April 17, 2019

Edmonton Youth celebrates 90th birthday

By Mike Carter

The Edmonton Boys Pipe Band in the 1930s.

The non-profit run Edmonton Youth Pipe Band has been mentoring and tutoring young drummers and pipers in the greater Edmonton area since 1929, and the band celebrated 90 years of teaching and inspiring students from all over in the provincial capital earlier this month.

The Edmonton Youth Pipe Band was formerly known as the Edmonton Boys Pipe Band, a name it carried from its formation after World War I by Pipe-Major John Robertson, until 2012 when it adopted the current name.

Robertson, a stretcher bearer in the war, also played his pipes overseas for troopers in the trenches and formed the band upon his return to the city.

The band parading in Edmonton in the spring of 1949.

A rousing part of the 90th celebration was when alumni piper Duncan MacDonald and current member of Edmonton’s Grade 3 Viscount Park, played a tune on P-M Robertson’s pipes, an instrument made in the 1890s.

Members of Edmonton Youth Pipe Band “age out” at 18, meaning many alumni go on to play in other bands throughout the city, the province and the world.

One notable alumni is the well known composer, Iain MacCrimmon, who joined the band in the early 1960s.

Born in Edmonton, MacCrimmon has called Scotland home for the past couple decades. He is a direct descendent of the MacCrimmons of Skye and was appointed the 10th hereditary piper to Clan MacLeod of Dunvegan in 1979, 10 years after he left the Boys Band.

The Edmonton Boys in 1952.

MacCrimmon’s family has been involved with the organization since the 1930s when his father, Malcolm MacCrimmon, was a member.

MacCrimmon said that reaching the 90th anniversary is “a testament to all those that came before us and also those that continue to preserve the music and the memories of both the earlier Edmonton Boys Pipe band and now, the continuation under the banner of the Edmonton Youth Pipe Band.”

MacCrimmon had only been learning the pipes for a couple of years before joining the Edmonton Boys Band. It would be his first experience playing in a band.

He said that “dress, drill, discipline and of course, the music” were some of the new concepts that were presented to him in those early days, as well as “learning the ins and outs of unison as a pipe corps.”

Teamwork, social skills and responsibility for personal appearance were other lessons he cited from his time with the band.

In 1963, after the band had moved to distinctive white tunics.

“My personal experiences and knowledge gained will always be with me,” he said. “Many friendships formed in those earlier days still continue to this day, after more than 55 years.”

The anniversary of a long-storied organization such as this was also a time for some other alumni members to reflect on why they choose to participate in a hobby that to some folks, is just a bit out of the ordinary.

“It’s the social aspect,” alumni piper Jay Haverstock said. “It’s what has kept the organization and others like it across the country going.”

Today’s Edmonton Youth Pipe Band and alumni performing at its 90th anniversary concert in March in Edmonton.

To emphasize this point, he mentioned that he met his wife through his involvement with their current band, Grade 3 Edmonton & District. And, to bring it full circle, Haverstock’s three children are also now members of Edmonton Youth.

While hard work and winning competitions were important during his time with the band, “it was the friendships that mattered the most. It’s a very small, closely knit community,” he said.

Edmonton Boys/Youth Pipe Band members, young and older, on stage at the organization’s reunion concert.

The Edmonton Youth Pipe Band is the only band in Northern Alberta that is made up entirely of youth members and run entirely by volunteers. No musical experience is required to join.

The band competes in Grade 5 at all of the Highland games in the province of Alberta. On occasion, the band has travelled to compete at the World Pipe Band Championships where in 2002 they were crowned Novice Juvenile Champions out of a field of 22.

Throughout its existence, the Edmonton Youth Pipe Band has been helping Edmonton youth realize their potential with several well qualified volunteer instructors, board members and parents who are passionate about passing along an appreciation for the pipe band world and the music.

Mike Carter is a freelance journalist living in Edmonton. He is the bass drummer for the Grade 3 Viscount Park Pipe Band based in the city. Reach him at mikec7073@gmail.com

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