The Ottawa area, and Ontario piping in general lost a link with piping past recently with the death of George Buchanan. George died on January 15, 2002, aged 90, of complications following a stroke. Funeral service following cremation was held in Ottawa on January 19.
George was born in Kilbarchan, Aryshire. He learned his piping in Glasgow during the inter-war era, getting tuition from Archie MacNeill in the 139 Boys Brigade Pipe Band along with the likes of John Allan McGee, Willie Bryson, Seumas MacNeill and Alex MacNeill. George received a solid grounding in what was good playing and what wasn’t, a difference he often made clear to anyone who would discuss it with him.
George studied at the Glasgow School of Art and completed apprenticeships as both a graphic artist and an engraver. Along with the skills that provided him with a livelihood during his working career, he developed a love of art nearly as strong as his love of piping.
George was drafted at the start of WWII and became a signaler, eventually sent with the 2nd Cambridgeshire Regiment to the Far East. He was captured at the fall of Singapore in 1942, and survived the death marches, forced slave labour, disease and deprivation for over three years before being freed and repatriated to Britain. Considering that few of his fellow survivors lived to collect their pensions as a result of the harsh treatment, George’s longevity is that much more remarkable.
George emigrated to Canada following the war, settling in Ottawa and working as a graphic artist for the Directorate of Ceremonial (DND). He joined and eventually became Pipe Major of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa in the early 1960s, and continued to play with the band into the 1970s. He was very active in the Ottawa piping scene for many years, as a founding member of the Ottawa Piping Club, teaching in the Air Cadets, and teaching and playing in the Ottawa Police Pipe Band (including a period as Pipe Major). These contributions to the Ottawa piping scene were more remarkable considering that he returned to Scotland several times during his life – “I’ve had enough of this winter/this economy/this job/this……..- I’m going home!” he’d say, but every time he’d be back in Ottawa within a year.
George loved piping (he continued to play into his late 80s), art (even designing tattoos for his sons when they insisted they were getting one done, so they’d not get “some crap”), Burns’ poetry (his renditions of “To a Haggis” or “Holy Willie’s Prayer” set the standard for imitators). He passed on his music to his family through his canntaireachd (whether they understood or not), and his knowledge and love of piping to his son Donald, (an active piper, formerly with the regular Canadian Forces). He is survived by his children (Donald, Fiona, George and stepson Alec), his former wife Susan, his grandchildren (Dale, Kyle, Tyler and Connor), and his brother Alick.
George was a character, a piping enthusiast, a gentleman, and one of a diminishing number of links with our piping past. His passing is a loss to the Ottawa, Ontario and world piping scenes. He lived his life large and long, despite some harsh setbacks along the way, and will be missed by his friends and family. In so many ways, the words of Billy Connolly could hardly find a more fitting target: “What a man he was!”
— submitted by Brian Williamson, Ottawa