I'm not sure when Braemar Pipe Band was formed. It may have been back in the 1970's and I believe the intention was to develop young talent for The Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band. By 2000 the band had fallen on hard times and the directors were looking for someone to pick up the pieces. I think that there were five or six pipers (at various levels) when I went to my first practice. No drummers. I knew my time at Niagara Police was coming to an end and I had a strong desire to rebuild piping at the grass roots within the region. In 2001 I did double-duty with NRP and Braemar. Following our 2nd place (Grade 2) finish at the Worlds in 2001 I knew I was done. We couldn't play any better than we did. During my last tour of duty with NRP we struggled to put all the pieces together and I figured we had hit the wall.
I also figured that we didin't have anything left to prove. For a bunch of old men we had done pretty well. I finished off the 2001 season before going full time with Braemar. I defined the culture as "teaching" and held thoughts of competition to myself. We took on parades and performances to keep our cash-flow positive and in 2003 we decided to try the band in Grade 4. I took out 25 pipers, 3 snares, a bass and two tenors into the circle. I played everybody we had. I remember marching the band up to the circle sounding not too badly. Noel Slagle was the ensemble judge. He looked up and huge smile came over his face. He knew exactly what I was doing. We finished second that day and attracted a lot of positive attention.
Humble beginnings. Braemar ca 2002
Niagara Falls Blossom Parade
Crossing the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls
In the beginning we took on performances that paid little or nothing, just for the experience and the exposure. My rules were simple...Blow good tone. Play in unison on-the-beat. Have fun. We adapted a philosophy where everything was weighed against "the greater good" of the band. Everybody's contribution was valued. Every individual was respected. Everyone was a diplomat on behalf of the band and everybody was a recruiter. It worked! By 2004 we had three competing bands and over 100 members.
The kids were fantastic. The older kids (aged 65 to 75) were also fantastic. It was family and the bands achieved a few milestones along the way. At the Central NY Highland Games, we scored a clean sweep, winning the contests in Grade 5, Grade 4 and Grade 3. We brought the bands off the field as one, playing Cock 'o The North. At Maxville that year (2004) we won North American Championships in Grade 5 and in Grade 3, with a 4th place finish by our Grade 4 band.
The video above was in the Beer Tent at Montreal at the end of the day. We were all tired after two days of competing. It was a great way to top it all off.
In January 2006 I had to leave St. Catharines, having found work in Wisconsin. The band stayed together for the 2006 competition season before disbanding in the fall of 2006. Players went in all directions, many finding their way into Grade 1 and 2.
I have no regrets. It was wonderful to be a part of this organization. I am forever grateful to so many who made this possible.