Pipe-Major Robert (Bob) Fraser of Winnipeg passed away peacefully on March 9, 2012, in his ninetieth year.
Bob Fraser was Pipe-Major of the Lord Selkirk Boy Scout Pipe Band, an organization for boys under the age of 18. After immigrating to Winnipeg in 1957, the Boy Scouts of Canada approached him to start a pipe band for young boys. The early days were a challenge. The band had no equipment and instructors had to draw holes on pencils to teach the boys fingering.
In 2007 Mr. Fraser celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the LSBSPB (now known as the Lord Selkirk Boys Pipe Band) with his boys, both young and not so young. The LSBSPB spanned generations as well. Many fathers who learned to play the pipes or drums in the band returned with their sons’ years later to introduce them to Scottish culture and music. Some remained on as instructors and currently, all of the 11 volunteer instructors are alumni.
Until this past fall, Mr. Fraser continued to hold band practices every Saturday morning and private piping lessons almost every evening of the week. Even while in hospital, many of the current band members would bring their chanters and shuttle pipes up to his room to play for him and receive instruction. The hospital staff quickly came to learn that this man was special, his “family” extended beyond the normal boundaries. Messages came in from all over the world and kept the volunteers busy reading them to him. He was loved and cherished by many.
Bob Fraser began playing the Highland pipes at age 10, in the Arbroath Boys’ Brigade, receiving free instruction from his tutors. He carried on this tradition of dedication and generosity with the boys and the pipe band, with no fees charged for lessons, equipment or uniforms.
He was first a drummer and also learned highland dancing while he was a piper. He continued to encourage the boys to learn the art of highland dance and incorporated it into their performances. Because of injuries sustained in a fire as an infant where both his hands and feet were badly burned, piping was, at first, a difficult task. His troubles were solved by his pipe-major who suggested reversing the position of his left and right hand on the chanter. It worked.
Bob Fraser served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War in many locations in the east including Tripoli, Cairo, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, from India to Jordan. Early on, he and his wife, Frances, lived on the Isle of Lewis where he played with the Lewis Pipe Band.
He was also Pipe-Major of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and, after leaving the Cameron Highlanders in 1972, he formed the St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg Pipe Band; a band whose membership was primarily alumni of the youth band. He served as their pipe-major until 2003.
Bob Fraser was a successful printer by trade. It is the view of many, however, that his greatest contribution has been to the youth and culture of Manitoba and Canada. His recent nomination in 2010 for the CBC’s Champions of Change and advancement to the final 50 attests to this.
A humble, unassuming gentleman, Mr. Fraser will always be remembered for his lifetime commitment and dedication to the Lord Selkirk Boy Scout Pipe Band. He has shaped and influenced the lives of thousands of young men and their parents with patience, compassion, and kindness through instruction and example. Many of the graduates of the LSBSPB have gone on to successful careers in every walk of life and become exceptional citizens. As well, alumni of the LSBSPB can be found in pipe bands all around the country, in every grade up to and including the Grade 1 pipe bands Peel Police, Triumph Street and Simon Fraser University. Bob Fraser is survived by his children Sheila, Kevin and Rob, seven grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren, many of whom are accomplished pipers and highland dancers. Funeral services will be held on Monday, March 19 at 11:00 a.m. at the Assiniboia Christian Centre in Winnipeg.
- Submitted by Karen Bowman, Winnipeg