Most people connect the bagpipe with Scotland; here in Nova Scotia we tend to think in terms of the pipes as synonymous with Cape Breton and the neighbouring counties of Pictou and Antigonish.
However, little old Kings County with its deep Acadian, Planter and Loyalist roots has a piping tradition all its own. In fact, bagpiping has been alive and well in Kings County for well over 100 years. When Camp Aldershot was established over a century ago, first near Aylesford in the 1880s and later at its current site, highland militia regiments regularly held exercises there during the summer. Traditionally, pipers were fixtures in militia units such as the Pictou Highlanders and the Cape Breton Highlanders and these units trained at the camp since day one.
Also, there’s photographic evidence that pipers were part and parcel of civic ceremonies in Kings County more than 100 years ago. Among the dignitaries posing for a photograph when the Kentville Exhibition Building opened in 1890, for example, is a piper is full highland regalia. The photograph is on file at the Kings County Museum.
Flashing forward, Camp Aldershot was the training base of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade during the first world war. Included in this unit was the 85th Highland Battalion. A pipe band, or at the very least regimental pipers, were part and parcel of these units; photographs taken at Camp Aldershot during the war years clearly show the presence of pipe and drum units.
The “piping presence” was maintained during the second world war when Camp Aldershot became a major infantry training centre. Retired Kentville school teacher Gordon Hansford played in a pipe band that was established at Aldershot in 1940 or 1941 by order of the base commander, Colonel J. Jeffrey. The band was comprised of members of various militia units that trained there. Most of the pipers and drummers came from outside but among the drummers were local lads such as Hansford, Carl King and Alfred Graves who later became Kentville’s chief of police.
Carl King would later take up the pipes and was destined to be pipe major of several local bands in this area. King and Blair Campbell of Kentville were behind the founding of a cadet pipe band in Kentville in 1950, carrying on a tradition that had started over half a century earlier. When the Black Watch arrived at Camp Aldershot in 1952 their pipe band came with them and remained for nearly a decade, further enriching the art of piping in Kings County.
In 1970, about a decade after the Black Watch had departed Camp Aldershot, a civilian pipe band was formed in Kings County. Some of the pipers of this band still perform at numerous civic and private functions in the county today.
About two decades ago, the Canadian government decided that since the pipes have been part of the military since colonial days, most army and air force bases would include a pipe major. This has been the case at 14 Wing Greenwood since the 1980s. Currently, the 14 Wing pipes and drums, which is mainly a volunteer group, keeps the Kings County piping tradition alive.
Kings County piping timeline: 1880s – Pipers present at Camp Aldershot with militia units on the Aylesford Plains. 1904 – Highland militia with their pipers trained at Camp Aldershot. 1914-1918 – Highland regiments with pipers trained at Aldershot. 1940-1945 – Standing pipe band at Camp Aldershot. 1950 – Cadet pipe band formed in Kentville. 1953-1959 – Black Watch and their pipe band based at Camp Aldershot. 1970 – Civilian pipe band organised in county. 1980s-2006 – Pipe band maintained at Greenwood air base.