Pipe Bands of Nova Scotia



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Pipe Bands of Nova Scotia 1898-2000

Pipe bands have existed in Nova Scotia for more than one hundred years. From the MacIntyre Caledonia Pipe Band of 1898, to the military pipe bands of two world wars, to the girls' bands which dominated the scene in the 1950s and 1960s, and on to the bands which attained national and international recognition in the last quarter of the 20th Century, more than 150 pipe bands have marched down the streets of Nova Scotian cities, towns, and villages and have performed at hundreds of Highland games, parish picnics, ship launchings, Remembrance Day, Homecoming, and Natal Day parades, sports events, and summer festivals of every description. In fact, it's hard to imagine anything significant happening in Nova Scotia without the music of the pipes! Love them or hate them, pipe bands have been a significant part of Nova Scotia's diverse cultural 'quilt' for more than a century, and will continue to be well into the new millennium.




It gives me great pleasure to dedicate this work to my first piping instructors - the late Alexander (Sandy) Ross Boyd, the late Pipe Major William "Bill" Magennis, and James Barry Ewen. It was my very good fortune to have had their guidance during my formative years.

From Sandy I learned correct finger technique and the ability to read and write music. From Bill I received the ability to teach others and to love my students as if they were my children, for all Bill's students were part of his family. From Barry I received an appreciation for accuracy, unison playing, and a high quality of sound - that "Antigonish Sound", as our band manager, the late Charlie MacDougall, often called it.

It is their attitudes, knowledge, and skills that I have been attempting to pass on to my own students for more than three decades.


The MacIntyre family of Glace Bay started Nova Scotia's first civilian pipe band by 1898. Robert Thompson formed one in Halifax by 1904, and Andrew Holmes soon followed with another in Pictou County by 1906. By the outbreak of World War I, there were enough musicians in Nova Scotia with pipe band experience to fill the province's military bands for service at home and overseas. George Dey and James Cant of Halifax, Fraser Holmes and Wallace Roy of Pictou County, John A. "Black Jack" MacDonald of Soldier's Cove, Ross Stone of Truro, Rod Nicholson of Sydney, and Herman Beaton of Antigonish County trained bands during and after World War II. Fraser Holmes started the first all girls' pipe band in Nova Scotia in 1948 and soon others were springing up all over the province, a trend that continued to the late 1960s. Jack MacIsaac, Harold MacDonnell, Barry Ewen, and Bill Magennis helped elevate the standard of pipe bands in the 60s and 70s, and Doug Boyd, Madelyn (Russell) Evans, Wayne Moug, John Walsh, Barb Stewart, Mark Stewart, Roderick MacLean, and a host of others continue to make their contributions today.

I thoroughly enjoyed working on this book, "Pipe Bands of Nova Scotia 1898 to 2000", and its companion, "Pipers of Nova Scotia Biographical Sketches 1773 to 2000", which was published in June, 2000. It is my hope that both will be considered significant contributions to the historical record of Nova Scotia's Scottish music and culture

Scott Williams

January, 2001

Sample from "Pipe Bands of Nova Scotia, 1898-2000"

Pictou Highlanders Pipe Band at Halifax, c 1943

Pictou Highlanders Pipe Band, of New Glasgow. The Pictou Highlanders can trace their history back to 1871 when the 78th Colchester, Hants & Pictou Highlanders were organized. In 1910, there was strong agitation to outfit the Battalion in kilts. The other counties disagreed, however, so the unit was re-organized and the Pictou County branch was re-named the 78th Pictou Highlanders, also known as the Pictou Regiment. In 1911, the Pictou Highlanders provided the Guard of Honour when the Duke of Connaught, then Governor General of Canada, visited Pictou. In 1914, when World War I broke out, members of this regiment were sent to Valcartier, Quebec, where they formed the nucleus of the 17th (Nova Scotia Seaforth Highlanders of Canada) CEF Battalion. When the 40th Battalion was raised, the Pictou Highlanders supplied members to that as well.

In 1920, the regiment was re-organized again and was named the Pictou Highlanders. A camp was held in Pictou to coincide with the anniversary celebrations of the arrival of the Hector, and similar camps were held annually until 1939.

In the 1930s, some of the members of the Pictou Highlanders Pipe Band were pipers Wallace Roy and Mike MacNeil, snare drummer Danny MacLellan, and bass drummer Davie Matheson. An unidentified clipping dated November 28th, 1936 contains a photo of the band with the following members: Pipe Major Wallace Roy, pipers James Burns, Clarence MacLeod, Walter Roy, Corporal Alex Ingraham, Sergeant Norman MacLeod, Roy Sexton and Alex Hasey, drummers Pete MacLellan, Corporal Marshall, Sergeant Matheson, Dan MacLellan and Sergeant Lee Carroll. In the Article, the band was referred to as the Regimental Pipe Band of the Pictou Highlanders, Headquartered at Stellarton.

In September 1939, Canada declared war on Germany and the regiment was mobilized and drafted other units including the West Nova Scotia Regiment and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. The Pictou's role was a defensive one in Canada and they were never engaged in battle. At first, they were under canvas at Sand Point, near Mulgrave, on the Strait of Canso. The band continued to perform, but without Wallace Roy as their Pipe Major. In 1940 and 1941, the band participated in the Antigonish Highland Games, placing second in 1941. Their first move was to Newfoundland for coastal defense duties from March to August of 1943. In September of 1943, a company was dispatched to Nassau, the Bahamas, where it performed garrison duties until March of 1946. A second company was sent for service in Bermuda from November 12th, 1942 to April 1st, 1946.

In the summer of 1944, the pipe band participated in a War Bond Drive. There were troops on parade and displays of military equipment.. The band performed a Ceremonial Retreat at Carmichael Park, beside the East River in New Glasgow. Boy Piper Don Roy joined the local Reserve Army Pipe Band in April 1945, and in his very first outing, marched in the front row next to Pipe Major Fraser Holmes. Pipers Jack Fleming of Stellarton and Harold Hayden of Pictou were in the band, and one of the drummers from that time was "Satch" Sarson, from Pictou.

On VE Day (Victory in Europe), the band was loaded onto the back of an army truck and toured Stellarton, New Glasgow, Westville and Trenton with the band playing through the Main Streets of these towns. The band went to summer camp at Beach Grove, on the outskirts of Charlottetown, and while ther, the band performed a live half-hour radio broadcast from the Charlottetown Armories. VJ Day (Victory in Japan) followed soon after and when the news arrived, the band was performing at the Greenhill look-off. Everyone began celebrating including young Don Roy, and his father, Wallace.

The 2nd (Reserve) Battalion served in Nova Scotia. It recruited, trained, and supplied re-enforcements to the 1st Battalion. This 2nd Battalion was reorganized in 1946 and designated the Pictou Highlanders (Motor) Battalion. They continued to perform at the Antigonish Highland Games to 1950 and again in 1954. In 1954, the 2nd Battalion became part of the Nova Scotia Highlanders and traded in its MacKenzie tartan for the MacDonald. At this time, the pipe Major of the band was Jack Fleming.


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