When we were lined up to march across the Canso Causeway 50 years ago a friend stopped to talk with of our band’s director, Pipe Major Carl King. “We invited 100 pipers to march and we just did a count,” he said. “There’s 140, not counting drummers.”
Oddly, this is one of the moments that stick in my mind. That and the march across the Causeway when those 140 pipers along with 50 to 60 drummers officially opened the Causeway. As a teenager who until then had never played with more than five or six pipers and a few drummers, I also remember that the volume of sound and the size of that pipe band momentarily stunned me.
Over the years I’ve seen numerous references to the Causeway opening and mention is never made of the “140 pipers, not counting drummers,” that participated. Usually the reference is to the “grand march of the 100 pipers.” That mass of pipers and drummers actually failed to march across as a single group, splitting into two groups halfway over, but this isn’t part of Causeway lore.
Last weekend the province celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Causeway opening and as one of the original pipers I was invited to participate. I look upon this as a unique event and unlike anything else I’ve done with the pipes in the more than 50 years I’ve been playing; it was an occasion made even more special because a grandson participated in the anniversary celebrations with me as a piper.
Just over two years ago I started to give Sam piping lessons. When they announced the upcoming anniversary celebrations last year I entered Sam’s name so we could pipe across the Causeway together. I thought that the two of us participating in the celebrations would be a memory he’d cherish but for a while it didn’t look like it would happen. Sam’s dentist had fitted him with braces and he had to give up the pipes for nearly a year. Fortunately, the braces came off in time for Sam to get back on the pipes and learn the mandatory tunes.
At age 13 Sam may not have been one of the youngest pipers or drummers to participate in the Causeway anniversary celebrations. But I wonder if any of the other original pipers from the 1955 opening played at the 50th celebration with a grandchild. I’m delighted that we did. For me it was the culmination of many decades of piping; for Sam it was a beginning.
In a way we did receive special recognition for being grandfather and grandson pipers. The piping director for the anniversary celebrations arranged for Sam and I to play a duet that was recorded for CBC television. Sam was interviewed as well; and for a fleeting moment that evening on supper television you could hear us skirling away on the pipes.