July 31, 2005

Pipe-Major James McMillan, 1911-2005

Pipe-Major James McMillan of White Rock, British Columbia, passed away on July 19, 2005, at age 94. Jim was born in Victoria, BC, and learned to play the pipes there. During World War II, Jimmy was P-M of the Canadian Scottish Regiment from Victoria, and took courses at Edinburgh Castle, and had regular lessons from Archie MacNeill, “The Blind Piper.” Archie MacNeill held Jim in such great respect that he passed his bagpipes on to Jim, and Jim’s son plays those pipes now.

After the war, Jim returned to civilian life in BC, and eventually moved to Burnaby, where he was a regular and successful competitor (winner of the MacCrimmon Memorial Cairn) and most especially a fine teacher. The pipers who passed through his basement included pretty much every great West Coast piper you could name, including both Terry and Jack Lee, who he taught from when they were young boys. Throughout his stellar solo career, Jack Lee has had weekly sessions with McMillan, who even in his 90s was a keen student of styles and settings of piob mhor.

In the 1950s though the ’80s, McMillan hosted many of the leading pipers at sessions in his house, and he always had the tape recorder on. As a student of his, you were able to hear how many of the greats – Donald MacLeod, John MacLellan, Robert Reid, Bob Brown – would play such-and-such tune. Jim was very open-minded in his approach to piobaireachd, and was fond of the Cameron settings of William Barrie, and tunes such as “Grain in Hides and Corn in Sacks” played by Robert Hardie, as he was of the settings played by Donald MacLeod and John MacLellan. Jim’s favourite days out in the 1980s were fishing at his favourite lake while listening to piobaireachd tapes from the van.

Jim’s love of music, and his great ability to play and teach sustained him through life. He has had a phenomenal impact on piping in British Columbia, and also places he taught, such as California, Seattle, and Alaska. The Simon Fraser University Pipe Band’s mastery of the march, strathspey and reel idiom has a lot to do with the teaching of Jim McMillan, and the lessons in his basement over the years.

P-M McMillan leaves behind a family of which he was exceptionally proud, and a legacy of musical excellence which he also cherished. While it is very sad to lose Jim McMillan, his exceptional teaching and knowledge have been passed on to many pipers, and his presence will continue to be felt.

(Submitted by Iain MacDonald, Avonlea, Saskatchewan.




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