, Marian Anne MacDonald, Martin MacDougall, Tommy MacIsaac, D/M Colleen Cameron, Monica Secco, Ria Van Berkel, Susan MacIntosh, and Iain Boyd. That fall, the Legion hosted a banquet in honour of the band. Band Manager Charles MacDougall was master of ceremonies, and Dr. Allan Brand was the guest speaker. Instructors Mary and Dorothy Chisholm, assisted by Billy “The Painter” MacDonald, the Legion Band Committee Chairman, passed out stripes as follows: pipe major’s stripes, jointly, to brothers Francis and Allan Beaton, pipe sergeant’s stripes to Jean Gillis, pipe corporal’s stripes to Sandra MacKinnon, drum major’s stripes to Colleen Cameron, drum sergeant’s stripes to Iain Boyd, and drum corporal’s stripes to Susan MacIntosh. The band took part in the Remembrance Day parade on November 11th.

    In 1969, the band auxiliary was busy trying to raise the $13,000 that would be needed to finish outfitting the twenty-four members and two instructors. The Casket reported that the band had another 26 children in their training program. The band played in a ‘Spring Carnival On Ice’, a benefit show for the the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa. In April, the band hosted a “Scottish Spectacular” at the St. Ninian’s Parish Centre which was a great success, with a capacity crowd in attendance. On June 19th, both Junior and Senior bands paraded through town to the Columbus Field to show off their new full military dress uniforms. On June 28th, the band competed once again in Moncton where they won the formation drill event over four other pipe bands and two brass bands and placed third in the street parade event. On July 1st, the band placed second by one quarter of a point in competition in Pugwash, while a boys’ quartet and a girls’ quartet each placed first in their respective events. It was at Pugwash that the band was first heard by Pipe Major Bill Magennis of the 1st Battalion The Black Watch (RHR) of Canada, who would become their principal instructor later that fall.

    At the Antigonish Highland Games, the Antigonish Legion Junior Pipe Band placed fourth in the Junior Band event. Later in August the band travelled to the games at Quincy, Mass., placing fourth in the March, Strathspey, and Reel event and third in the Slow March. In October, their performance at the St. F.X. Homecoming Game was featured on television, and in November, they played in the Remembrance Day Parade. In November too, the community welcomed the arrival of Pipe Major Bill Magennis. An announcement appeared in the  December 11th issue of The Casket about a new Legion School of Piping and Drumming under the direction of Pipe Major Magennis and Miss Mary Chisholm. Classes would start in January. Bill was then living in Halifax, and would drive to Antigonish on weekends to run the piping and drumming school and teach the band.

    The Antigonish Legion Junior Pipe Band made its first appearance of 1970 at the Official Opening of the Antigonish Arena on February 7th. In March, they played in a concert to raise funds for the library at St. Andrews Rural High School. In April, they played in their annual ‘Scottish Spectacular’.

    In June, the competition season got underway in Moncton where the band placed second to the Saint John Kiwanis Pipe Band at the Maude Burbank Maritime Band Festival. On July 1st, the band won first place at the Pugwash games and went on to win top honours at the Summerside, PEI Lobster Carnival, and at the Maritime Junior Band Championships at the Antigonish Highland Games.

    The Antigonish bands hosted six others who participated with them in the very first Antigonish Highland Games Pipe Band Tattoo, under the direction of Pipe Major Bill Magennis. Unfortunately, the heavens opened that day, and the first tattoo was held in the Antigonish Arena, a facility not well suited to such a performance. Still, the evening was a great success with a very large number of spectators in attendance. The next day, the Antigonish band placed third in the mini band event.

    On July 31st, the band left for Ontario where they placed fourth at Maxville, 3rd at Thousand Islands, and performed as well at the Coburg Highland Games. The girls of the band  performed separately at Thousand Islands, winning the Ladies’ International Pipe Band Championship.

    Returning home from Ontario, the band placed first at the Festival of the Tartans in New Glasgow. That fall, additional pipers and drummers were admitted into the ranks of the band including pipers Kate Mills, Cathy MacDonald, Cynthia Thompson, Joan MacIntosh, Carl MacDonald, Reggie MacDonald, Douglas Boyd, Malcolm Fraser and Billy Fraser, and drummers Grace Keating, Paul Barry, Kathy Gillis, and Elizabeth MacKenzie. This brought the total membership in the band to 35, with nineteen pipers and sixteen drummers. The band’s school was also training an additional thirty-eight children in piping and drumming skills.

    1971 was to be a tragic year for the Antigonish Legion Junior Pipe Band. It started off well, with a quartet from the band travelling to Toronto where they placed second in the Grade 3 Quartet Championship. In May, however, their sixteen year old pipe major, Allan Beaton, suffered a ruptured artery in the brain as a result of an accident while lifting weights at school. He was in hospital in Halifax for several weeks, and appeared to be making a recovery, but friends and family alike were shocked when he passed away on May 31st. The band members were devastated by the untimely death but, under the direction of Pipe Major Bill Magennis, they led the funeral procession from the funeral home to the St. Ninian’s Cathedral. Scott Williams played at the door of the cathedral as the cortege arrived for the funeral Mass. Later, the band led the procession from the cathedral to the grave site where Bill Magennis played the lament. For years thereafter, when the band left on trips from the Legion Hall on Main Street, in addition to their prayer for a safe journey, they prayed to their own special saint, Saint Allan, asking him to watch over them and to inspire them in their performances.

    In June, the band attended the Moncton Band Festival, placing first in the Junior Mixed Band category, second in the parade category, and second in the formation drill event. At the awards ceremony, piper Leo MacDougall played a lament in memory of Allan Beaton. On July 1st, the band competed in Pugwash, placing first in the Junior band division. At the Antigonish Highland Games, the band won the Maritime Junior Pipe Band Championship and placed second in the Mini Band event.

    The band made its second trip to the North American Championships that summer, travelling by train. With new recruits, pipers Scott Williams and Doug Boyd, and drummers Neil McKenna and Kevin Grant to augment their competition band forces, the Antigonish Legion Pipe Band won first place in the Grade 3 category out of 18 bands. The girls in the band competed separately in the Ladies’ Division, and won that event as well. The following day, the band placed first out of fourteen to win the International Grade 3 Championship at Brockville. The band returned home to a tumultuous reception at the CNR station and paraded through the town to the arena where official greetings and congratulations were given, following a brief performance by the newly crowned champions. Their first piping instructor, Sandy Boyd, was on hand to play a short selection in their honour as well.

    After all the excitement had died down, the band went on to win first place at the Festival of the Tartans in New Glasgow bringing to seven the number of first place wins that summer. A photo later used on the cover of the band’s first recording showed the following members: Pipe Major Bill Magennis, pipers Doug Boyd, Mary Chisholm, Patricia Hawley, Jean Gillis, Leo MacDougall, Janis MacLellan, Gerry Gillis, Danny Gillis, Sandra MacKinnon, Anne MacDonald, and Scott Williams; drummers Mary MacDonald, Marian MacDonald, Kevin Grant, Monica Secco, Ria VanBerkel, Susan MacIntosh, Neil McKenna and Iain Boyd; and managers Charles MacDougall and Danny Gillis Sr..

    That fall, the band resumed its schedule of Sunday practices with Bill Magennis, Mary Chisholm and Scott Williams teaching the chanter students and Neil McKenna teaching the drumming students. These classes were held  at 10 AM, with the full band meeting at 1:30 PM. Altogether, there were 62 pipers and drummers enrolled in the various levels. In October, the band members were the guests of honour at a banquet held by the Arras Brach of the Royal Canadian Legion. The 23 members of the competition contingent were presented with Certificates of Merit, the highest honour the Legion can bestow on non-veterans. On November 11th, the band led the parade of veterans to the cenotaph for the Remembrance Day Ceremonies.

    In 1972, the band opened its season of performances with a concert at the Lion’s Club’s “Ice Cracker Show” at the Antigonish Arena on January 23rd. Attempts to raise money for a trip to Scotland met with very little success, especially from government sources and the proposed trip to the “Auld Country” had to be postponed.

    With the adoption of the graded system, the junior/senior distinctions were dropped and the set tunes for competition were also changed. Prior to 1972, the bands played a slow air as they marched forward, counter marching twice as they played. They switched into a quick march, countermarching again before they formed a circle in which they continued on to play their strathspey and reel standing still. At the end of the reel, they switched back into a six-eight march, marking time, then reformed the band and marched off the field. Under the new system, bands played the March, Strathspey, and Reel only, with the Slow March/Six-eight March becoming a separate event.

    At Easter, the band again sent quartets to the Toronto Indoor Meet where they captured first and third places in the Grade 3 North American Championship event. The first place quartet consisted of Pipe Major Bill Magennis, Jean Gillis, Leo MacDougall and Sandra MacKinnon. The third place quartet consisted of Scott Williams, Danny and Gerry Gillis, and Janis MacLellan.

    The band hosted the “Clanranald Ceilidh” at the University Auditorium on May 7th and then competed in Moncton on May 14th, winning three firsts - Senior band, Formation Drill, and Street Parade. The girls in the band entered separately and took two seconds in the Girls’ Band events. A junior contingent placed second in the first outing of what was to become the Antigonish Legion “B” Pipe Band. At the Indoor Meet on May 27th, the band’s quartet consisting of Pipe Major Bill Magennis, Leo MacDougall, Jean Gillis and Patricia Hawley placed first, winning the trophy Magennis had donated for the event. In second place was another Antigonish quartet consisting of Sandra MacKinnon, Daniel and Gerry Gillis, and Janis MacLellan.

    That June, the band travelled to Halifax to cut its first recording with Audio Atlantic Ltd.. The album contained “Amazing Grace” as well as three tunes composed by Bill Magennis and a jig composed by the late Allan Beaton. At the School of Piping and Drumming’s closing, 28 practice chanter and drumming students were awarded certificates. Kate Mills was given the award for the most promising piper and Paul Barry was given the award for the most promising drummer with additional trophies being presented to Gordie Gillis for chanter and Nadine Thompson for drum pad.

        By now, the Antigonish Legion Band was competing throughout the Maritimes in the Grade 2 level. The summer competitions got off to a good start with a first place finish at Pugwash. During Highland Games Week, the Antigonish band took part in a large number of performances, including the opening of the musical Brigadoon, which saw more than 3000 in attendance, as well as the Pipe Band Tattoo which was quickly becoming the most popular evening show during the week. In the tattoo, the Antigonish band performed for the Argyll Broadswords as well as playing their own selection on the program. Pipe Major Magennis played “Thou Hast Left Me Ever, Jamie” as the lights dimmed, and the crowd fell silent. It was a moving performance, one not to be forgotten by those who were in attendance. The following day, the band won the mini band event but found itself in third place in the Grade 2 band event, with the reeds of their pipes soaking wet from the busy week’s schedule of performances. It fared better in the Slow March/Six-eight event, placing second.

    The band travelled to Tracadie, PEI on July 19th to take part in the 200th Anniversary of the arrival of the Glenalladale settlers, and at the end of the month, they headed off to Ontario for a three-week competition tour which would once again see them win the Grade 3 North  American and International Championships with the girls in the band once again heralded as the North American Ladies’ Champions. They continued this streak with a first place finish in Dutton, a performance on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and a second place finish in Fergus, but suffered a drop to ninth place out of thirty-eight Grade 3 bands at the Scottish World Festival at the CNE in Toronto where more than 125 bands from around the world vied for top honours. The band won the trophy for Best Dress and Deportment, however, so they didn’t come home from Toronto empty-handed.

    In September, Pipe Major Magennis completely revised the Antigonish Legion School of Piping and Drumming. He moved all the classes to week days instead of weekends. The community responded, in part because of the schedule changes, but also in part because of the rising reputation of the band - it was the place for their children to be - and the School registered 103 students, up 43 from the previous year. Bill Magennis also officially split the junior band into two competing units, an “A” band which would compete at the Grade 1 level in the Maritimes, but in Grade 2 elsewhere, and a “B” band which would compete at the Grade 3 level locally and Grade 4 elsewhere. The local newspaper published the division of members into the two bands, as follows: “A” Band: pipers Bill Magennis, Jean Gillis, Leo MacDougall, Patricia Hawley, Sandra MacKinnon, Daniel Gillis, Gerry Gillis, Doug Boyd, Anne MacDonald, Janis MacLellan, Mary Chisholm, and Scott Williams, and drummers Neil McKenna, Iain Boyd, Susan MacIntosh, Marian MacDonald, Monica Secco, Ria Van Berkel, Jane Kelly, and Tom MacIsaac (bass). “B” Band: pipers Kate Mills, Cathy MacDonald, Joan MacIntosh, Cynthia Thompson, Carl MacDonald, Reggie MacDonald, Wayne Fraser, Malcolm Fraser, William Fraser, Anne Smith, Brenda Hawley, and Theresa MacDonald, and drummers Cathy Gillis, Paul Barry, Linus Fraser, Joseph MacDonald, Mary MacDonald, Patricia Kelly, and Kevin Grant.

    Just when all seemed to be going smoothly, the Antigonish Legion Pipe Band suffered another terrible blow. Pipe Major Bill Magennis made the difficult decision to leave his young charges in Antigonish and move to Scarborough, Ontario where his brother-in-law, Jim Quinn, was struggling with cancer. Jean Gillis became the band’s pipe major and Scott Williams became the band’s piping instructor. In addition, Scott took over the direction of the “B” Band and the School of Piping and Drumming, with Neil McKenna continuing as drumming instructor of all three groups. Several of the senior pipers helped by taking on some of Bill’s classes, and the organization continued to move forward, albeit, more slowly.

    In the spring of 1973, the NSPPBA instituted a re-grading which saw the formation of a Grade 4 in Nova Scotia. Almost all of the Maritime bands were moved back a grade to be in line with national standards. The Antigonish Legion “A” Band, however, continued to compete in Grade 1 in Nova Scotia, placing first in Pugwash and Antigonish, and being named Champions Supreme by the NSPPBA.

    Nationally and internationally, the band continued to climb the ladder in Grade 2. Joined on their nineteen-day competition tour of Ontario by former director, Bill Magennis, the band placed sixth at Maxville, fifth at Brockville, and third at Dutton, Fergus and Toronto. Making their base at the Royal Military College in Kingston for the first part of their tour, the band played a command performance at RMC to officially open Kingston’s centennial celebrations. In an interview with The Casket, band manager Charles MacDougall praised the efforts of the band’s instructors, piper Scott Williams and drummer Neil McKenna, who kept the band going and growing after the departure of Pipe Major Bill Magennis. The other members who took part in the Ontario tour were: Pipe Major Jean Gillis, pipers Kate Mills, Leo MacDougall, Patricia Hawley, Daniel Gillis, Doug Boyd, Mary Chisholm, Ann MacDonald, Janis MacLellan, Joan MacIntosh, Cynthia Thompson, and Gerry Gillis, and drummers Susan MacIntosh, Iain Boyd, Marian MacDonald, Kevin Grant, Mary MacDonald and Kathy Gillis. Drum Major Coleen Cameron joind the band for its four-day stay in Toronto.

    That Christmas, four members of the band travelled to Scotland. Neil McKenna, Susan MacIntosh and Marian MacDonald received daily instruction from the talented young drummer, Jim Kilpatrick, with piper Scott Williams tagging along to keep them company. (Jim would later rise to great prominence and win a dozen World Solo Drumming Championships as well as become one of the pipe band world’s foremost pipe band lead drummers.)

    In 1974, the band travelled to Moncton where it took five prizes in the annual Maritime Band Festival. These prizes included first in Grade 1, first in Formation Drill, second in Open Medley, third in Mini Band, and third in the Grand Challenge Competition which saw excellent competitive performances by the prizing winning bands from every category - pipe bands, jazz bands, brass bands, and stage bands. The Antigonish band also placed first in Grade 1, first in Mini Bands, and first in the Open Medley at the Games in Antigonish, and were awarded the Export A Silver Tray for the most points won in all competitions.

    There was an indication that the band was reaching the top of the grade nationally as well when it placed first in the Grade 2 Canadian Inter-provincial Championships and third in the Open Medley in Ottawa in June. The band very nearly didn’t make it into the competition, for they were tied up in the Montreal airport for six hours due to a baggage handlers strike, which resulted in their drums and some of their uniforms being sent on to Winnipeg. The band made it to Ottawa, however, and due to the extenuating circumstances, were allowed to compete with borrowed drums and in what items of their uniforms that had arrived with them.

    The trip to Ottawa was an interesting one for the band in another way as well, for it resulted in the band acquiring a new pipe major who would be able to help them move up yet another rung on the ladder of pipe band excellence. Before he left Antigonish in 1972, Bill Magennis had ordered a matched set of Sinclair pipe chanters for the Antigonish Legion Pipe Band. The chanters arrived days before the 1974 Ottawa trip and Scott Williams approached Scottish-born piper Barry Ewen to see if he could help set them up. With work committments, etc., Barry was not able to do this before the band left for Ottawa, but was able to take a few days off from his work to accompany the band on their trip. To make a very long story short, Barry worked wonders with the new chanters and the band returned from Ottawa with the Championship and with Barry as their new pipe major.

    Barry led them to several victories at competitions throughout the Maritimes where they were still competing at the Grade 1 level. Because the band was in the process of purchasing all new uniforms, it was decided that they could make only one trip to Ontario that year, so the band was unable to try their new chanters at Maxville as they had hoped. They did, however, win the NSPPBA Grade 1 Championship Supreme title in 1974, and did this again in 1975 and 1976. In August, drumming instructor Neil McKenna took a one-year unpaid leave of absence from his teaching duties at the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School and travelled to Scotland where he studied drumming under the tuteledge of Jim Kilpatrick and his uncle, Tom Brown. While in Whitburn, West Lothian, Neil boarded with Jim’s mother, Peggy. He remained in Scotland until March of 1975, at which time he returned home to share what he had learned with his colleagues in the Antigonish Legion Pipe Band.

    In 1975, the band became self administering, in that for the first time its executive officers were members of the band itself instead of parent volunteers. Scott Williams served as President, with Tom MacIsaac as Vice- President, Mary Chisholm as Secretary, and Marian MacDonald as Treasurer. Jean Gillis was the chairman of the dress committee. Charles MacDougall remained as the band’s manager, a position he had held for nearly ten years, and Danny Gillis remained as the Legion Chairman of Piping, a position he had also held for most of the previous decade. New uniforms arrived and the picturesque but cumbersome military uniforms, complete with heavy doublets, feather bonnets, plaids, cross belts, hair sporrans and tartan hose were abandoned in favour of lighter weight tuxedo-style jackets, balmorals, frilled shirt fronts, cumberbunds, sealskin sporrans and off-white hose.

    In May, four pipers from the band, Barry Ewen, Jean Gillis, Gerry Gillis and Leo MacDougall, won the Maritime Quartet Championship and received the Pipe Major Bill Magennis trophy. In second place was the band’s second quartet consisting of Scott Williams, Janis MacLellan, Doug Boyd and Daniel Gillis. The band also travelled to Moncton, New Brunswick where once again it garnered three first place awards and one second, that being at the Grand Challenge event which saw entries from every category in the festival. The band played its “Try To Remember” set, arranged by Scott Williams and Neil McKenna, which consisted of the title tune from “The Fantastics”, followed by “Jesus Christ, Super Star”, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”, “Plaisir D’Amour”, “Un Canadien Errant”, and “Vive Le Canadien”. In addition, the drummers performed what had by then become their signature piece, “Talking Drums”, complete with an exciting back-sticking segment never before seen in Atlantic Canada. An early morning fire that drove them from their motel and the long trip back to Antigonish did not seem to lessen their energy and enthusiasm as they performed for a packed house at their annual “Clanranald Ceilidh” concert in Antigonish that evening.

    The Antigonish Legion Pipe Band performed with the Cobequid Education Centre Concert Band for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip when they visited Halifax. The concert was held out of doors, at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. The pipe band played a selection of its own, and then the combined bands played “Scotch On The Rocks” which was, at that time, very popular.

    In June, the band travelled to Ottawa where it once again represented Nova Scotia at the Canadian Inter-provincial Pipe Band Championships, this time placing third. In July, the band won the Grade 1 March, Strathspey, and Reel, Open Medley, and Open Mini Band events at the Antigonish Highland Games. They went on to win top honours at the Festival of the Tartans in New Glasgow, which guaranteed them the much coveted NSPPBA Championship Supreme Award at the end of the season.

       By August, the band was ready to try again for international honours. They travelled to Toronto where they took part in the Scottish World Festival Tattoo, and competed in the Grade 2 Inter-continental Pipe Band Championships, held on the last day of the Festival. There is a rather interesting story connected with their performance at the CNE in Toronto. The band’s new kilts, jackets, sporrans, brogues, and hand-made hose all duly arrived, but as the competition season began, there was no sign of the balmorals they had ordered, and their feather bonnets were no longer suitable for use with their new tuxedo-style uniforms. The band was able to compete throughout the Maritimes where the dress code did not specifically stipulate the wearing of headgear, and they went off to Ontario ignorant of rule changes which had made the wearing of appropriate head gear compulsory for the first time in all competitions sanctioned by the PPBSO.

        For a while, it looked as if the band would be refused permission to compete but finally the Scottish Society of Windsor Pipe Band came their rescue with an offer to let them use their balmorals. The Windsor band played immediately before the Antigonish contingent, and as they came off the field they passed their balmorals over to the Antigonish musicians. The Antigonish band played well and returned the borrowed headgear immediately upon finishing their competition selections.

        A few hours later, the call came for all bands to assemble on the field for the traditional massed band parade. The Antigonish band, of course, would not be allowed to take part, and were standing on the sidelines, watching as the others assembled. In the final moments, a PPBSO official came over and told the band that the Metropolitan Toronto Police Pipe Band had decided to wear their number one (military) dress for the massed bands, which they had taken with them to use in the evening Scottish World Festival performance, and would lend the Antigonish musicians the balmorals from their number two dress. There was a mad scramble to tune instruments, don balmorals and move into position, but the Antigonish band was able to march onto the field with the others. Imagine their surprise when the prizes were announced and they were named the Grade 2 Champions, with their friends from Windsor placing second by only a fraction of a point! (It was discovered later that the PPBSO officials, upon tabulating the scores, found that the Antigonish band emerged as the victors. The officials approached the Metro Police band and asked if there was anything they could do to help see that the band was on the field to accept their prize. True competitors and great sports, they decided to don their number one dress and lend the Nova Scotians their balmorals.)

        The Antigonish Legion Pipe Band was awarded “The Canadian Foundation Shield for Pipe Band Excellence - the Grade 2 Inter-Continental Pipe Band Championships”. When it came time for the bands to march off the field, the Antigonish band followed the Dysart and Dundonald Pipe Band, winners of the Grade 1 event, and were immediately followed by the Shotts & Dykehead Pipe Band, which had placed second in the Grade 1 event. It was one of the proudest moments of their lives for many of the members of the Antigonish band.

        Winning this major Grade 2 contest gave the Antigonish Legion Pipe Band the courage to try for the World Championships which would be held in Hawick, Scotland, in 1976. A number of the members had graduated from St. F.X. University in the spring of 1975, and would surely have left the area in search of employment opportunities, but for the planned trip to Scotland. In the spring of 1976, several others graduated, and all of them remained in Antigonish, taking whatever jobs they could find.

        The band produced its second recording as a fundraiser for the trip, which was the occasion for another interesting story. The recording company agreed to come to Antigonish to do the taping so that some numbers could be performed to the accompaniment of James MacPherson on the St. Ninian’s Cathedral organ. The Audio Visual Theatre at the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School was set up as a studio for recording the other numbers.

        On a frosty Friday evening in February, the recording sessions began at the cathedral. There, Pipe Major Ewan was informed that the organ was half tone out from concert pitch, which made the task of setting the chanters to it much more difficult than expected. It took every bit of Barry’s talent and his accute ear to do it, and the process took hours. Every note of the chanter scale had to be adjusted to bring it into pitch with the organ. This was difficult enough to accomplish with the chanter of piper Anne MacDonald, who was performing a solo with organ accompaniment, but to set the other chanters for the band selections proved to be nearly impossible. In the end, only one additional selection was recorded with a reduced number of pipers.

        The local detatchment of the RCMP, meanwhile, had noticed the cars parked around the cathedral and were keeping an eye on the situation. When a break was called, about 11:30 PM, a number of the band members went outside for a cigarette. Finding the February air a bit too chilly, they climbed into Barry’s car, which was parked at one side of the cathedral. The mounties, with their car lights extinguished, pulled up behind them,  and when they saw the red glow of several lit cigarettes they immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion. They switched on their lights and siren, and sprang into action, expecting to bust up a drug party of sorts. The band members were horrified, of course, and innocent of any crime, which frustrated the mounties even more. They sent for Barry and ordered him to open his trunk. Their thorough examination of the car and its contents revealed only a bag of dirty laundry, which they went through, sock by sock. The whole incident took about half an hour, but it set the tuning process back even more and the two numbers which were recorded with the organ were not finished until several hours later.

        The recording, completed the next day, was a success, despite all the obstacles, and enough copies were sold across the continent to help in a very large way with the efforts to raise the funds needed for the Scotland trip in August.  Two separate charter groups were organized, one for the band members and several parents, while the other was open to anyone interested in travelling to Scotland and attending the competitions to cheer the band on. Dr. Pat Walsh, of St. F.X. University agreed to be the guide for the second group.

        Fundraising may have been the chief preoccupation of the executive, but the band still had its quota of performances and competitions leading up to the departure date. The band entered and won the Open Grade 2-3 Mini Band event at the Antigonish Highland Games. It also won the Open Medley event and was awarded the MacCulloch Co. Ltd. Trophy for the third time, which the band was now permitted to keep permanently. The drummers placed second in the Drum Fanfare event, and Anne MacDonald was named Grade 2 Piper of the Day.

        The band travelled to Scotland, leaving home on August 9th for a three week tour which would see them visit Stirling, Glencoe, Inverary Castle, Fort William, Oban, Portree, Inverness, Culloden Battlefield, Perth, Dundee, St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. They competed in the Grade 2 World Pipe Band Championships held at Hawick against eighteen of the best pipe bands from five countries. The performance was one of their best efforts for the season, and at the massed bands which followed several hours later, they found that they had placed third, winning the Hugh MacPherson Cup. The band was also awarded the British Caledonian Airways Shield for the Best Overseas Pipe Band in the grade, with Barry Ewan receiving the trophy from Her Grace, The Dutchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry.

        The following week, at the Cowal Championships held at Dunoon, the band placed fifth out of twenty-one bands, and at the Highland Gathering at the Princes Street Gardens, in Edinburgh, they captured fourth place, definitely confirming their status as one of the top Grade 2 contenders in the world. The seventeen members of the band who made the trip to Scotland were as follows: Pipe Major Barry Ewen, pipers Scott Williams, Jean Gillis, Janis MacLellan, Gerry Gillis, Danny Gillis, Leo MacDougall, Anne MacDonald and Doug Boyd, Lead Drummer Neil McKenna, snare drummers Iain Boyd, Marian MacDonald, Kathy Gillis, Paul Barry, tenor drummers Kevin Grant, Mary MacDonald and bass drummer Tom MacIsaac.

        The band arrived home on August 31st, tired and ready for a rest. First, however, they had to make their triumphant entry into town. The charted bus which was carrying them from the Halifax International Airport was met by the CJFX remote radio van and Pipe Major Ewen and Band President Williams were taken onboard for a live radio interview aired as the band approached the town limits. At the Addington Forks intersection, they were joined by a large cavalcade of waiting cars with horns blowing and proceeded into town to the Legion Hall where a public reception in their honour was held.

        Greetings and congratulations were made on behalf of the band’s sponsors, the Arras Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, by Gerry Cunningham and Donald Gillis, on behalf of the Town of Antigonish by Deputy Mayor John Tramble, on behalf of the Antigonish Highland Society by Chief J.K. MacDonald, and on behalf of the County of Antigonish by Municipal Councillor Charles MacDougall, who had accompanied the band on its three-week tour. Following the speeches, tokens of remembrance were presented by Mr. Gillis and Legion Secretary Pat Cunningham, with flowers being presented to Evelyn Gillis and Irma MacDonald, parents and long-time supporters of the band, who had made the journey with their charges.

        At year’s end, The Casket announced that it nominated the members of the Antigonish Legion Pipe Band as Citizens of the Year in recognition of their talent and dedication to their music which had brought so much honour and fame to the town over much of the past decade. In an editorial on January 6th, 1977, notice was made of the fact that the band was now experiencing difficulties, with members leaving to find employment in other areas, and that the following year would be one of rebuilding for the group. In the beginning, the editorial said, the average age in the band was thirteen. In 1976, it had been twenty-three, with most members being recent graduates of post-secondary institutions who were now teachers, nurses, businessmen, engineers and administrators, with only a few of the very youngest still in high school. The turning point has come, the editorial said. 1977 will see the end of the original band, but it is the community’s hope that there would always be an Antigonish Legion Pipe Band and that it would continue to exemplify the high standards set by those dedicated children and maintained by them into adulthood.

        On March 17th, the Antigonish Legion Pipe Band performed for the last time in two concerts with Ryan’s Fancy at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, in the Dalhousie Arts Centre, Halifax. Their organist friend, Jame MacPherson came along, as did champion Highland dancer Janice MacQuarrie, and their section of the program received several standing ovations from the two packed houses, with many pipers and drummers from across the Maritimes attending to witness the passing of an era. It would be many years before another Nova Scotian pipe band would reach for the stars and claim its place among them as the Antigonish Legion Pipe Band had done.

 

 

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