of The Kemptville Legion Pipe Band
The Authority to form a band was passed at the regular
meeting of the Kemptville Legion Branch 212 on March 22nd, 1959; Ralph
Munro of Oxford Mills to be its first Pipe Major.
Today, 42 years later the band is one of the longest continuous serving of
any Legion pipe band, serving its branch and the surrounding area of
Eastern Ontario and Northern New York state.
At that meeting on March 22nd 1959, it was voted to give Ralph Munro
$65.00 to purchase chanters, drumsticks and instruction books. All
these were bought prior to the first practice held on Friday, April 17th,
1959; It began with eight members present.
When the band was first formed, the branch formed a committee of 12 legion
members to assist Ralph in any way they could. Today, only Lorne
Stewart survives that original committee.
The original band was mainly made up of First and Second World War
veterans. The band didn’t have pipes for the better part of a
year, its players being taught by Ralph Munro on the practice chanter.
Practice chanters don’t have anywhere near the volume of a set of
highland bagpipes and so consequently didn’t disturb the neighbours.
Many of the original band members were not familiar with the highland
bagpipes when they first began. Ralph was a strict disciplinarian,
and even though he had to push some of the band members to keep in line,
most had their hearts in what they were trying to accomplish. To
quote one of the few remaining original members, with approximately
thirty-seven years service, Lorne Stewart, about learning the bagpipes,
“They found they had to have the desire to learn how to play them.
They are not an easy instrument to learn to play. It’s a tedious
and heavy chore to understand them and learn to play them, so you don’t
kill yourself!” As we said earlier they are a difficult instrument
to play and need constant tuning. Drums have also changed over the
years from skin heads to plastic, which are much lighter in weight to
On forming the band a tartan had to be chosen, Ralph brought samples of
eight different tartans to the regular members meeting of the branch in
April 1959. These being “Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders”,
MacDonald, Royal Stewart, Cameron of Ottawa, Stewart of Garth, Black
Watch, Campbell and of course Munro.
Joe Patterson a well known legion member nominated the Munro, seconded by
Jim Welsh. All voted in favour, we assume Ralph was pleased.
Ralph had to get special permission from the Chief of the Clan Munro in
Scotland to wear it. Today the Kemptville Legion Pipe Band is still
the only band in the world authorized by the Clan to wear the Munro
Many ways had to be found to finance the band in the beginning, in order
to purchase bagpipes and drums as well as full uniforms. These
ranged from donations to raffles of all kinds such as a pork raffle and
a hockey pool. Also the donations of a totem pole by Jim Welsh,
which the band sold to raise funds. This ‘Totem Pole’ is now
erected at Totem Lake in New York State.
Tom Nixon, a great supporter of the Kemptville Band and an exceptionally
good Drum Major in his own right, though no record can be found of him
actually doing that job with the band. He was nominated by the
Legion to be the ‘Ways and Means’, organizer. Some of his
successful ideas were dances, draws, raffles like the afore mentioned
“Tartan Night”, New Years Eve Balls, and so on.
Much like today the band was and still is a non-profit organization, the
members playing mainly for the love of the music. Like many other
groups it has had its ups and downs over the years. Occasionally the
band would as now, advertise in the local newspapers, saying there was
tutoring for pipers and drummers. This often proved successful.
From about 20% of beginners, some would drop out or didn’t or couldn’t
learn. As the saying goes, “If you get four beginners you might
get one piper” (a quote from Lorne Stewart). Most band members,
past and present have none or very little Scottish blood, being many
generations Canadian. Those that do have the blood, have no real
Scottish ties that they know of, except for their surnames. The band
members have and always will play for the love of the music and the
Our Legion band made its first appearance on May 26, 27, & 28th, 1960,
playing for the Carnival and Trade Fair in Kemptville, which in those
early days was always sponsored and mostly organized by the branch
members. The band played at the opening day parade and as
entertainment on the following days. Another early appearance was
made for (Mr. X) Harry McLean of Merrickville, the man who built the
Lincoln Tunnel in New York City and many other things.
New uniforms arrived for the band on June 8th 1960, from Lawries’ in
Scotland. The same place they purchased their first equipment.
The cost of the uniforms was $1328.78, plus $431.65 tax, exchange rate
being $2.76 ¼ to the pound. The Wadds family donated the leopard
skin along with the Feather bonnets, that the Drummers wore for years.
The Pipe Major called for a full dress inspection at the Kemptville
Armouries (now Kemptville Fire Hall) for Saturday June 18th 1960.
The pipers also bought pipes from ‘Lawries’ too. When it came to
wearing uniforms, Ralph did not allow members to wear a skean-dhu till
pipers could play a reel, jig, and strathspey and drummers could play all
three kinds of drums, side, tenor and bass.
Some of those early donations to help them achieve this were from the
World Service?, Also Legion Ladies Auxiliary, Don Seymour, Charles
Bowbeer, both were Legion presidents eventually. The town of
Kemptville Council gave $200.00. Other families were
Postlethwaite’s (Joe Postlethwaite was an original piper),
Maxville Highland Games committee along with Mrs. W.C. Thayer and
The Munro family of Oxford Mills had a number of family members play with
the band. Ralph, himself was a veteran of both World Wars.
Having served in the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders in
Grenville, 156 Regiment of the 2nd Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders.
The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, and the Canadian National Brockville.
His son Lawrence Hector Munro (named after the Chief of Clan Munro, Hector
Munro) was a veteran of the RCAF, and was one of the most talented pipers
of his day in Canada. He was in demand to play at all Government
social functions. He was also personal piper to Prime Minister
Lester Pearson. He played with the band until his work with Canada
Post took him to the west coast, where in his spare time he started other
pipe bands. He passed away a few years ago.
His sister Winnie, is the only original Munro remaining that played with
the band. Winnie’s life following her start in the band many years
ago as taken her to many different places in the world.
Pipe Major Munro requested that all members of the original band become
members of the Clan Munro, or associate members. He was successful
in inviting the head of Clan Munro to visit while on a trip to Canada, and
introduced the entire band to him.
One of their first ‘sad times’ was on October 21st 1960 when they lost
Gordon Crawford, in death’ to quote Ralph himself. The band turned
out in full and paraded to the United Church, where the Rev Corburn
conducted the service on October 24th 1960. They then followed their
remains of their late comrade to the union cemetery for internment.
Ralph eventually had to resign as Pipe Major due to ill health, but kept
an interest in the band as long as he lived. The Heritage that Ralph
Munro passed on to this town, community of Kemptville (North Grenville) is
one that Kemptville should be very proud of.
At the same time as Ralph resigned, so did John Munro Dingwall, a front
row piper of the original band, also due to health problems. He
played by ear and was a quiet unassuming person, dedicated piper; a
favourite of all who knew him.
Over the years like many other groups the Kemptville Legion Pipe Band as
had its ups and downs. With young people going off to college and
University and others moving with their jobs. The band still practices
every Monday evening at the legion hall, and as always is open to new
members, for either piping or drumming, and whether an accomplished player
or a real beginner.
Pipe Major Reid McKim took over from Ralph in approximately 1967.
Like Ralph, a dedicated piper but with a totally different approach.
Ralph being a strict discipliner (his word was law) army type. Reid
wouldn’t make a move without consulting the band. Both very
successful Pipe Majors but with very different ways of leadership.
Ralph would only teach and play Scottish tunes, Reid gradually introduced
other types of music suited to the bagpipes. Such as Scot tunes
along with Irish, Canadian, dance and Sacred.
He had Lorne Stewart assist as Sgt Piper and he was responsible for
precision marching and cleanliness. Lorne like Larry had served in
the RCAF. Lorne also helped in tuning and the maintenance of the pipes.
He was also Pipe Major of the Spencerville Band. Another past
member, Piper John Capes, became the first Canadian to play on the
Ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, a distinction he held for many years.
This made him the first Canadian to be an official Queen’s Piper.
Clarence Martin an original member, with long service and dedication to
the band. Clarence was Drum Sgt. And was responsible for the bands
drum section. An ex’ Cameron Highlander he started with Ottawa
school band and had over 40 years experience. He served in the
Camerons with Stewart McVey, who is still a band member today and Harold
King, one of the other few surviving members.
Clarence was a very faithful band member and known to be a disciplinarian
with his drum section, but fondly remembered by all who played under him.
Stewart McVey, who for many years has been and still is bass drummer with
31 years experience. Stewart McVey is the son of Robert McVey an
The original band members were Drummer J.W. Harper, Piper Rod O’Dell.
Piper G. T. Raycroft, Drummer Gordon Crawford, Piper Lorne Stewart, Piper
John Munro Dingwall, Drummer Ken Bruce, Drummer Bernie Orton, Piper A.R.
Cameron, Drummer Fred Higgs, Drummer G. Hopson, Piper W. Smith, Piper G
Coleman, Drum Major Nelson Taylor, Drummer Harold King, Drummer Henry
Foulis, Drummer Clarence Martin and Piper Winnie Munro.
Over the years there have been several Pipe Majors since Ralph and Reid.
Reid remained Pipe Major for a number of years till ill health forced him
to resign for a few years. Just as the first Pipe Major had done, he
was a very proud and excited Pipe Major on the bands success at the
Canadian National Exhibition, when the band placed 12th in Grade Four
Competition at the World Championships in Toronto in 1973. He was a
well-known and very accomplished piper in his own rights in the Ottawa
area, where he made his home. Reid’s wife Joy eventually became a
piper in the band till Reid’s passing.
The band has traveled to many places, all with good reception.
Always being well received, particularly in Upper New York State, as the
nearest Pipe Band to them was in Rochester. The band has been the
proud recipient of many trophies and awards over the years as well.
Many times the band took first, seconds and thirds in the grade four class
of the North American Championships, including the afore mentioned World
Championships. Many other awards have been won over the years, but
there are surely far too many to mention. In the early 70’s they
were featured on TV. with Max Keeping in the Regional Contact type of
Don Fraser of Ottawa took over after Reid and stayed at the post for a
number of years until a work accident claimed his life very suddenly.
Reid took over (approx. 1983-84) Head of the band again until his health
failed him. After Reid came Jack Hall, a local man originally from
Heckston. He was followed by Lorne eventually taking the Pipe
Major’s job. Alex Birkett followed him circa 1989-1990.
Vivian Dickie who followed Alex in 1992 until April 1999. Vivian
still holds the distinction of being the only Lady Pipe Major to date.
Vivian remains an active band member. Our current Pipe Major Michael
Durant, began as a youngster in the Kemptville band in the late ‘60’s
early ‘70’s. When he too, like the band in those days, won many
awards etc. at the North American Championships and other awards.
After growing up, Michael joined the Canadian Armed Forces, playing many
times for visiting members of the Royal Family and for troops both going
and returning from Peace Keeping missions abroad. Michael is of
course a very accomplished piper and like the original Ralph before him,
who taught him a lot of what he knows, he is known to be a ‘toughie’
but he too has a great love of the music and the pipes. He returned
to the band on his retirement from the armed forces, making his home in
We must not forget the dedication of the drummers to the team. We
have mentioned some of them several times, but failed to mention that
Nelson Taylor was first Drum Major and followed by Duncan Forsyth of Smith
The last Drum Major was Ken Waddell who passed away very suddenly while
preparing for a parade. The previous week on a parade speaking well
of his love for the band.
Milfred Harper was Drum Major too for quite a while.
Since its beginnings, the Kemptville Legion Pipe Band has evolved and
changed. In forty-two years everything has to. The faces have
changed and sadly many friends have passed on. But the bands mission
is still the same; to allow others to enjoy Highland music in the way the
players love it.
Most of this history was learned from Lorne Stewart and Stewart McVey,
more information was from notes found left by Ralph and other past and
present band members.
Written by Hilary South
Edited by Darlene Mills and Kevin Harrison
August 5th 2001