65 years strong, Lord Selkirk Robert Fraser Memorial continues to teach Manitoba youth piping and drumming
This piping and drumming success story is one of vision, perseverance and dedication, resulting in a consistent stream of young players helping to sustain a regional scene.
By Rob Tighe
The Lord Selkirk Robert Fraser Memorial Pipe Band, or Lord Selkirk RFM (LSRFMPB) as they are better known, is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, dedicated to promoting and preserving Scottish culture though instruction in the Highland pipes, snare drum, tenor drum, and bass drum. The band’s mission is to develop well rounded Canadian citizens who will become contributing members of society.
The LSRFPB has been providing free bagpipe and drumming lessons to youth in Winnipeg and surrounding areas since 1957. The band continues the vision and purpose established by P-M Robert Fraser that no child should be excluded from an opportunity to learn the pipes or drums due to their family’s financial situation.
The band was founded by Pipe-Major Robert Fraser of Arbroath, Scotland, who came to Canada in 1957. When Fraser arrived in Winnipeg, the Manitoba Scout Council asked him to start a Boy Scout pipe band. The band had humble beginnings, with instructors whittling dummy chanters out of wood and drawing finger holes with pens. In the 1960s, the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders loaned them a set of pipes, and a donation from the Kiwanis finally enabled the band to purchase their own pipes.
Over the years, the band has evolved with the times and undergone a few name changes. These include the Lord Selkirk District Boy Scout Pipe Band, the Lord Selkirk Boy Scout Pipe Band, the Lord Selkirk Boys Pipe Band and, finally, the Lord Selkirk RFM Pipe Band. The most recent name change honours the founding father of the band, P-M Robert Fraser. The pipe band wears the Ancient Douglas tartan and fields both a performance band and a competition band, all under the same banner.
While the band has mastered an extensive traditional repertoire, they also play many tunes composed or arranged by P-M Fraser and other celebrated composers and pipers such as Bob Worrall.
The band has an executive that supports the instructors in the day-to-day administration of the band. The band parents elect an executive board that handles individual portfolios, including travel and performance, equipment, uniforms and instruments, and fundraising. Through the work of the parents and executive, instruction, travel, uniforms, and equipment and instruments are provided free of charge, and covered through fundraising within the community.
The band is fortunate to have a dedicated staff of alumni pipers and drummers who volunteer their time each week to teach and practice with the students. Most of the instructors are LSRFMPB alumni, and some were taught by P-M Fraser himself. When band members turn 18 years old, they graduate from the band, with many continuing their musical journey with other adult pipe bands and as solo competitors. Some graduates return as instructors to pay it forward and ensure the band continues to uphold P-M Fraser’s vision.
The pandemic presented challenges for pipe band communities worldwide, but the LSRFMPB quickly adapted and began offering instruction online via Zoom. With breakout rooms in Zoom, members could receive one-on-one instruction and participate in group practices. Many students were also able to take part in summer online camps with significantly reduced tuition fees.
The band is a non-profit organization that obtained registered charity status in October 2020, which has proved to be very beneficial. Although the band continues to fundraise, the charity status allows it to receive grants and donations from other charities and individuals, and issue tax-deductible receipts to donors.
The band’s current uniform is comparatively simple and based on LSRFMPB’s Scouting history. Band parents have carefully stitched these uniforms together to meet the needs of growing children over the years. Some of the pieces of the current uniform are now difficult to source and purchase, no longer able to be mended, and outdated. In order to continue to attract today’s youth, the band’s look needed to be updated, and key items replaced.
Many of the instruments still used today are 30-40 years old, mixed sets, and needed replacement many years ago. Some of the kilts are just as old and have been altered annually to fit growing band students. These expenses are the largest for the band and, over the years, have been neglected to ensure funding was properly balanced for the operational needs of the organization.
[Does your band have a story to tell? Please do contact pipes|drums with our ideas.]
A modern, well-presented uniform and new instruments will serve to mirror the personal dedication our band members have to the music. The band plays numerous local Manitoba parades, festivals, and competitions annually, and they are a significant source of the band’s revenues. Part of the attraction of a Scottish pipe band is its traditional regalia. For many, the visual performance is as powerful as the auditory.
In 2021, the LSRFMPB launched “Project Renew.” The aim of this project was to raise more than $50,000 to enable the band to replace aging musical instruments, equipment, and uniforms, ensuring that the band can continue to fulfill its mission statement.
In April 2023, the band achieved its fundraising goal for Project Renew, thanks to donations from various grants and foundations. The executive is currently finalizing equipment and uniform orders, with the hope that the band will have a completely new look for competitions. The traditional uniforms will still be used for local parades.
Pipe bands in Manitoba have seen a significant decline over the last 25–35 years. Bands that were predominant in the Scottish and Highland communities, like the River & District Pipe Band, Henderson Highlanders, Selkirk & District, Heather Belles, Erin Street Pipe Band, and Winnipeg Legion #1 to name a few, are no longer active.
Lord Selkirk RFM is the only youth pipe band in Manitoba that fosters the playing and performing of Scottish music by youth ages seven to 18 years from all cultural backgrounds. The band is essential to the future of pipe bands in Winnipeg and surrounding areas, with members typically invited to join adult pipe bands after graduation, ensuring the longevity of Scottish culture and music.
With five to seven students graduating from the band each year when they turn 18, attrition can significantly reduce the size of any band. Last year, the band conducted an aggressive recruiting campaign using social media, radio, television, school boards, and several short recruiting videos. The response was unexpected and overwhelming, with 27 new students registering in the fall of 2022.Students of the band have the opportunity to receive scholarships to apply to summer music camps such as Sound Advice in Saskatchewan or Piping Hot Summer Drummer in British Columbia. These scholarships are funded through donations to the band.
Rob Tighe is on the board of driectors for the Lord Selkirk Robert Fraser Memorial Pipe Band and looks after the band’s communications needs. Both of his children are playing members of the band.
The LSRFMPB is active on Facebook and Instagram and more information about the band can be found at the band’s website.
NO COMMENTS YET