40th anniversary of BC’s Malcolm Nicholson’s Order of Canada for piping
Forward by Rob MacNeil
On April 19, 1978, British Columbia Pipers Association Life Member Malcolm Nicholson CM was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, recognizing a remarkable legacy of services to piping in Canada. A founding member of the BCPA, Pipe-Major of the Vancouver Police Pipe Band, creator of many junior and adult bands, instructor to hundreds of youngsters and teens, fundraiser extraordinaire. His pioneering vision and drive to take juvenile pipe bands to compete nationally and internationally, and his dedication to the development of young pipers established the commitment to the development and success of juvenile pipe bands across the BCPA region that continues to this day. His efforts also set in motion the rise of BC Grade 1 bands on the international stage. Such a fitting testament to his spirit and vision.
In honour of this significant anniversary, BCPA asked Malcolm’s granddaughter Elouise Roane, former Pipe-Major of the Burnaby Ladies Pipe Band, to recount the events around Malcolm’s Order of Canada award and investiture and his legacy.
Finally, while the combined BCPA Mini-Gathering & Annual Gathering Grade 1 Piping aggregate trophy is in Malcolm’s name, to recognize his dedication to the instruction of juvenile bands, BCPA is establishing the Pipe-Major Malcolm Nicholson CM Shield for the top juvenile band in Grade 4 or 5 at the Annual Gathering. The shield will include the picture at his Order of Canada investiture and each year the name of the top juvenile band along with the names of the primary piping instructor and primary drumming instructor.
Rob MacNeil is President of the BCPA.
Order of Canada – remembering 40 years ago
Malcolm Nicholson, CM – Appointed January 11, 1978 – Investiture April 19, 1978
By Elouise Roane
Malcolm Nicholson’s reaction to learning of his appointment as a Member of the Order of Canada on January 11, 1978, was “Thank you! I am pleased, honoured and humbled!” For Malcolm, he was just doing the right thing for his family’s and country’s Scottish heritage. He created a very giving, nurturing, gentle and sharing lifestyle which enriched the lives of hundreds of youth and adults along the way. Malcolm was incredibly relentless in his giving of time to others and his sharing of musical expertise all to make one a better player and a lifelong friend. He made other people’s lives better! His wife Elsie, his daughters Kathleen, Jessie and Norma and his grandchildren witnessed it each and every day. The family reaction to the Appointment was unanimous; “We are very appreciative of Canada’s acknowledgement of Malcolm’s (Dad/Grandpa) lifetime of mentoring and leading. It is an unexpected honour and we are thrilled to bits! We are all so fortunate to have him as a role model! Malcolm (Dad/Grandpa) would be the first to say that he just did what was right.”
It was a very powerful, proud and emotional moment for Malcolm, and the entire family, when Malcolm Nicholson, CM stood before Governor General Jules Leger in Rideau Hall, Ottawa, Canada at the Order of Canada Investiture Ceremony, April 19, 1978.
The Order of Canada, the cornerstone of the Canadian Honours System, recognizes Malcolm Nicholson’s uniqueness and outstanding achievement, his dedication to Scottish music and to the youth in the community. His tireless teaching of bagpipes and the formation of numerous pipe bands whose consistently high calibre had won them championships and awards in Canada, Britain, United States and Europe; has made Canada proud.
Malcolm Nicholson, CM is the only Order of Canada recipient to be recognized explicitly for his contributions to piping.
“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.” – BC Pipers` Association
1901 – Malcolm Nicholson was born in Pleasant Valley, PEI, the third of four children born to Alexander and Euphemia (MacQueen) Nicholson. Malcolm`s ancestors set sail on the ship Polly from Portree, Skye in 1803 to PEI.
1903 – Malcolm’s family moved to Vancouver and subsequently to Maple Ridge. It was in Maple Ridge and Haney that Malcolm received his schooling, excelled at pole vault track & field events and achieved his teachers` diploma. During his early teenage years Malcolm with the support of his Gaelic speaking parents, he developed a keen interest in the bagpipes. Further inspired by two cousins, the aid of piping records and a Logan’s Tutor book he set out to begin teaching himself piping.
1920 – Malcolm and two drummers played around Haney summer fairs and gatherings from the back of a pick-up truck. It is said that this was the beginning of the Haney Pipe Band.
1923 – Malcolm moved back to Vancouver where he began teaching at Public School and attended the Vancouver Police band practises. At the same time, he also joined the New Westminster Pipe Band.
1926 – Malcolm married Elsie Phye (b.1906, Whitehaven, England).
1929 – While continuing to meet with pipers who would share their knowledge of piping with him, Malcolm continued to teach at Public School. A good friend of his decided to join the Vancouver Police Pipe Band and asked Malcolm to accompany him to the station to apply. While at the station, a constable suggested that Malcolm also apply. He did. As luck would have it, Malcolm was hired to the police department and unfortunately his friend was not. At this time Malcolm also became a member of the police band under PM D. MacTavish. During the next few years, Malcolm continued to advance his piping skills while studying Piobaireachd under D. MacIver, A. MacIndewar, W. Barrie and R. Brown.
“During my lesson, I was always mesmerized watching Mr. Nicholson demonstrate perfect doublings with his right hand on the top of the chanter and his left hand at the bottom!!” – P.G.
1932 – Malcolm was a founding member of the British Columbia Pipers’ Association in August 1932 and was involved in the design of the Association’s crest for the letterhead.
1934 – Elsie and Malcolm built their family home at 3460 Triumph Street, Vancouver, BC. Eventually, all three children; Kathleen, Jessie and Norma would learn at an early age to play the pipes, highland dance and to sing. Their Triumph Street address became the centre for all things Scottish in Vancouver; ceilidhs, piping, drumming, dancing, distribution of equipment and alterations of uniforms. Elsie was known as the ‘hostess with the mostest.’
1935 – Malcolm organized the Templeton Junior High School Boys Pipe Band. The band, part of the school curriculum, saw the boys receive credits for their piping ability. However, in 1940 as recruiting began for cadet and military service and the need for war work, the school pipe band was terminated.
1942 – Malcolm, a Police Sgt in the department, was made Pipe-Sgt of the very busy Police band
1945 – Malcolm Nicholson was appointed to Pipe-Major of the Vancouver Police Pipe Band, a position he would hold for 16 years.
“I am ever grateful for the solid musical foundation Mr. Nicholson imparted to an adult beginner that permitted me to catch up with my age group and fulfill all my piping ambitions.” – F.H.
1949 – The Nicholson Quartet hit the piping platforms. Malcolm and his daughters Kathleen, Jessie and Norma, won many competitions. Malcolm would say that he was not a solo competitor however records prove otherwise.
1950 – Mrs. Mary MacNab (nee Isdale) of the Vancouver Ladies Pipe Band approached Malcolm to assist with reorganizing the band and to assume position of Director and Instructor, a position he would hold until 1967. One of the first orders of business then was to raise funds to purchase uniforms and for the first time the band turned out fully equipped.
1956 – Malcolm started the Hastings East Boys Pipe Band (Hastings Community Centre Pipe Band), with the help of Sandy Stewart, which in 1957 became known as the Vancouver Optimist Junior Pipe Band (and in later years the band became known as the White Spot Junior Band) under direction of Malcolm Nicholson and Don Bellamy.
1958 – With sponsorship from the Kiwanis Club, Malcolm formed the Vancouver Kiwanis Boys Pipe Band for youth up to the age of eighteen.
“He gave so much of himself. Especially his hair! So many hairs he pulled out to make all our reeds sound great.” – T.C.
1961 – Awarded a Life Membership by the BCPA, Malcolm, who was a wonderful designer and having created the cap badges of bands he formed, created the BCPA logo medal which is still used today and is a highly recognized symbol of the BC Pipers Association. He also contributed immeasurably to the BCPA by producing a regular supply of new pipers. Often, a high percentage of soloists in the Amateur classes were his students or former students.
1961 – Malcolm organized, directed and taught the Highland Laddies Pipe Band for youth aged fourteen years and younger.
“Being a pupil of Mr. Nicholson was not only about learning to play the magic of the bagpipe, when you listened, you were being taught, patience, respect, collaboration and integrity.” – T.L.
1961 – Police Sgt / Pipe-Major Malcolm Nicholson retired from both the police department and the police band. Vancouver Police Department policy at the time stated that a police constable could not be promoted beyond that of a Police Sgt if he was in fact also the Pipe-Major of the pipe band. Malcolm Nicholson`s daily hand-written police journals can be seen at the Vancouver Police Museum; the oldest police museum in North America. After his retirement, Malcolm, never a man to sit idle, decided to add to his already busy schedule teaching practical vocational life skills to the youth with handicaps.
1962 – Four years after being formed, Malcolm takes the Vancouver Kiwanis Boys Pipe Band to Scotland, where they capture one 1st, two 2nds, and two 3rds.
1963 – At the BC Highland Dancing Association highland games on July 1, Malcolm was presented with a special award for his support. On that day, five Pipe-Majors of participating bands were pupils of Pipe-Major Malcolm Nicholson.
“Mr Nicholson was such a wonderful person and Elsie kept him focused and organized. Great role models for 2 generations.”- L.M.
1964 – Malcolm takes the Vancouver Ladies Pipe Band to Scotland where in Grade 4 they capture 1st at the European Championships and 2nd at the Scottish Championships. Their Pipe-Major was Malcolm’s daughter Norma, who in 1965 married the award winning jazz musician Don Thompson (made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2009).
1967 – Malcolm founded and directed the Burnaby Ladies Pipe Band. It was a ladies band for all ages therefore a Senior band and a Junior band were designated.
1967 – Malcolm organized the Army, Navy and Airforce Veterans Pipe Band, known as ANAVETS Pipe Band for male players over the age of eighteen.
1970 – Malcolm takes the Vancouver Kiwanis Boys Pipe Band to Scotland where they capture the Cowal and European Championships in the Juvenile grade.
1971 – Malcolm takes the Burnaby Ladies Pipe Bands (Senior and Junior) to Scotland competing in Grade 3 and 4, respectively.
1971 – (Dowco) Triumph Street Pipe Band, Vancouver, BC, was established by former pupils of Malcolm Nicholson, primarily from the Vancouver Kiwanis Boys Pipe Band players who aged out. The band members thought it significant to name their new band Triumph Street after the street on which the Nicholson family lived for over 40 years and was the heart and soul of many, many a night of teaching, piping and dancing in Vancouver.
1975 – Malcolm takes the Vancouver Kiwanis Boys Pipe Band on their final trip to Scotland to compete in the Juvenile grade.
“So very dear to my heart are the memories I treasure of my piping lessons with Malcolm Nicholson (Grandpa) which not only solidified our special bond but also provided me with the skills to pursue a lifetime of piping; a passion shared.” – E.R.
1978 – Malcolm Nicholson, CM awarded a Member of the Order of Canada on January 11 and invested on April 19, 1978 with the citation “Former Pipe-Major of the Vancouver Police Pipe Band. He has spent his life directing boys and girls in various bands whose consistently high calibre has won them awards in Canada, Britain, the United States and Europe.”
Malcolm Nicholson, a tall man, who was larger than life and possessed qualities such as a sense of humour, story telling knack, sincere compassion and extreme humility. His lifetime passion for bagpipes, and youth, speaks volumes. Malcolm, a natural teacher, taught bagpipes ‘one-on-one’ which is almost unheard of today. Each piping lesson was a private lesson. He spent his life directing boys and girls in various bands with a focus on competition, both solo and band competition. It can be said of Malcolm Nicholson – a lifetime of mentoring pipers and creating successful pipers and pipe bands is his legacy.
Elsie and Malcolm Nicholson, CM, were married for 58 wonderful years before Elsie’s passing on October 31, 1984. Malcolm passed away at the age of 96 on July 1, 1997. The family like to think that he was called away to ‘tune up a band for Canada Day festivities’.
They are buried together in Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver, BC, “Interesting Citizens – Where Vancouver Remembers”
pipes|drums thanks BCPA President Rob MacNeil for bringing this important story to our attention and for providing these images and article, and to Elouise Roane for sharing her tribute to her grandfather.