For what would appear to be the first time since the early 1980s, only one band from the province of Ontario will compete in Grade 1 at the World Championships.
The 78th Fraser Highlanders are the only Ontario-based Grade 1 band to confirm that they will return to Glasgow Green in August 2018. The province’s other top-grade bands, the Ottawa Police and the Toronto Police, have confirmed that they have opted out of the event.
It will be the thirty-sixth consecutive annual trip to the World Championships for the 78th Fraser Highlanders, who first attended the contest in 1983, and Pipe-Major Doug MacRae said that his band will also compete again at North Berwick, the weekend before the World’s.
Toronto Police Pipe-Major Sean McKeown said that his band has opted out of a journey to Scotland, mainly due to the financial burden on some of its members, and the fact that the band is building for the future. The organization’s Grade 3 band and its Grade 4 Ryan Russell Memorial feeder band, comprising mostly players they have taught from scratch, are planning a trip to the World’s.
“We all love making the trip and competing with the best, but everyone recognizes we need to continue to build and develop our youth here, before we can be competitive overseas,” McKeown said.
The Ottawa Police later last year appointed Jacob Dicker and Mike Tuzyk as pipe-major and lead-drummer, and are also in building mode after taking a hiatus from the entire 2017 competition season.
After 1983, when the 78th Fraser Highlanders, Clan MacFarlane and Toronto & District all started to compete regularly at the World’s, Grade 1 bands from Ontario consistently met a strong standard, with the 78th Frasers winning the 1987 title and routinely featuring in the prize list. Since the 2010s, Ontario bands have not achieved the top-six and have mostly failed to qualify for the Grade 1 final.
The Peel Regional Police, which had held Grade 1 status for more than 20 years, last year was relegated by the RSPBA to Grade 2, and subsequently voluntarily requested a move to that status with its home association, the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario.
“It should be no secret: Grade 1 bands over here need a lot to change before we can be competitive over there,” said one Ontario-based long-serving member of a top-grade band, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The bands over there are pushing kids through like crazy, and the quality shows.”
Scotland’s surging commitment to teaching Highland piping and pipe band drumming through its national school system, as well as in many prestigious fee-based “public” schools, have been cited as major contributors to the rapid rise in the volume and excellence of young pipers and drummers in that country. The self-made advantages in Scotland . . .