The Ontario piping scene has been saddened and diminished by the passing of one of its administrative stalwarts of the 1970s and ’80s.
Little did Duncan McGillivray – “Dunc” to all who knew him – realize when his son Jim followed the whim of an 11-year-old in 1967 and started to learn the pipes that the life of the entire family would soon be enveloped Ontario Highland games circuit.
One turn on the bass drum at a practice with the Kitchener Legion band in the late ’60s made it clear to Dunc that if he was going to contribute it would not be as a musician. By the early 1970s he had begun stewarding at the games for the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario, back when the summer games circuit numbered 15 or more contests. By then, his wife Grace had followed him into stewarding. Daughter Melanie was a Grade 1 side drummer, while Jim played both the band and solo piping circuit.
In the mid-1970s Dunc was appointed the PPBSO’s first Chief Steward, a position he defined and excelled at for the next 15 years. He was known not only for his efficiency in the job, but for his good humour and his judgment in knowing when circumstances demanded that rules be bent for the sake of compassion and good will. His work on the Intercontinental Pipe Band Championships at the CNE in Toronto made him good friends in the RSPBA as well, and he was always quick to remind the Scots of his family’s roots on Mull and their pioneering settlement of Bruce County, Ontario, in the 1850s.
Dunc and Grace retired from the scene in 1991, coincidentally, the same year Melanie retired from the drumming scene and Jim bade farewell to solo piping competition. However, Dunc was not forgotten, and as recently as last year his visits to Georgetown or Fergus Highland Games would elicit a steady stream of handshakes and good wishes from old friends.
Many pipers might know his name from a 6/8 march written by his son back in 1991. The then-nameless tune was first entered in the Spitfire” composing competition, where it placed second to a strathspey written by P-M Angus MacDonald. “In retrospect, that was a blessing,” recalls Jim McGillivray. “The tune was quickly becoming popular, so I named it after my father, which turned out to be more meaningful to me than winning any composing competition.” The tune, “Duncan McGillivray, Chief Steward,” has become a staple among pipers and pipe bands around the world.
Grace McGillivray passed away in 2004. Duncan is survived by son Jim, daughter Mel, and grandchildren Neil and Anne. A memorial service will be held at Henry Walser Funeral Home in Kitchener on Saturday, March 2, at 11 am, with visitation at 10 am.