The passing of Andrew Bonar at the age of 51 after a three-year battle with brain cancer has saddened the piping and drumming world. We asked six of his friends and piping contemporaries to contribute their memories and thoughts about the man, affectionately known as “Boney.”
In 1979, the early rendition of the SFU Pipe Band was called the City of Port Moody Pipe Band. We were a very average Grade 1 band. Although we were playing reasonably well we could never get a break in the competition arena. The other local bands were consistently better. We were pretty confused by this since there were so many good young players in the band at the time. We just hadn’t figured out to mold that group into a strong performing pipe band.
That changed nearly overnight in 1979 when two things happened. Firstly, two exceptional young pipers joined the band – Darleen Miharija and Andrew Bonar. Jimmy McMillan was teaching Darleen and I was teaching Andrew. At that time Andrew was 13 years old and already a strong Grade 1 solo player. They were a breath of fresh air to the band. Their obvious talents, energy and enthusiasm were infectious. Andrew was a young, skinny blonde lad with blistering fingers. He could pretty much play any tune he put his mind to.
The other thing was, for the first time, we began practicing twice per week. It seems obvious now, but in the 1970s once per week was the norm. The band improved dramatically that winter, with Darleen and Andrew as the catalysts. In those days we practiced at SFU in an older building called “Physical Plant & Planning.” The staff lunchroom was large enough for us and became our unofficial home for several years. Andrew liked it because it had both a pop and coffee machine. The pop machine was attractive to him, but the coffee was especially interesting as it was free. We were often telling him things like “the last thing you need is a cup of coffee.” One night he was just pumping out the jigs in the medley at quite a pace. I remember yelling at him, “Slow down, Boney!” The band cracked up. He had never been called “Boney” before. That name would stick with him for the rest of his life.
Our first outdoor contest that year was the Victoria Highland Games in May. As he was getting ready for the solos, I remember trying to tune his pipes. No matter what we did we just couldn’t get them in tune. They were essentially un-tunable. If we got them closely in tune but took our hand off the drones, they would go wildly out-of-tune. It turned out that Andrew’s bass drone tuning pin had developed a large split about three inches in length. So, we got the bass as close as we could, wrapped a lot of black tape around the split pin and suggested he keep his hands off it. For the rest of the day his bass had to be tuned at the top section. It was a good day for Andrew. He won the aggregate in Grade 1 and the band did well. I can still remember his dad, Bill Bonar, beaming and telling my dad, “That’s my son Andrew out there in the band.”
– Jack Lee, Surrey, British Columbia