Township of Innisfil
As told by the Surviving Founding
Pipe Major (P/M) Emeritus
idea to form our band in Innisfil occurred at the A.N.A.F. (Army, Navy,
Air Force) Club in Barrie, Ontario on a Saturday afternoon in
September, 1977, after their resident band had just finished their
practice. The manager of this fairly new band approached Joe
McKeown and myself and asked if we could try and get some people from
Innisfil Township to join his Barrie and District Pipe & Drum Band
(now disbanded). After he left us, Joe said in his stubborn Irish
manner, "we will form our own band". I had had some experience in
Scotland, as a fifteen year old cadet in the Cameronian Scottish
Rifles, trying to learn the pipes, but like so many others, could not
stay the course. I mentioned this to Joe, but he was determined
and I said I would go along with him. Joe suggested that I get
back to the pipes, as well as become the Equipment Manager, while he
would become the Manager and also play the bass drum. Joe got in
touch with Georgina Mitchell from the Scope Newspaper and told her that
the band needed help. In November 1977, she announced the
formation of the band and printed our Executive and our positions to
the public. I then contacted Ewan Brown, a piper from Alcona, and
a member of a Scout group, who came to my house and gave me lessons and
I also later went to Paul McKenzie of the Newmarket Pipe Band.
then approached Councillor Katie Janse, who thought it a great idea, as
Joe wanted to call the band Township of Innisfil Pipes &
Drums. She became our champion and arranged a meeting with the
full Township Council. Mayor Gibbins, Councillor Grant Andrade
and the others, by an Act of Council, granted
us permission to use the Township name and to use the Township
crest. They also gave us use of the Old Churchill Hall, free of
charge, for our practices. We asked for and received donations
from private citizens and businesses in our community. We now
needed a Secretary/Treasurer, so Joe asked Mrs. Jerry Robson to take
the job. She agreed, and we opened a bank account in the band
name and she became the third, and last, founding member of Innisfil
Pipes & Drums.
We visited Bill and Georgina Burnett, of
Burnett's Scottish Imports in Barrie (now Burnett's & Struth
Scottish Regalia Ltd.) who gave us practice chanters, pipe books,
drumsticks and drum pads. Bill Burnett very kindly allowed us to
pay later because Joe, who was a sewing machine mechanic, maintained
for the band was held at the Belle Ewart Legion in Lefroy on the 14th
and 29th of January, 1978 and we had over 60 people apply. We
were lucky to find some people who had past experience in Pipe
bands...chief among them was Joe Donald, an ex-piper in the Canadian
Argyles. Joe became our first P/M and also taught the adults,
myself included. Bob Day taught the young people chanter, while
Cy Potter, Jim Hair and Rick Moses, who later became our first Drum
Sgt., taught drums. Luke Allen, later of the Fraser Highlanders
Pipe Band, World Champions, taught the bass drum. Kay Davis,
mother of our present Chief of Police, had some experience as a tenor
drummer and she showed the young people how to swing their
sticks. Our band had a lot of drop-outs and new members came in
too, but in the Fall of 1978, we actually did our first parade in
Stroud. This parade was accomplished with help from the Newmarket
band, who after 1 1/2 years had moved to become the Richmond Hill
Legion Pipe Band with our own Joe Donald voted in
as the P/M and, who was also still teaching for Innisfil.
Patrick's Day 1980
Davis (right, tenor drummer) made the cake for us. Founder Rick
Hillan and wife Ann look on.
first parade (with help from Newmarket Legion Pipes & Drums) in
Stroud, Ontario. Joe Donald is shown second from the left.
this time, our Secretary/Treasurer, Mrs. Jerry Robson had to leave the
band as she was going blind. Our P/M's wife, Betty Donald, had
been helping Mrs. Robson, so she took over the job. Jerry died
soon afterwards and we were so sorry, as she was a very gentle, good
living person. Betty Donald held this position for 29 years when
she too had to retire at the age of 84. Thank you Betty, for all
the work you have done for us.
January 1979, we held our very first Robbie Burn's Supper with Mayor
Bill Gibbins, his wife Doris, me, my wife Ann, as well as Joe McKeown
and his partner, sharing the head table. Joe Donald piped in the
haggis, assisted by members of the Alcona Scout troop, some of whom
later joined the band. Our band was in need of a bigger place to
practice and Belle Ewart Legion Branch 547 provided this for us then
and we are still there to date. On behalf of the band, I would
like to extend a big thank you to the Executive, Veterans and members
for all the service you have given to us. We band members had a
tremendous following of lovely ladies who worked so hard, having bake
sales and making things at home to sell, while giving the proceeds to
the band to help us pay for much needed equipment. Thank you to
all for everything you did for us, enabling us
to carry on with the band.
Donald piping in the haggis.
members of the Alcona Scout Group carrying in the haggis.
Table at our first Robbie Burns Supper.
Pipe Band Ladies Auxiliary who helped make our band a success through
their hard work.
Wilkinson, Hazel Griffiths,
Mable Patrick, Sandy Cook,
in 1983, Joe Donald, our P/M, became very ill and had to retire.
For a short time, Fred Tomlinson took over his job, but did not like
the position, so I took over as P/M. The band really missed Joe
Donald, but I started going 'round the schools, demonstrating the Great
Highland Bagpipe and drew some interest. During this time, and
shortly after, we had a large influx of youth, about 14 to 16 years of
age...an ideal age to learn piping.
1980. The band is starting to pick up with steady members,
including many young people.
the "Innisfil Township" bass drum, bottom right corner)
band never looked back and very soon, with cap in hand, we again
approached Bill Burnett, as we needed full-dress uniforms for our young
people at a cost of well over $1,000 each plus instruments. By
this time, Bill Burnett had brought a wee lassie named Margaret Struth,
a kilt maker from Scotland, into the business, made her a full partner,
changed the name to Burnett & Struth Scottish Regalia Ltd. and
yes...they again gave us credit. Bill said he had a spare bolt of
Black Stewart tartan and if we took it, he would give us a deal.
Of course, we took it and Margaret made all the kilts for our young
people, with a hem, because "they grow so fast". After Bill
retired, Margaret became the Managing Director of the company and took
full control. We owe Burnett's & Struth a tremendous thank
you for all they have done for our band and the trust they showed in
allowing us to pay in installments.
Baxter, now allowed us to bring our young learning
bands-people to march with the Ontario Legion Massed Pipes & Drums,
in spite of opposition from other members, for as Ross said, "they will
learn soon enough". Thank you Ross, this gave a tremendous boost
our band as a whole and we were gung-ho to get up there with you.
Later, in 1984, some of our members did the grand tour of Scotland with
you and were at the Highland Games in Oban where we played for H.R.H,
The Princess Margaret, and in the pouring rain, you introduced me to
her. Thank you again Ross, you are one fine P/M.
Hillan (right) as P/M Innisfil Pipes & Drums, is presented to HRH
The Princess Margaret.
By 1983, the band had so much costly equipment,
that Joe McKeown was advised to incorporate the band, as the Ontario
Government might give us help with some cash money. This was
handled by Fenic and McLellan of Stroud, who waived their fee for
services...thank you guys. The band was now registered and
incorporated as The Town of Innisfil Pipes & Drums and the band,
plus all of the equipment, now belongs to the citizens of our
Township. We received a grant from the Government of Ontario,
which enabled us to buy kilts for our adults, who before this time had
been wearing their own kilts.
In 1984, Joe McKeown tendered his resignation
from the band, as he wanted to retire back to Northern Ireland to be
with his aged mother.
We really miss Joe, this fiery-headed
Irishman, as he was a live spark and gave us his whole-hearted
support. Without Joe, the band would not be here today; and we
are grateful. He wanted the band to belong forever to the town of
Innisfil and not be a legion band. Of course I agreed completely
with his decision. We give Branch 547 three free
parades per year to repay their
North East, Pennsylvania.
Rick Hillan, on behalf of Innisfil Pipes & Drums, awarded with
trophy for "Best Band on Parade" by the President of Veterans of
Lindsay, a schoolteacher and one of our pipers, took over as band
manager for one short year, retiring on the 20th of July 1985.
Sadly, also in 1985 our P/M, Joe Donald, who
meantime had joined Branch 547, passed away in the Royal Victoria
Hospital in Barrie. Joe Donald will never be forgotten by any of
our band members or legionnaires that knew him. He was a
Past-President, one in a million person and gave his all to our
fledgling band by bringing not only his talent, and his teaching
manner, but also the sound of the Great Highland Bagpipe music to
Innisfil. Rest well, Comrade Joe.
of 1985, Ken Wilkinson (Wilkie), our Drum Sgt, who was also a legion
Past-President for two terms, took over as Band Manager; a position he
still holds to this day, and is doing a great job. During the
years of many resignations, and people moving, their space was
admirably filled by Ken. Wilkie wears so many hats, doing so many
jobs for us that never, ever, would we find enough words to convey our
gratitude to him.
| Bill Aird (left) & Ken
Wilkinson (right) ~ After Warriors Day Parade, 2004
Wilkinson joined our band group on November 1979 as a drumming student
and was also taught by Bill Aird, in Richmond Hill.
Our present executive members are: Kenneth
Hillan (P/M), Ken Wilkinson (Manager, Drum Sgt), Chris McKie
(Secretary/Treasurer) and Rick Hillan (Founding Member, P/M Emeritus,
Social Chairman). At this time, we have 24 members and 8 students.
If I have failed to mention anyone, I
apologize, as there have been so many people alive and others now
passed away, who gave us their unstilted support for which we are
forever grateful. I am thinking along the retirement route.
Fortunately, when this happens, I know our young people will carry on
doing the good work of a marching band in the community. We still
need members, experienced or keen to learn, and hold our practices in
the Belle Ewart Legion at 7 PM every Monday. We are forever
grateful to our present mayor, Brian Jackson, and our councillors, for
the Lefroy Hall for marching and for sorting out some of our
problems. We do many parades in and around town for free,
to help others raise funds for charity.
Thank you all again from:
P/ M Emeritus,
Last surviving founding member of The Town of Innisfil
Pipes & Drums