Pipe Major Harry N. Blair
by Douglas Heyland, Secretary, PPBSO Ottawa Branch
This article is reprinted from the PPBSO Ottawa Branch
February 2004 Newsletter.
Pipe Major Harry Blair is a true son of Brockville, Ontario. He was born there, educated there, employed there and spent most of his piping career there.
Starting at about the age of fourteen, Harry actually wanted to be a snare drummer, but at the time there wasn’t any room in the Brockville Highland Pipe Band for him to learn drumming. The fall-out, or perhaps the happy consequence of that situation, was that he was persuaded by George Beley to take up the other band instrument, the great highland bagpipe. Mr. Beley was also kind enough to take the time to provide some elementary guidance to the young budding piper.
Although this new music seemed a bit of a mystery to Harry, he soldiered on receiving lessons early on from a family friend, Edward O’Donnell. Whenever Mr. O’Donnell and his wife came to visit the Blair family residence, the first thing was a lesson on the practice chanter for young Harry. A little later, Pipe Major Tommy Marshall of the Brockville band taught Harry when he first joined the pipe corps.
Harry Blair first joined the work force with Philips Electric in Brockville making communications cable for the military. Over the ensuing years he was also engaged in food and beverage sales, and was employed as a technical expert for National Cash Register. No slouch in sports, he was also an alpine ski instructor for a number of seasons in Quebec’s Eastern Townships and in British Columbia. Most recently, Harry served two stints with the Corp of Commissionaires. He officially retired from the business sector in 1994.
Harry Blair’s stint with the military started with the Second Battalion, Canadian Guards as a piper under Pipe Major Archie Cairns, stationed at Petawawa, Ontario where his main duties at the time were restricted to piping. It was under P/M Cairns’ tutelage that Harry made his greatest progress in piping. He served with the Guards for six years including a two-year tour in Germany. Once during a military exercise he was laying communication cable when he noticed that the cable bore his code – he had wound it when he worked for Philips Electric in Brockville!
Harry left the Guards in 1961 and was posted to the Brockville Rifles as an instructor. This provided him an opportunity to rejoin the Brockville Highland Pipe Band where he was made Pipe Sergeant. It was only two months later that he became Pipe Major. It was during his ten years as Pipe Major that he was instrumental in having the band renamed the City of Brockville Pipe Band. The band was not competing when he took it over, but he made good progress, eventually taking the band onto the competition field in Grade 4. They won the Grade 4 contest in Cobourg, the first time the Grade 4 contest had been held. The band continued to rise in ability and began to compete in Grade 3. The band competed at a number of games including Renfrew and Syracuse; and came third in Grade 3 at Maxville.
After ten years, Harry left the Brockville band to form his own pipe band, the Clan Graham. This band existed only for a couple of years and at that point Harry decided to take a sabbatical from playing the pipes. At the time he was working for Labatt’s and spending a fair bit of time on the road. His time away from the pipes eventually lasted close to twenty years.
After all these years of not playing, he was approached by a former student, Pipe Major Brian Lawless of the Spencerville Pipe Band, to join that band, which he did. He was also invited as a guest player with the Special Service Force (SSF) pipe band in Petawawa where the Pipe Major was Mike Durant, another of Harry’s students. The SSF band is now the Second Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (2 CMBG) Pipe Band. Highlights for Harry of playing with the SSF band were the Change of Command ceremonies for US forces in Georgia and South Carolina.
In 1996, Harry took over the reins of the Almonte Pipe Band from Andrew Blair. As the Pipe Major in 1996 and 1997 he took the pipe band to Grade 4 competitions at Loon Mountain, Almonte and Maxville. Alas, there were no wins during this period, but he continued to mark his influence in the local pipe band scene.
Over his piping career, Harry Blair has played for many civilian bands. In addition to the City of Brockville, Almonte and Spencerville, he has also played and competed with the Highland Mist, played with the Sons of Scotland, Arnprior, and the Grade 3 Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Pipe Band. And as expected, has taught hundreds of students on the instrument over his many years in the piping community.
Board of Directors
President David Hain
Vice President Brad McVey
Secretary Robert MacNaull
Treasurer Scott Fraser
Directors Stewart Nimmo,
Val Wilson, Chris Grill, Gord Cramb,
R. Leroux D/S
Pipe Major Stewart Nimmo
Equipment Manager Ian Stewart
Band Manager Val Wilson
Pipe Major Stewart Nimmo
Stewart Nimmo joined the City of Brockville Pipe Band in 1996 after taking piping lessons with the Band. While playing with the Brockville Band, he has also played with the Spencerville Legion Pipe Band and on occasion with the Ontario Massed Legion Pipes & Drums and the 33rd Halifax P&D. Stewart has played for royalty with bands in both Scotland and the Netherlands.
Stewart became Pipe Major of the Brockville Pipes & Drums in April 2009.
A. Burnett D/M
D. Hain P/S
B. McVey P/S
S. Nimmo P/M
Duncan William “Darby” MacDonald, a retired grocery store manager and a long-time member of the City of Brockville Pipe Band, passed away on Wednesday, November 15, 2006 in hospital at the age of 72 years. He was born in Cornwall, December 6, 1933 to Donald MacDonald and the former Margaret Tyo. The Liturgy of the Christian Funeral was celebrated at St. John Bosco Church on Saturday, November 18th at 10:00 am. On the day of the funeral, the City of Brockville Pipe Band and solo piper Bob Skelhorne gathered for a tribute to Duncan MacDonald, playing his favourite pipe tunes before and after the funeral. With the help of the Brockville police, they led a procession down Windsor Drive before forming an honour guard at the church. Interment followed at St. Francis Xavier Cemetery.
Beloved husband of 49 years to Irene (Wheeler). Proud father of five children, Pamela Earle (Tom), Duncan MacDonald (Charlotte), Robert MacDonald (Dagmar), Heather Stubbins (John) and Sandra MacDonald (Bill Carrigg). Fondly remembered by seven grandchildren, Jenna and Heather Earle, Tyler and Jamie MacDonald, Evan Stubbins, Casey and Leah VanCamp, and Rochelle Cross. Brother of Bernard (Joan), and Brian (Darlene) MacDonald. Predeceased by his parents, Donald and Margaret MacDonald (Tyo), a brother Gordon MacDonald and parents-in-law, Lloyd and Doris Wheeler.
Employed as a youth at Courtalds (Canada) Limited in Cornwall, he left the firm to enlist in the Special Forces being formed for duty in Korea (25th Brigade). When he was discovered to be under-age, he was offered service in the 27th Brigade for Europe, with the understanding that this brigade was to rotate with the 25th in Korea in 18 months. He served in Germany and Holland before taking his discharge and returning to Cornwall. There he enlisted in the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, and rose to the rank of pipe sergeant in their pipe band.
He was known by friends and fellow Legionnaires as “Old Crusty” (for good reason) and acted as chairman of the annual Brockville Robbie Burns Night celebrations, in which he delighted in reciting a colourful Address to the Haggis.
An avid genealogist, he was known worldwide for his work in the field and served as the clan genealogist for Clan Donald Canada, as well as being the honorary secretary for that society, being appointed by Lord Macdonald in 1992. He published more than 40 books on Glengarry and Stormont records. Some years ago he was made a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for his genealogical and historical work.
Pipe Major Tom Marshall
Pipe Major Tom Marshall was born in Lanarkshire Scotland in 1901 and began playing pipes in his teens. From 1926 to 1930,he played pipes with the Cameronian Scottish Rifles. In 1930 he emigrated to Canada with his wife Elizabeth. In August 1931 he joined with Don Fraser, John Kinghorn and others to form the Brockville Highland Pipe Band. In the middle of the Great Depression, in 1934, they were able to get outfitted with kilts, in Royal Stewart tartan, jackets and horsehair sporrans from Glasgow Scotland. During W.W.II Marshall and six other band members enlisted and Tom became Pipe Major of the Stormont,Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders. He was commanded to play for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. After the War he continued as Pipe Major with the Brockville band until his death in 1961. His family donated his pipes to the Brockville Museum. In this 85th anniversary year, the Brockville Band proudly continues the piping tradition of the Great Highland Bagpipe, under the new name of Brockville Pipes & Drums.