Bill Millar, 1917-2008
The popular Ontario based piper and teach Bill Millar died at the age of 91 on July 22, 2008.
William (Bill) Millar was born in 1917 in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. He was the son of a farmer. First piping teacher his father and began at the age of seven. One year later he was on the pipes. The first band he played with was called Reaghan and was the band his father played with.
At age 12 Bill’s father passed on. Bill now seemed destined for a life of farming. At age 13 his mother suggested he go to Londonderry for lessons with a teacher whose name Bill could not recall. Shortly there after his mother made arrangements for him to play with a band in Omagh about six miles from where they lived. Bill played with the Omagh band for about three years as a piper, when the Pipe-Major retired and Bill was appointed band’s new Pipe-Major, at age 15.
At age 19 he decided to try solo competition and first time out won first place for Intermediate Solo Pipers Championships and in the following year won the Northern Ireland Seniors Open Piping Championship.
The Omagh band pushed to go into competition at this time too. Bands then had to play set tunes in order to compete and, at the first contest at Londonderry, the band competed against more than 20 bands and finished second. At this time there were only Grade 1 and Grade 2. The following year, playing “Highland Wedding” as one of their set tunes. The Omagh band won a first in Grade 1.
During the war years there was little done as far as bands and piping were concerned. In January 1946 Bill married his wife, Edith, and celebrated their 60th anniversary in 2006. Bill played with the Omagh band until he came to Canada.
At one of his solo events in Cookstown Bill won his event and the judge was Pipe-Major Willie Grey of the Glasgow Police. Bill and his family got to know Willie well and for two years Willie would stay with the Millars and taught Bill during each holiday visit. He credited Willie Grey for most of his piping knowledge. Bill also had tuition in piobaireachd from Robert Reid.
Around Christmas 1953 Bill and Edie went to a meeting that promoted Canada, and they liked what they heard. They sold the farm and bundled up their two daughters and one son, boarded an old Greek troop ship and headed to Canada. By Easter 1954 the Millars arrived in London, Ontario, to stay with Edith’s aunt.
It wasn’t long before Bill got involved with piping again. He was not at all impressed with what he had heard in his early days in Canada. For four years during the summers he taught the militia (reserve) bands and worked for contractors in the London and Kitchener, Ontario, areas building houses. In 1959 he had heard that a hospital was to be built in Goderich, Ontario, and Bill set his sites on that town. In fall of 1959 he began work on the construction a new hospital, and moved his family to Goderich.
In the fall of 1959 Bill was asked by the Royal Canadian Legion to take on the Legion pipe band in Goderich. The band was promoted to Grade A (now Grade 1) in 1962. The average age of the band at that time was 15 years of age, consisting mostly of his own students. The main problem with all bands at that time was drumming, as quality drummers were not plentiful.
The Goderich band brought two drummers to Canada from Ireland, but there weren’t many jobs in the Goderich area so these people were lost in a matter of months. Consequently, the Goderich band disbanded around 1968.
Some of the players who Bill had taught in this group were Bruce MacDonald, Bill McLeod, Charlie MacDonald, Rosemary Turland, Bob Worrall and his own son James Millar. At this same time Bill helped start a band out of Teeswater, Ontario. Another band he had was the London Service Battalion, and former PPBSO President George Forgan, Bill Eisen, Scott and Marty Wilson, and Jim Howieson as well as most of those above played in this band. It lasted only one season since the military’s reserve units were being shut down.
It has been said by many that Bill pioneered the pipe sound attained by most of the Canadian bands today, with a higher pitch and clarity. When the London Service Battalion Pipe Band folded, Bill joined the judging ranks and was a familiar face many Ontario games for the next 10 years.
Few know that Bill’s other favourite activity was building houses. He built a total of nine in the Goderich area and six in Florida, 90 per cent of each constructed by Bill alone, He did the concrete work, the framing, the wiring, the plumbing and bricking. A house was not a short-term project for him.
When asked who was the best solo player he heard play in Canada he did not hesitate to answer with Chris Anderson. He thought John Burgess was the best UK-based piper, and his favourite band was Field Marshal Montgomery.
Funeral arrangements being made by McCallum & Palla Funeral Home in Goderich, Ontario, 519-524-7345.
– Submitted by Bill McLeod