Unless you play the bagpipes or enjoy hearing the mystical, stirring music produced on this archaic instrument, you may never have heard of the Ontario town of Maxville.
Maxville has only one claim to fame but it is enough to endear it to Canadians with Gaelic blood in their veins. Nestled in Glengarry County, an agricultural area long steeped in Gaelic tradition, Maxville is the home of the largest highland games in North America. Since 1947 the town has hosted an annual one-day piping competition that is the mecca of North America pipers and lovers of pipe music. It is more of an understatement than an exaggeration to state that the aspiration of most Canadian pipers is to compete at Maxville.
Nova Scotia has annual piping competitions that are similar to Maxville’s. At Antigonish, Halifax, St. Anne’s and Pugwash for example. These are nearly identical in format but lack the scope and caliber of the Maxville games.
This is not meant to denigrate Nova Scotia pipe bands or pipers but to point out that provincial competitions such as ours are stepping-stones to Maxville. The level of piping in Nova Scotia is actually quite high. Several years ago, for example, the Halifax Police Pipe Band swept away all competition here, won at Maxville against the best bands in North America and only missed taking the world championship in Scotland by a whisker. Recently a junior band from the Gaelic College at St. Anne’s won in Nova Scotia, won at Maxville and in Scotland, prevailing over the top pipe bands in the world.
It’s a given that only the best bands compete at Maxville. Or to put it another way, the level of playing is so high at Maxville that unless a band has been shining at regional or provincial competitions it doesn’t have much chance. Pipers speak of Maxville as the ultimate piping competition and, true or not, as the unofficial Canadian championship of pipe bands.
This year Nova Scotia was represented at Maxville by the Halifax Police Pipe band and a junior band from Dartmouth. Some 65 bands from Canada and the United States competed at four levels (grades one to four). Since it is a one-day competition the grades are judged simultaneously, which means that in an area not much bigger than two football fields there is ongoing piping for the better part of a day.
I was at Maxville this year, the first time I’ve attended a piping competition of this magnitude. Someone told me it would be wall to wall piping and total confusion with so much happening at the same time. Like many pipers, however, I’ve dreamed for years of going to Maxville and listening to the best bands in Canada and I expected that the positives would outweigh the negatives.
Did Maxville live up to my expectations? Imagine, hockey fans, being on the ice with Howe, Orr, Gretzky, Hull, Belliveau and Richard. Picture being on the basketball court with Jordan, Bird, Magic Johnson, Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Imagine that you…. Well, you get the picture. As well as being a great cultural Canadian tradition, Maxville is a pipers and pipe music lover’s paradise. What more can be said?