Archie Cairns, one of the great piping personalities and contributors to the instrument and its playing in Canada, died on the night of April 1, 2016, at the age of 87.
For more than 75 years piping was a centrepiece of Cairns’s life, with 52 years of continual service in the Canadian Forces, rising to the rank of Major, and establishing many of the Canadian military’s piping and drumming programs.
Originally taught by his father, Pipe-Major John Cairns, he receive tuition from John Wilson (Edinburgh and Toronto), and Captain John MacLellan MBE. Cairns and MacLellan established a life-long friendship, stemming from their time together when Archie Cairns went through the Pipe-Major’s Course at Edinburgh Castle, graduating with distinction.
Cairns was a successful competitor at the top-levels in Canada for more than 30 years, but chose not to pursue the major solo events in Scotland, where he almost certainly would have excelled.
Archie Cairns was a published composer, well-established adjudicator of solo piping and pipe bands, and a lecturer and teacher on piping. He was appointed Senior Pipe-Major of the Canadian Forces in 1968, holding the position until 1981, and during that time he compiled and published the Canadian Forces Pipe Band Manual.
Following his retirement, Cairns was appointed the first Commanding Officer of the new Central Region Cadet School of Pipes & Drums in London, Ontario, building the program until it was handed over to his highly accomplished son, John, writing a five-volume Cadet Instruction Manual for Pipes & Drums, which became a National Training Program in the Canadian military.
After leaving the military he authored and published several other manuals and publication for piping, and composed more than 40 tunes, often naming them for friends and family. “Pipe-Major J.K. Cairns” is one of the most original march compositions of its day, and the slow air “Mrs. Joy Cairns” continues as a poignant and popular composition often played by bands and soloists.
He was an adjudicator with the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario for several decades, until a falling out in the 1990s made him decide not to provide his services, and he was sadly infrequently seen around the Ontario games for the better part of the last two decades of his life.
Major Archie Cairns’s contributions to piping and drumming in North America and, in reality, worldwide, were significant.
We offer our condolences to Archie Cairns’s family and friends at this sad time.