Published: May 31, 2002

78th Frasers Boycotting Maxville

The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band plans to boycott the 2002 Glengarry Highland Games at Maxville, Ontario, because of the event’s decision to hire the 2001 World Pipe Band Champions, Simon Fraser University (SFU), to perform at the games’ popular tattoo on Friday, August 2nd.

Total investment in travel, accommodation and performance fee for SFU is not known. The Glengarry Highland Games have not provided details, but dispute the claim that Cdn$35,000 has been dedicated to the band’s visit, saying it is “anything but factual or accurate.”

“The 78th Frasers have withdrawn from Maxville to protest the decision made by Maxville to sponsor SFU’s appearance there,” said Bill Livingstone, Pipe-Major of the 78th Fraser Highlanders. “The outlay of many thousands of dollars in travel and accommodation costs is a profound insult to the bands and soloists who have faithfully supported this contest for decades.”

It was confirmed by SFU that the Glengarry Games committee had initially approached the band about the concept. The only time the 78th Frasers have performed non-competitively at the games was in 1988, the year after the band won the World Championship. The band played at the event’s tattoo and received a relatively small fee.

The Glengarry Highland Games is the venue for the North American Pipe Band Championship(TM), a name trademarked by the games organization. The Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario (PPBSO) has administered, sanctioned and organized the piping, drumming and band contests at the event since the 1950s.

According to the Glengarry Highland Games, the Tattoo and Games are organized separately.

“I am disappointed if the 78th Frasers are not planning on attending the games, but I do hope that there is a full understanding of the distinction between the Games and the Tattoo,” said Gilbert Young, member of the Glengarry Games Tattoo organizing sub-committee. “There is a fundamental premise in our organization to attempt be the most hospitable and generous of all the Highland games in Ontario, and for that reason we pay the highest rates of travel expenses and prize money (with six places in five grades). We also provide a lunch for each member of the competing bands.”

“We would not in any way support any discrimination against any band or bands,” Young went on to say. “It is my sincere hope that if any band feels slighted by our hosting the SFU band on Friday night, that they would contact me or a member of the Glengarry Highland Games Committee.”

Livingstone added, “Pipers and drummers from all over North America have financed their own way to Maxville, and over the 33 years that I have been going, it’s obvious that they have pumped untold hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Maxville/Cornwall area in hotel, restaurant, gas and other direct expenses injected straight into the local economy. These bands are who have made Maxville what it is, not SFU. This is not a protest directed at SFU, incidentally – I have friends in the band and can’t fault them for accepting such a good offer.

“It’s especially insulting and offensive given the way that Maxville has treated all of us. Note the organizers’ steadfast refusal to increase prize money for the bands to a reasonable level. Recall how shabbily the solo events are treated – there isn’t even a modest attempt at proper presentation. Events are scattered about the field, often in the pasture like fringes of the venue, and in a couple of memorable years the Open Piobaireachd was a search and destroy mission, as woebegone pipers wandered the field looking for the contest as it was moved hither and yon.

“Prize money for the open events is commensurate with a small contest, not the so-called North American Championships with up to 40 competitors. All of this has been done under the banner of a lack of funds. If there is now suddenly money available, it should be used to reward the loyal supporters of the Maxville Games. I’m saddened to miss Maxville for the first time in 33 years. Since the 78th Frasers were founded in 1981 the band has won the North American Championship 13 times, I believe. I don’t take this decision lightly.”

The North American Championship has grown dramatically over the last 15 years, with the Grade 1 band competition the marquee musical contest, and considered by most to be the most important pipe band event next to the World Championships. More than 60 pipe bands from across North America attended the 2001 Maxville games to compete and to hear the best piping and drumming the continent has to offer. The event has also drawn bands and soloists from Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand.

“I doubt very much that the 78th are boycotting Maxville or even skipping it because of this issue alone,” commented Jack Lee, SFU Pipe-Sergeant and Band Manager. “I suspect they have decided to go early to Scotland for other strategic reasons.”

Lee went on to say, “In our area the largest and most successful games are Seattle, where they usually attract over 20,000 spectators. The SFU Pipe Band has supported these games for over 20 years by competing, performing in the tattoo, and helping with judging. We have never received a benefit from Seattle greater than any other band in this area had access to. In other words, we have been paid prize money when we won or a fee for performing in the tattoo and nothing more. If Seattle decided to assist another top Grade 1 band to fly out and compete at these games SFU would be thrilled as it would benefit all bands, including us. We would not even consider a boycott but would more likely try to organize a social gathering with them during the weekend.”

While the Glengarry Games has not released official attendance figures, estimates have consistently ranged in the area of 80,000 paying customers passing through the gates over the two-day event. The Glengarry Games have been criticized for relative lack of commitment and reciprocity to competitors, with prize monies for solo piping and drumming events actually decreasing over the last two decades, after adjustment for inflation.

The first prize for the Professional Solo Piping light music events at Maxville in 2001 was Cdn$100, or about £35. More than 35 pipers competed in those events. Through simple math, increased attendance by pipers and drummers has brought millions of dollars to the Glengarry county and Cornwall, Ontario, communities.

The PPBSO has not yet responded to inquiries.

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