REMEMBERING THE CANSO CAUSEWAY OPENING (August 20/04)

A certificate on the wall in my home office proclaims that on the 13th day of August, 1955, I “formally participated in the March of the Hundred Pipers celebrating the official opening of the Canso Causeway, forever bonding the Celtic Isle of Cape Breton to the mainland of Nova Scotia.”

I took part in that grand march half a century ago, but it seems like yesterday. It’s hard to believe that the 50th anniversary of the causeway opening will be celebrated next August. However, even though it’s still a year away, plans are already being made to mark the occasion. Attempts are being made to contact pipers and drummers who took part in the march; they say a re-enactment is planned to which the original participants will be invited.

There have already been a couple of newspaper mentions of the causeway anniversary. And as the anniversary date approaches, you’ll hear more about that “glorious march of 100 pipers” as a newspaper account called it at the time. But as you read accounts of the “100 pipers” opening the causeway, you should know that this description of the march is a bit inaccurate.

First of all, there were more, many more than 100 pipers. I recall a conversation taking place just after we tuned up that day. I was standing nearby when the Parade Marshall told our band leader, Pipe Major Carl King, that they’d just taken a count of the pipers participating in the march. “There are 140 and we probably missed a few,” he said. For years after I used to joke that I was one of the 140 pipers that took part in the march of the 100 pipers over the causeway. I heard later that there was close to 200 pipers but this number seems high since the provincial government only planned to invite 100.

Apparently no one counted the drummers that day. But based on the fact that at least 100 pipers were invited there would have been around 50 to 60 drummers participating as well. I remember that we made quite a… I almost said “racket” but we all know the bagpipe makes music, not noise. Anyway there was a lot of volume and it was difficult to play with at least 140 sets of pipes skirling and half a hundred or more drums beating around me.

Recently, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary, I’ve been compiling a list of the pipers and drummers from Kings County who participated in the causeway opening. The band I played with was the Royal Canadian Air Cadet pipe band, which was sponsored by the Kentville Lions Club. When it was organised in 1950 it may have been the only air cadet pipe band in Canada. Some dozen or so members of the band participated in the causeway opening, many of whom were from Kentville.

The Pipe Major was Carl King, who along with Pipe Sergeant Blair Campbell were the band’s original leaders. Other pipers besides myself were David Stokes, Donald Chisholm and Doug Neary. At 13 years old, Doug Neary was likely one of the youngest pipers participating in the opening. Doug’s brothers, Charles and Robert participated as drummers and the three probably were the only brother trio taking part in the march. Drum Major Alex and his brother Base Drummer Arthur Bailey marched that day. Other band members were drummers Larry Eaton and Gerald McGarry.

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