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History 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 carry.

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 Tartan.

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 instrument.

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 Dr. MacIntosh.

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 original piper.

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 programming.

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 the area.

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 Falls.

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

© 2010 The Clan Munro Association of Canada