Introduction

The B.C. Pipers’ Association was fortunate indeed to have had among its membership the Piping Historian Carl Ian Walker. It is from his original work that this history page has been created. Carl passed away several years ago, but the association will continue to update their history started by his dedicated work to the BC Pipers’ Association.

Prior to the formation of the BC Pipers’ Association (BCPA) piping societies had briefly existed in Vancouver:

  • The Pipers’ Society in 1905
  • The Vancouver Pipers’ Society in 1921.

Neither appeared to last long or make much headway. Piping was otherwise largely in the hands of the several local pipe hands, dedicated performers and teachers, and was encouraged by the Vancouver St. Andrews & Caledonian Society, which held annual games.

Past Presidents of the BCPA

NameDate FromDate To
Graham Davidson2020Present
Robert MacNeil20112020
Graham Davidson20082011
Ed McIlwaine20062008
Robert MacNeil20022006
Kim Chisholm20012002
Jamie McInnes19922001
Angus Macpherson19891991
Duncan Fraser19871988
Angus Macpherson19841986
Peter MacNeil19821983
Donald MacMillan19811981
Bob Murphie19801980
Bill Lamont19791979
Alex Young19771978
James MacDonald19751976
David Wilson19741974
Bill Lamont19731973
Bill Elder19711972
Bill Lamont19691970
Albert Duncan19671968
Rod MacVicar19651966
Ian McDougall19631964
Ian Walker19591963
Ron Foreman19581959
Edmund Esson19571958
Ron Foreman19561957
Gordon Sinclair19551955
Roderick MacRae19551956
Edmund Esson19511955
Donald MacDonald19491951
Charles MacKenzie19471949
Roderick MacRae19451947
William Urquhart19431945
John Paul19421943
Allan MacNab19401942
Walter Douglas19371940
William Bowes19351937
James Dyer19341935
Roderick MacLeod19321934

The Beginning of the BCPA

The need for an organization to promote all aspects of the Great Highland Bagpipe was sorely felt by a handful of enthusiasts and on July 30, 1932 the inaugural meeting of the BCPA was held. At this meeting, held at the Vancouver Police Station, Rod MacLeod was elected as president. Some of the charter members were William Urquhart, William MacIndewar, John Paul, John Gillies, Allan MacNab, James Robertson, Ed Esson and William Bowes? Open and Amateur players, band members and teachers, – a real cross section of the local piping community.

Barely 3 1/2 months later, on Nov. 19, 1932, the 1st Annual Gathering (AG), grandiosely described as the “Grand Inaugural Highland Gathering and Bag Pipe Playing Competition” took place at the Elks Hall. Ten events, all solo piping, were held, entry fees were 25 cents per event, and admission to the hall was 50 cents. All competitors in Highland costume were admitted free, and a special prize was awarded to the best dressed competitor.

It is probable that our founding fathers considered the Association to be of province-wide significance, considering they described it “British Columbia”. On records is a 1940 letter from the Vancouver Island Pipers’ Society, which is described it as an affiliate of the BCPA. The letter was promoting the annual re-union of the B.C. Pipers. While it is not known how long this association lasted, by the 1960s the Vancouver Island Pipers’ Club flourished in Victoria, as an independent group.

On the programme of the 1932 AG is depicted a crest similar to our present one, with the Piper’s left side portrayed. The motto “Tog Orm Mo Phiob”(To shoulder my pipes) appeared on this early crest, likely inspired by Rod MacLeod. By 1933 our crest in its present form was adopted.

Initially the competitions were organized into Novice, Ladies, Under 16, 16 and Over and Open (or Professional). These categories were devised at a time when there were few female competitors and they were regarded as weaker players. By the 1950’s, when such Ladies as Isobel MacLean and Norma Nicholson had cleaned up in both the Ladies and the Amateur classes the inequality no longer existed, and the ladies class was discontinued In 1958 the Assn. re-organized the Amateur classes into Novice, Juvenile, Junior and Senior Amateur. This accommodated late starters, and enabled players to compete against their peers, irrespective of age. Finally in 1995 the classes were once again changed, into Grades 1, 2, 3 and 4, Grade 1 being the highest level.

Needless to say, the BCPA was dirt poor in the 1930’s. The depression had hit everybody, membership was not large, and the sources of revenue were scanty In fact, silver-tongued Rod MacLeod persuaded competitors to play for ribbons in the early years. By 1936 the Financial Report showing a bank balance of $102.90 was accepted with pleasure. As the Association got more affluent merchandise prizes were obtained for all events. By the 1970s Open Competitors received money prizes and Amateurs received medals. Now Open Players vie for trips to Scotland, slightly more generous than ribbons.

The War Years

By 1939 the activities of the BCPA continued, but the impending war evidently caused considerable concern to the members. While it is not known what action was planned by the Association, the minutes of Sept. 5, 1939 stated:

“The European situation was discussed at some length, but the meeting adjourned without any action being taken by the Association.”

From time to time accommodations to wartime conditions were necessary. An example appears in a letter sent to the members by the Secretary, William Urquhart:

“The Annual Gathering of the Association scheduled for December 12th (1941) and subsequently canceled on account of the blackout precautions will be held on Saturday, January 31st (1942) in the Elks Hall. On that date the Gathering will definitely be held commencing at 2:30 in the afternoon.”

Post WWII

The Association held a reception on Oct. 12, 1945 for the Pipe Band of the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, which had returned from Europe. It must have been a good party, judging from the list of expenses.

ItemCost
Liquor$60.00
Printing & Adv$4.50
Permit$2.00
Secretary’s exp$6.00
Dinner$85.25
Total:$157.75

As the attendance receipts amounted to only $70.00, a net loss of $87.75 was noted.

WW II had, in balance, a beneficial effect on the local piping community. While many fine players were taken out of circulation far the duration (Ed Esson, James Watt, Wm. Barrie, Ian Duncan, Ian Inkstert, Lillian Grant and Jim McMillan, to name a few) the level of piping markedly improved as a result of full-time practicing and regular courses offered in the Canadian and Imperial Armies. Upon demobilization these pipers made a vast contribution to the BCPA and to the pipe bands throughout the province. A new standard of competence was established

The economic realities of the Assn. are reflected in an amusing extract, taken from the Minutes of May 16, 1949.

“The secretary brought up the matter of paying the judges who acted at our last gathering. A motion was passed by James Horn (Andy Kirk) to pay the sum of $5 to Pipers and $2 to drumming judges. Speaking on the motion Edmund Esson and Donald MacDonald amended the motion to read, the same amount to be given to piping & drumming judges.”

1952 marked a significant milestone in the history of the BCPA. We organized a visit by the notables P-M William Ross and his young pupil, John Burgess, to judge at the AG. The event was made Possible through the dynamic leadership of Ed Esson, with the assistance of Donald MacLaren, an executive of the Trans Canada Air Lines, which provided flights. As well, the BCPA had become somewhat better fixed as a result of profits from the White Heather Concerts, which it had co-sponsored since 1948.

The Trophies of the Annual Gathering

One of the finest traditions of the AGs has been the presentation of a series of trophies. At the 2nd AG, on Nov. 18, 1933, was first presented the MacCrimmon Memorial Cairn for Open Piobaireachd. In the August, 1960 issue of the Newsletter, Rod MacLeod told the story of the birth of the Cairn, the brainchild of Ed Esson, on the boat back from Bowen Island, following a Gaelic Society meeting. It was decided to produce a replica of the Cairn located at Borreraig, Skye. Since it was going to cost $250.00 and the Treasury contained only $25.00, Esson and MacLeod scrounged the remaining $225.00, and commissioned O.B. Allan jewelers, to make the trophy.

The MacCrimmon Cairn is the most coveted of our prizes and it has been won thirteen times by Jack Lee, a remarkable feat. Other multiple winners are Bill Urquhart, Bruce Gandy (7), Alan Bevan, Andrew Bonar, James P Troy (4), Hugh Aird, Ed Esson, Norma Nicholson, James Watt (3). The first winner of the Cairn was Alex Johnson, a leading competitor during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Norma Nicholson was the first woman to win the Cairn and captured it for three consecutive years, a tremendous achievement only equaled by three other winners in the history of the Cairn.

The Cabar Feidh Trophy, donated by the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, has been presented to the winner of the Amateur Piobaireachd since 1933, as well.

Another magnificent trophy is the MacIver Memorial Trophy, first presented in 1945. It honours Donald MacIver, a well-loved teacher and all round expert, who dominated the scene from 1909 until his death in 1943. In the form of an obelisk, this award is presented to the person who attains the most points at the AG, whether Amateur or Open. Its first winners were William Rarrie and Margaret, who won it jointly.

Trophies are, from time to time, retired. Classes are changed and sometimes the trophies are no longer appropriate. For many years the Alex Lobban Trophy was the Aggregate for Junior Piping. In 1969 it was retired and present to Mr. and Mrs. Michael MacInnes, whose five children: Duncan, Donald, Rae Mare, Therese and Heather had each won it. Such a record will probably never be matched.

Another family affair had been the Nicholson Quartette, consisting of Malcolm Nicholson, and his daughters Jessier Kathleen and Norma. They used to enter the local competitions as a Quartette, in 1950 coming second at the AG.

Some of the People of the AG

A record for longevity at the competitions must be held by James Watt. He first appeared in the prize list with a first and a second in the Under 16 Class at the 3rd AG, held on Nov. 24, 1934. Since that time his name has appeared on virtually every trophy for solo piping. To this day, still blowing a strong pipe, Watt attends all of the competitions, assisting and encouraging his many pupils.

A legend at BCPA competitions was Malcolm Nicholson, who taught more pipers than most of us know. A Pipe Major of the Vancouver City Police Band for many years, Nicholson formed several hands, especially for young players. At the competitions he was always at the head of a long line of pupils, waiting to be tuned. In recognition of his huge contribution in 1978 Malcolm Nicholson was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada, a well deserved honour.

Some of the Judges of the Annual Gathering

The visits by prominent pipers from throughout the piping world to judge at our AG’s has continued until this date and has undoubtedly played a big role in putting B.C. and Vancouver on the world piping map, as well as significantly stimulating the standard of piping and increasing the interest in our instrument In the early years we were favoured with visits by Seumas MacNeil, John MacLellan, Donald MacLean of Lewis, Donald MacLeod, Donald Shaw Ramsay and John Wilson. In recent years the association has invited Alasdair Gillies, Bill Livingstone, Roddy MacLeod, and Angus MacColl. The list is very long indeed.

A regular and most popular feature of the guest judges’ attendance in Vancouver has been a recital by them, held near the time of the AG. This has given the membership the opportunity to hear their excellence

A collection of tapes of these recitals was started in 1956, and is presently maintained by Bill Elder

Venues of the Annual Gathering

One of the most important decisions facing the organizer of AG has been the matter of venue. As a peripatetic association without its own premises, rented quarters are necessary As the meets expanded from a one day affair with a single stage to a two day event requiring numerous competition areas, the choice has been more perplexing An ever present bugbear has been the shortage of tuning areas, and’ with the emergence of drumming events, this problem has become more critical.

From 1932 to 1942 the Elks Hall was used There after a variety of halls were rented, including the Moose Hall, the Seamen’s Hall and the Electrical workers Hall. In 1951 the Seaforth Armoury became home to our AG and continued as such until 1965. Then the Assn. used the Gardens, at Exhibition Park, The North Vancouver Recreation Centre in the 1970’s Simon Fraser University, and in recent years numbers high Schools in the Greater Vancouver area.

The Piobaireachd competitions, held on the Friday prior to the main competition, are often held at the Scottish Auditorium on Hudson Street.

Annual Gathering, the Events

A profound expansion of events at the AG has taken place over the years. At the 1st competition, there were 10 events, all solo piping. It is illuminating to- examine the breakdown of events over the decades.

YearSolo PipingPiping ensemblesMiniature bands
or full bands
Solo DrummingHighland DancingTotal
19331010
19401111113
1950141116
19601511118
1970152118
1980132318
1990174526
20002441442
20101961439

The Mini-Gatherings

In the mid 1950’s the BCPA began holding Bi-Monthly competitions, enabling Amateur players to play their tunes in a relaxed setting. Initially these events were held in the old Scottish Auditorium, and subsequently they moved to various schools. By 1975 they had considerably expanded and became Mini-Gatherings. These competitions have proved invaluable to young pipers and drummers, and have as well given more experienced and mature players the opportunity to judge.

The Newsletter

The first issue of the B.C. Pipers’ Newsletter appeared in April 1960, under the editorship of Ian Walker. It has been produced in various forms until this day, the Dec. 1998 issue being # 311. The Newsletter has served as the information lifeline of the BCPA, containing notices of coming events, results, editorials, tunes, piping gossip and ads of interest to the piping and pipe band community.

The Newsletter was produced more or less monthly until 1993, when it became a Quarterly publication Since then Bill Elder has taken on the task of producing a monthly Mini Newsletter.

It must be added that each of the Editors has had a hard working and dedicated crew of helpers, without whose efforts the tremendous working putting together the Newsletter would never he completed.

I shall never forget, during my years as Editor, being covered with ink from the old Gestetner, and producing the Newsletter with my good friends Bill McAdie and Donald Urquhart. Doubtless the other Editors have similar memories.

Editors of the Newsletter

EditorDatesIssues
Angela BurleighFall 2009 – 2010344-346
Edward McIlwaineWinter 2004 – Fall 2007 to Spring 2008,
August to November 2008, Winter/Spring 2009,
Summer 2009
334-340
341-343
Robert MacNeilFall 2001 – Fall 2004322-333
Rorri McBlaneSpring 1999 – Summer 2001312-321
Duncan FraserSpring 1993 – December 1998290-311
Graham DavidsonJanuary 1990 – December 1992262-289
Iain MacDonaldDecember 1988 – December 1989253-261
Angus MacphersonAugust 1984 – October/November 1988213-252
Jean BokenfohrJanuary 1981 – June 1984184-212
Alex YoungJanuary 1977 – March 1980158-183
(Issue 155-157
never used)
Angus MacphersonJuly 1974 – November 1976137-154
Colin Abel &
Angus Macpherson
February 1972 – January/March 1974120-136
Robert Gunn &
Bill Elder
February 1969 – December 197188-119
Ian WalkerApril 1960 – March 19681-87

The Knock-Outs

1969 saw the institution of the Knock-Out competitions, one of the more popular activities of the BCPA. They consist of a series of Open players playing a medley of tunes, and being judged to advance to the next level or being eliminated from the competition. The playoffs between the finalists are held at the Annual Banquet.

The BCPA instigated a programme of Structured Learning Examinations in 1994. As sanctioned by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association this programme consists of tuition and examinations for Piping and drumming at the Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced levels. According to Robt. MacNeil, the programme Coordinator, to date many pipers and, many drummers have received Certificates at the various levels.

Membership in the BCPA

Possibly one of thorniest issues to confront the BCPA over the years has been the question of membership. Since the beginning only “exponents” of the Highland bagpipe were entitled to active (and voting) membership. A category of associate membership was reserved for non-playing enthusiasts and drummers. “Exponents” was always interpreted as Pipers, in any event, it was not until .—-. that Active membership was opened to pipe band drummers. Doubtless this caused some of the early members to turn in their graves.

The perennial argument concerning the entry of drummers in the Assn. is doubtless not unconnected with the proliferation of drumming events in the recent gatherings. Their entry gave validity to the BCPA dealing with the regulation of pipe band competitions following the demise of the Western Pipe Band Association.

Honourary or Life Memberships

The BCPA has honoured a number of persons with Honorary or Life Memberships. The following is a list. with their principal contributions indicated.

YearNameNotes
2019Graham DavidsonTeacher, Organizer, Pipe Major
2017Robert MacNeilOfficer & Organizer
2015Andrew BonarPerfomer, Teacher & Organizer
2013Ron MacLeod, O.C.for their exceptional decades long services to BCPA as builders
2013Ron Sutherlandfor their exceptional decades long services to BCPA as builders
2012Hal SenykPipe Major & Performer
2010J. Reid MaxwellLead Drummer, Performer, & Teacher
2009Willie McErleanLead Drummer & Performer
2003Bill ElderOrganizer
2002Angus MacPhersonPipe Major & Organizer
1997Terry LeePipe Major & Performer
1995James W. TroyPerformer & Pipe Major
1995Ian MacDougallPipe Major & Teacher
1993Bruce WoodleyPerformer
1992Mary McKinnonOfficer
1992Ian McKinnonOrganizer
1990Donald RossSteward
1990Ian WalkerPiping Historian
1986Jim WilsonTeacher
1981Jack LeePerformer
1962Roderick MacRae
1962Charles MacKenzieOfficer
1961Malcolm NicholsonC.M. – Pipe Major, Teacher, and Member of the Order of Canada (1978)
1961Rod MacLeodOfficer & Piping Historian
1961Ken MacLeodPerformer
1961Ed EssonOfficer, Pipe Major & Performer
1936I.L. BoomerPres. of CNR Recreational Club (where meetings were held)
1936Judge Carder
1936Tom Reed
1936Hon. lan MacKenzieMember of Parliament
1936Rod MacLeodOfficer

Rod MacRae’s Life Membership in part were attributed to the fact that on two occasions he became President of the BCPA following the untimely death of the incumbent President.

In 1945 William Urquhart died suddenly from appendicitis and in 1955 Gordon Sinclair, a Vancouver City Policeman, was killed on duty.

MacRae happened to he Vice President on both occasions, and ably picked up the reins of office. He vowed thereafter that he would never again become Vice President of the Association.

Meetings

Monthly Meetings have been held throughout the life of the Assn, to plan its many activities. During the recent years, the elimination contests for the Knock-Outs have been a popular part of these meetings. As in other Associations Annual General Meetings are conducted to elect officer for the coming year.

Other BCPA Activities

The BCPA has carried out a great variety of other activities since its inception: lectures, seminars, workshops, trio knock-out competitions, composition contests, visits to Victoria, and a trip to Scotland. However they have not continued on a regular basis until the present time. Our plate is very full as it is, with the Annual Gathering for Amateur and Open Piping, Drumming and Mini Band events, the Knock Out competitions for Open players, the Mini Gatherings for Amateurs, the Newsletter, an Annual Members Banquet, a Recital following the AG and the Structured Learning programme. These activities are organized by a relatively small number of enthusiasts, who are dedicated to promoting the Great Highland Bagpipe.

With the exception of keeping this current, the content here comes from a document written by:

Carl lan Walker