March 03, 2011

True pipe strong and free

In all thy drones command.The Highland bagpipe is Canada’s national instrument – not officially, but it should be.

This isn’t to suggest for an instant that the pipes aren’t also Scotland’s national instrument, but I believe that Canadians would and should welcome such an official declaration. Here’s why:

Since I moved here in 1988 I am yet to recall anyone who lives here to say that they dislike the pipes. In fact, I’d guess at least 95 per cent of the time Canadian citizens, landed immigrants and permanent residents that I’ve heard comment say that they love the pipes. As with everything, there are detractors, but I can’t remember seeing anyone cover their ears at the sound of the great pipe.

One hears Highland pipes almost daily in Canada. Police events, political rallies, weddings, military repatriation ceremonies, fundraisers, celebrations, parades, curling matches and hockey games routinely feature a piper or a pipe band regardless of any obvious Scottish connection. These piper-rich events are often attended not just by WASPy Canucks, but also by immigrants from everywhere you can imagine. Highland pipes are even popularly featured in the theme music for Hockey Night in Canada – the country’s de facto national TV show.

Far more often than not, in Canada you hear quality piping – not necessarily Ian K. MacDonald-standard, but decently tuned and pitched instruments played with well-taught embellishments.

The realization that the Highland pipes are Canada’s national instrument solidified in my pea-brain last week. I was at a work meeting when I happened upon a Canadian citizenship ceremony. These momentous swearing-in events now take place in unusual and often public places, and this one was at a research science centre in downtown Toronto.

There were maybe 200 immigrants who were to be sworn in. An LED display scrolled the more than 120 countries that these folks came from. There was a judge in regalia and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in full scarlet tunic.

Kaitlin Kimove welcoming new Canadians.And there was a piper – a very good one at that. Kaitlin Kimove from the Peel Regional Police Pipe Band piped in these soon-to-be-Canadian citizens. These immigrants were from places like Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq Tunisia and Libya. When she struck in the pipes there were instant smiles and even tears. The pipes are as much a part of Canada’s culture and being Canadian as maple syrup, pea-meal bacon and Nanaimo bars. Pipe music is part of Canada’s sound track. Newcomers are practically indoctrinated to the sound when they step off the plane or boat.

Having attended several of these citizenship ceremonies (one of which in 1995 I was a participant), I can say that each is a poignant and meaningful moment in the lives of every single person there. The Mountie, the judge, the fellow immigrants embarking on a new life . . . the pipes.

The pipes are heard so often in Canada that I think they are simply a part of the country’s culture, spanning all provinces – even Quebec’s separatist-minded citizens who seem to have just as much affinity for the instrument as anyone. Piping and pipe bands are so familiar to Canadians that it’s perhaps a reason why the popularity of Highland games in the country is waning. Hearing bagpipes in Canada is no big deal.

The Scots co-opted the pipes from elsewhere, and so too has Canada. The Highland pipes will always belong to Scotland, but they can also be Canada’s national instrument. The Highland bagpipe could also well deserve to be the national instrument of New Zealand, or Australia, or other Commonwealth countries. Bring it on. It’s all good.

If you agree, there’s a Facebook page to “like.” If response is there, we’ll eventually take our petition to the powers-that-be in Ottawa to lobby them for official recognition. As always, your constructive comments are welcome.


  1. A group of bagpipes playing together are completely lost without a strong drumming end to the band. The bass of course being the most important catalyst to a great ensemble.

  2. A skirl o’the kilt for the bagpipes (large or sma’.)This particular family has five pipers. That is:Ffather,two sons, one daughter and one granddaughter and one soon to be son-in-law. Two of the pipers are also drummers and one of them again was a male highland dancer. two of the above mentioned pipers played pipes on the great Wall of China. The potential is great for pipers and drummers. With pipes we stand proud and free! OH, CANADA !!!!!!

  3. I remember years ago at my wedding. My 85 year old Grandmother, english to the core, holding her hands over her ears for what most people wold have called soft rock coming from the PA. But then in came the pipe band at about twice the decibels, and she had a big smile, clapping her hands. And this in a family where I am the only piper I know of.

    One pipe band I played in, apart from me and the pipe major, the entire pipe section was french canadian.

    Yes, pipes are the quinntessential Canadian musical instrument.

  4. A few years ago a friend of mine had a 6 month gig playing at Disney World in Tokyo, Japan. When I asked him why they didn’t go to Scotland to get a piper, he told me it was because he was playing at the Canadian Pavalion in the international area. (I believe they do the same at Disney World in Florida, but wouldn’t swear to it.) To much of the world pipes are as much Canadian as Scottish

  5. I see The Maple Leaf Tartan has become an official symbol of Canada so why not the pipes as national instrument along with it. Watching Jim McGillivray’s 12 Cadet pipers stand in a semi circle and play The Maple Leaf Forever made me feel really patriotic and I’m not even Canadian. So I’d say yes to the pipes as Canada’s national instrument. It all fits.



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